Those outside of education may wonder why professional educators work so hard (or they should be working hard) in stamping out Bulling behaviors in our schools. There are perhaps some things about our profession that I should reveal. First, I love young people and have spent my entire adult life working to empower them through education. But young people (and in my case teenagers); also have a strong capacity to sometimes be very selfish and unkind; we understand the reason for these “transitional” behaviors; and I have always talked to teachers about: “not taking it personally” when a student acts in a selfish, or insensitive way. We rely here on our knowledge of developmental psychology that informs us that they are in a very dynamic evolving stage in their lives; and at this point of their developmental journey they are struggling to establish their “adult identities” and also a process by which they will make moral and ethical judgments. And so, in essence much of the time, “they know not what they are saying.” There are of course always the many wonderful exceptions; those students who have a higher level of spiritual development (spiritual literacy/intelligence?) These students constantly show a strong inclination to be sensitive, kind and considerate to all. On another end of the moral-ethical scale are those students who will seek bullying as one of their primary tools of social communication. Very often, (and another factor for adults to consider) this bullying approach is a socially acquired trait inherited from one or both parents. A parent who utilizes harsh physical and/or verbal techniques as the primary disciplinary/communication tool with their child; has taught that child that the way to address problems between humans is through the utilization of these same harsh and abrasive techniques. As a principal I once had a student in my office who would constantly utter a curse word during the school day; not necessary at anyone in particular, but it could be if something went wrong with one of his science labs or he made a mistake in the gym (he was always sincerely apologetic after cursing). I brought his mother in for a conference; and when I explained what he was doing in school, she turned to him and said: “How many times have I told you to watch your #*&%! mouth when you are in in a &&%$#! place like a *&*%$#! School; I am &*%$#! tired of talking to you; If I have to leave my job, and come back up to this school I am going to beat your &%$# a&#!” Well, I thought to myself; herein we find the problem! This young man has been raised to believe that cursing is a normal part of human communication! But the common theme I found with all students who engaged in “bullying behaviors”, both physical and verbal is fear. I found when the bully was alone, without an audience, and in my office, the profile of a very frightened child emerged. And so the primary motivating factor for their bulling behavior was fear. Bullying was a “best defense is an aggressive offense” strategy. This approach is utilized to cover their own secret pain, perhaps based on their being victims of bullying at home, a real or perceived inability, incompleteness or a missing life component. Bullying in school is a young person’s response, however misguided, to their psychic pain and sense of inadequacy. The fact that bullying never fills what is empty or missing in them, and actually creates an additional area of pain for them (particularly in my schools), is lost in their developmental teenage logic system. All they know is that if they can find that “student” for which they can rally others to participate, or watch the bully inflict some form of public abuse, and thus divert the student body’s attention away from what is missing or not going well in their own lives, then it “works”. Professional educators must utilize a two-prong approach to any signs of bullying behaviors; one is swift and severe disciplinary action against the perpetrators; their punishment must not only be harsh, it must be public (other students must know about it). First, to discourage similar behaviors from occurring. Students are very smart, such that when they see what happened to student X for bullying behavior, they (most of them) take care to make sure that the same punishment is not visited on them (Foucault’s hypothesis for the historical emergence of “public executions”). Second the entire student body must feel: “That this school is a safe place to be”; and for Black and Latino male students in particular, it is safe and ok to be, and act smart. (Fordham/Ogbu’s hypotheses on the pressures on non-white students to “dumb-down” out of fear of ridicule). The other important component and complement to direct and sever prohibitions against bulling behavior; is to have the counseling staff engage these bullying students in identifying and addressing the real source of their bullying behavior. That is, the real source of their pain, for which they are so inadequately and incorrectly trying to heal through bullying behaviors. Why (and I admit bias here) high schools are important is that it is in a real sense our last chance to help young people to create a positive process for making good ethical and moral judgments; before they go into the “real world”. Society unfortunately will cheer and encourage the bully because he satisfies the worst of our human instincts. The same press that cheered Mr. Christie’s behavior when he would belittle a speaker at a town hall meeting; or pick on some group in the state to call names and denigrate; have now turned on him. For sure the “crisis at the bridge” was not created by the news media. This pathetic bullying behavior was in fact a crises in the head of the bully governor. Bullying, for the bully becomes the best and only way of doing business. For the adult bully-leader “non-bullying” methods of persuasion and cooperation would make him feel (in his view), too weak, or take too long. But most important it’s not what the cheering bullying enabling crowd wants to see; they want above all to see a “weaker” opponent diminished, isolated and humiliated. In this way the bully is also sending a message to the cheering audience: “Cross me, and you could be next!”(perhaps the bully has also read Foucault!) The bully does his best work when he can separate the intended victim from the group; a group who if they united, could defeat the bully. Finally, the important lesson from Mr. Christie’s “Bridge-gate”, is also the additional important reason why we K-12 educators work so hard against bulling in schools; it is because these bullies will grow up to be adults; maybe even adults with power, influence, and/or financial resources; and instead of knocking over another student’s lunch tray in the cafeteria; they now have the power to closed down a bridge, and hurt thousands of people.
Reference Notes: Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison; Michel Foucault
BLACK STUDENTS’ SCHOOL SUCCESS: COPING WITH THE “BURDEN OF ‘ACTING
WHITE”.. Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu Urban Review, 1986, Vol. 18, pp. 176-206