By Arnold Burron
An assertion that keeps popping up in the national discussion on school violence is that the perpetrators all seemed to have been subjected to bullying of one kind or another. Having no way to escape being tormented, we are told, some victims of bullying are driven to acts of gross violence. Therefore, goes the argument, we must provide a solution to the problem of bullying, lest other kids, driven to the point of desperation, also resort to mayhem and murder.
One totally ludicrous notion that has popped up in the discussion of possible solutions is that potential victims of bullying be taught self-defense–as though a swift and furious karate chop could dispel, once and for all, ostracism, ridicule, and other more subtle forms of emotional abuse, or single-handedly send scurrying a pack of playground predators. What is more distressing is that the suggestion has been given serious consideration by educated adults! The fact should be obvious that children who are forced to attend school should not be expected to engage in self-defense. Any adult who asserts the argument that “children need to learn how to fight their own battles at school,” is a part of the bullying problem.
Because school attendance is compulsory and not all parents are able to choose a school they feel is safe for their children, public schools are faced with an unavoidable imperative: They must guarantee Safe Passage through what, for many children, is hostile territory. Now, how do they do that? A long-range solution is to teach character education, but for the current generation of students, that’s not a quick enough remedy. Instilling empathy, sympathy, and concomitant sensitivities to others can take years. Some schools have tried using pupils as playground mediators. The ramifications of that practice should receive very careful consideration, since the practice, itself, could evoke unanticipated interpersonal problems.
A more direct and immediate solution is needed. It is not only bullying that requires attention. Bullying is merely the most acute symptom of the real problem: a society that can’t agree on what is appropriate public school decorum.
Other discipline problems rob teachers and students of their right to pursue quality education. Teachers have expressed concern for years that in many schools there is no agreement on expectations regarding student decorum, no clear statement of consequences, no strict discipline for misbehavior, and no support from administrators when teachers encounter static from parents.
All of these problems are easy to address. Parents and teachers must agree, explicitly and unambiguously, on not only what kind of deportment they demand in school. They must also recognize the importance of other aspects of behavior that children used to be held accountable for in previous generations: discourse–what comes out of a kid’s mouth–and demeanor–what is conveyed by a child’s posture and other nonverbal responses. They must identify strict consequences for any actions disrespectful of classmates or teachers. And they must impose those consequences without flinching. In short, know what you want, know what youll do if you dont get what you want, and do it when you dont get it.
Enough is enough! We simply have to guarantee that our children will not be physically assaulted, emotionally accosted, or spiritually molested in government schools. And to do that, we require agreement on expectations relative to deportment, discourse, and demeanor–all of which contribute to appropriate decorum. We need clearly defined consequences. And we absolutely must have school administrators who will not be bullied into accepting the status quo.
Dr. Arnold Burron is Professor Emeritus at the University of Northern Colorado and a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, an education reform think tank in Golden.
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