Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Two stories bring focus to school bully incidents

Pomo Elementary School principal April Leiferman has loaned me a marvelous book called “Bully-proofing Your School: A Comprehensive Approach for Elementary Schools” (Sopris West, 2000).

The authors — Carla Garrity, Ph.D; Kathryn Jens, Ph.D; William Porter, Ph.D; Nancy Sager, M.A.; and Cam Short-Camilli, L.C.S.W. — note that victims are often driven to self-destructive or violent acts out of desperate retaliation against bullying. The purpose of their book is to prevent the school environment in which bullying is permitted to flourish.

The crux of their intervention is empowering what they refer to as the “caring majority,” the 85 percent of students who are neither bullies nor victims. The job of the caring majority is to make sure that everyone feels included and to report any bullying attempts.

Having been the victim of bullying, I can speak from personal experience that the absolute worst part was the isolation I felt. I can’t begin to tell you how validated I feel knowing that people in Konocti take bullying seriously. In addition to studying the book, I’ve attended special assemblies at Burns Valley and Pomo schools where the focus was anti-bullying.

Two stories broke this week that embody the complete antithesis of what Konocti schools are striving for. They come to me courtesy of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, to which I am a subscriber.

The first concerns the Rotenberg Center, a place of “last resort” where problem children are sent. Mother Jones published an investigative report almost one year ago.

There are no counselors and no drug therapy at the Rotenberg Center, just the use of “adversives” in the form of electrical shocks. The children lug around backpacks that have chargers inside and electrodes are fastened to their bodies.

The situation described in this article is truly horrifying and a story broke this week concerning the seizure of documents by police. Apparently an investigation involves multiple government agencies and is ambitious in its scope.

If something can be done about this, all the better, I say — because as it is, no one is watching out for these children. If this was Abu Ghraib or the School of the Americas there’d be a groundswell of activism demanding that the place be shut down — but the only groundswell is one of silence where these throwaway
kids are concerned.

Think about the message being sent through electrical shocks. It’s one of fear and intimidation. Contrast that message to the words of Monty Roberts, an ongoing district consultant: “No one has the right to say ‘You do what I tell you, or I’ll hurt you’” (www.montyroberts.com).

The second story concerned a teacher at Morningside Elementary School in Port St. Lucie, Fla, who singled out a young student and had everyone in the class say what they didn’t like about him and then led them to vote him out of class.

According to an online blogger, Asperger Square 8, the teacher’s apparent intention was to teach the students about bigotry and exclusion. If so, I would have to challenge the efficacy of her lesson plan. Far from teaching the students that bigotry and exclusion are wrong, the net result was apparently a hands-on lesson in how to practice it.

Let me be first to assure you that students do not need lessons in how to bully effectively; they come by it naturally. It would have been far more effective if the Morningside teacher and other district staff had tried to develop that “caring majority” that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Instead, her approach seems to have been teaching the students how to bully and conveniently directing their attention toward an all-too-vulnerable target.

The juxtaposition of these two articles prompts me, yet again, to express my appreciation that our own local schools care so strongly to prevent bullying. Yes, it still happens as reports indicate but when it does there are immediate reminders that bullying is not OK.

Published May 27, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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