Friday, February 26, 2010

LFPress goes deeper on bullying

I believe this is set to publish in Saturday's paper, but it went online Friday afternoon so I'm linking it now.
Kudos to Jennifer O'Brien and to her editors for allowing her the time to do the research, contact the sources and do the interviews. In a busy newsroom, this is any reporter's largest challenge-- to be assigned the story (whether editor-generated or reporter-initiated) and more importantly, be given enough time to give it justice. It's a great example of how a newsroom and a journalists takes an immediate-impact article (the recent death of a high school student) and comes back to it after taking a breath and keeps asking questions.
I think it hits all the right notes I was trying to sound myself last week when I posted on Elizabeth Witmer's resolution for a November anti-bullying awareness week. It correctly points out that while schools and their staff members cannot be excused from their role in observing, reporting and enforcing meaningful consequences for the bullying that continues to occur within their domain, crapping on the school system won't bring the panacea families of bullied children are so desperately looking for. I contrast O'Brien's piece with a full-pager in the Toronto Sun today by Michelle Mandel on a 13-year-old being kept home from school by her parents because of repeated bullying.
From the LFPress piece:
You can find a parent in almost every Canadian city - many, in this one - who blame school boards for allowing bullying to continue, blame teachers for turning a blind eye. The London Free Press receives calls regularly from parents who say their kids are being bullied and the board isn't helping. Many applaud Ontario's just-imposed requirement that any school staffer or volunteer report bullying behaviour to the principal, while others question why that wasn't required in the first place.
Other social ills - smoking and drunk driving, for example - have lost some of their harsh edges from years of public awareness campaigns, many of them focused on school-age kids. But after a generation of similar treatment, bullying remains such a persistent problem that Ontario, for example, recently had to beef up its legislation meant to help tackle the problem.
While experts point to a variety of factors, and note school boards aren't off the hook, many say the wider solution needs to start at home.
With the mean behaviour continuing, even growing through Internet technology such as social networking sites that leave victims vulnerable online, 24-7, even in their own homes, anti-violence researchers across the board say it's time parents, themselves, addressed what's become a national in-your-face culture that supports bullying.
"Parents want the schools to handle bullying. But how do you handle treating hired help? How do you handle it at a family gathering, when someone makes a racist or a sexist joke? If you say something, you've taught your children to stand up and speak out when something isn't right," said Barbara Coloroso, a best-selling U.S. author and anti-bullying consultant.
Coloroso is eminently quotable and always finds the exact place to stand on when it comes to the issue of bullying. Her landmark text  was the first to find headlines across media to educate on the concept of the triangular relationship that always exists in bullying. I would take every one of her quotes and scream them from a mountaintop if I could.
See for yourself:
"We've come a long way, where kids and schools are recognizing this is not a part of growing up, not normal and necessary. However, we are dealing in a culture where, on one hand, we say be kind and loving to others, and then, here are our TV shows that kids watch. . . where they learn to laugh at somebody else's pain," said Coloroso, who pointed out reality TV shows and aggressive celebrity gossip programs are contributing factors.
"Kids are swimming in a culture of mean."
Coloroso firmly believes school staff and all other adults must hold bullies accountable. That includes those who join in or support the behaviour, through laughter or comments on Facebook.
Bullies, she said, should never get off with just a warning.
"Bullying is never a (simple) mistake," she said.
She said schools need to enforce what she calls the three Ps: strong anti-bullying policies, strong procedures in place and strong programs in place.
So, there is no easy answer. There is increasing realization that ending bullying requires cultural change at a level that goes far beyond the walls of a school or the employees in a school system. We live in a culture of mean, where those who bully get ahead and are often rewarded for their actions. Until society is prepared to realize that, we'll never do justice to tackling the problem.


Anonymous said...

My sister lives in Michigan and they have a great way of dealing with bullying and disruptive students.

First the parents are required to sign a Memo of Understanding re: what's expected of students, parents, educators and admin. If this is not signed the child can not attend class.

Bullying and bad behavior aren't tolerated. If a child misbehaves or bullies another child, it is understood that the parent will be called and notified with a reminder of their signed behavior contract. That's the fist strike.

If the behavior persists the parent next receives a written letter requesting that the parent accompany the child to school and sit with the child through their classes because it's up to the parent to control and impress upon their child to come to school prepared to learn and not disrupt.

Apparently inconveniencing the parent, by having to take time off or their day(work) to sit with their child works very well, and, by signing that contract the parents are fully agreeing to and have knowledge of the consequences.

My sister says that having a parent sit beside their child in school is also embarrassing to the child, especially older kids and they amazingly conform to good behavior.

This would include bullying too, AND, they have what parents and the system should have here too...a rapid response to concerns of bullying.

While the school needn't shoulder the blame their needs to be policies in place to enable those teachers and admin. to act quickly and have authority to act.

What's happened in Ontario is that we did have a policy in place that was misused by some administrators as a target for some students and biased against others(remember the kindergarten kid who was suspended for a chicken-finger weapon violation?

The incoming gov't then managed to take whatever authority admin. had to act away in favor of the human rights of bullies.

Before you're too quick to absolve the London boards you may want to talk to the parents who make up the London Anti-bullying coalition which got its start by parents whose children died as a result of bullying and the inaction by people involved to act on their concerns. That group is still getting calls and requests of help from parents who get put off, ignored or waited out instead of taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

I like the Michigan idea Anon.

ER - I also agree somewhat with society being steeped in a culture of mean.

Look at how popular reality shows are and how some glorified manipulation and pit good vs. evil in contest.

I have to say though that the culture of mean also applies to the school system at times and there have been instances where concerns of parents have been trivialized or ignored by school administration to the point that it drives parents to act in ways they wouldn't normally act.

Parents bully other parents, teachers and principals too.

I recall documenting a story about how a school where the principal and school council developed a Code of Conduct for their school that worked really well. Except when a very serious incident occurred that involved a student endangering to harm other students and a disciplinary action was necessary(and supported by the Code of Conduct) in that the kid wasn't allowed to go on the Grade 8 graduation trip, the parents of the bully went crying to a school board superintendent who over-turned the decision made by the local school partners.

Similarly parents it's been my experience that some schools look the other way if the child doing the bullying and misbehaving is a child of a parent with some standing in the community.

School Councils are a perfect vehicle for ensuring that this issue is handled. It sometimes falls off the radar but it's an important function a school council could have if they were working effectively on a very local level.

I sat in on several consultation sessions on the development of the Safe Schools Act and heard from principals and educators alike that they needed the authority to be able to act and act quickly.

Unfortunately due to some school administrators who suspended six year old for chicken nugget weapons offenses and who targeted certain students that authority morphed into more human rights and consideration for bullies rather than help for victims, authority for school admin. or satisfaction from parents.

I am familiar with the London ABC and know that the have tried to work closely with both boards there with varying degrees of success.


Education Reporter said...

Anon 27 Feb. 09:52

Where is it written that I've ever absolved the London boards (or any other)? I've not. I am very familiar with the London Anti-Bullying Coalition-- I was already reporting on education in this area when Joshua Melo took his life in 2004 and I have a very good memory of how that was handled.

What I AM doing is not rushing to judgment, and not ONLY blaming the school board when bullying results in a tragedy.

To those who would jump on the 'blame the school board' bandwagon, I would ask them to ask themselves who else was standing by when someone got bullied? Who didn't ask the right questions to help? Who else, outside the four walls of a school, didn't intervene?

The Michigan example is an interesting one. Ontario schools are much better than they have been in decades past when bullying wasn't even something most thought was a problem. Are they absolved? NO. Are they working on it? Yes.


Anonymous said...

"We live in a culture of mean..."I completely agree with this.

I wonder how many kids today realize that this is not how it is supposed to be, because 'mean' seems to be the way of life these days. Is this 'culture of mean' the only culture that some of them understand?

Fewer and fewer adults - who DO know better - hide their rude and mean behaviour, or become embarrassed when they have been caught acting inappropriately.

A quick apology after a little 'cuss' gives the message to those who witnessed the 'cuss' know that it is not acceptable behaviour. And it is not about the word, it is about learning what is acceptable and appropriate.

"Bullying is never a (simple) mistake"...I don't think I can agree with this statement.

Often simple mistakes produce very bad results. It does not mean that that was the intent. In this 'culture of mean', what one child has learned as acceptable behaviour can result in an act of aggression towards another child.
BOTH children have been let down by society.