Tuesday, February 14, 2012

School officials influence bullying

The situation described by Lower Lake educator Nancy Harby in her recent letter to the editor is familiar to me. I observed institutional sanctioning of bullying during my years in school.

The situations I remember are not necessarily identical to those described by Harby. I don’t remember if my school had spirit week themes that denigrated our team’s rivals. Rather, I remember routine, everyday practices that contributed toward a school culture in which differences were shunned and the shunning was considered acceptable.

An elementary school teacher who, observing that my classmates did not want to take my hands when instructed to form a circle, gave me a pair of combs for the other children to hold instead, gave tacit encouragement and acceptance to my classmates ostracizing and alienating me.

The continual practice in physical education was to have the popular children choose sides for teams. When I was chosen last — each and every single time — it was in front of everyone.

I had advocates and supporters among members of the teaching staff; one of my teachers told the class that I would be at the top of a pyramid of students if it was based on reading ability.

My memories of spirit week activities are that they placed emphasis upon our colors, our mascot, our team. Spirit week and game-night pep rallies emphasized us-against-them, whether name-calling was involved or not — and the school’s most popular students were again given power over students who were potentially weaker and more vulnerable than they.

A recurring feature of game-night rallies involved students selected to perform challenges.

Rally attendance was mandatory and I was always fearful about whether I’d be humiliated in some way in front of the entire school. I hated pep rallies and if schools today were to consider abolishing the practices, I for one would be in support.

At the very least, I hope schools reconsider giving the most popular students so much power over other students in the school.

Teachers and school administrators need to accept the reality that their attitudes make a difference. Any mission statement that promotes tolerance and acceptance will be undermined by sanctioned school activities that promote ridiculing other teams.

What a person does always carries more influence than what he or she merely says. To say one thing and do another is hypocrisy.

Any programs that promote acceptance and understanding among students, such as Challenge Day, need to be accompanied by zero-tolerance policies that are consistently and rigorously enforced, with the victims of bullying spared the burden of having to initiate complaints.

A few days after reading Harby’s letter I was volunteering at the Middletown Library and saw three DVDs in the collection that address school bullying. The school administrators that Harby talks about in her letter would do well to view these DVDs and consider what kind of school culture their actions are contributing to.

A search of the library catalog and its audio and video resources shows many more resources available on the subject of bullying. Access the catalog at your nearest library or online at http://catalog.sonomalibrary.org/ipac20/ipac.jsp?profile=lake#focus.

Published Feb. 14, 2012 in the Lake County Record-Bee

1 comment:

  1. A keyword search on the phrase “zero tolerance,” performed July 22, 2016, returned 14 usages in reference to bullying among writings on my blog, in which I expressed thoughts and concerns as a survivor of childhood bullying. But “zero tolerance” is imbued with specific meaning in the education community and, as a result, I need to clarify my past usage of this term:



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