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Friday, 19 December 2008

More on Bullying and Zero Tolerance

Some of the discussion on yesterday's post on bullying has gotten me thinking; not just the things people said in the comments but the sorts of things people often say on the subject of bullying and in general, to my call for zero tolerance to it.

I recognise that with a policy of zero tolerance the black and white components - what is and is not bullying - are easy to identify and apply the policy to but the grey is where it gets messy. Is name calling bullying? How much name calling? At what point does it move from within the realm of the sort of negative social discourse one has to get over to bullying? People claim that the grey renders a policy of zero tolerance hopeless to interpret and enforce.

I submit that this problem is not a reason to reject a policy of zero tolerance; far from it. This objection would pretty much apply to any type of behaviour we might want to form a hard line policy around. What is and is not harassment? What is and is not stalking? What is and is not assault? What is and is not drunk driving? What is the point the line is crossed in each variation and form that these types of offence come in? Like bullying, these issues have complex grey areas yet this problem does not prevent us forming policies to answer these questions.

A general framework, of what bullying is and what sort of zero tolerance response should apply accordingly, can be laid down as a lens and common sense and consistency in how the behaviour to hand is viewed in accord with the lens can provide a workable policy for a school's management to administer. Central records could be kept, defences to bullying formed and precedents could be created and followed. You could even go so far as to set up a bullying tribunal or court run by the ministry to ensure consistency and fairness and prevent arbitrariness. There are all sorts of ways around the problem. Zero tolerance to bullying could be implemented and nothing would send a clearer message and act as a better deterrent than knowing if you crossed that line you would face serious consequences.

Bullying in the real world is assault, is harassment/stalking, is theft. In the real world these things have real consequences. Why do adults get proper protection from them but not our children? This inequality in the most basic of civil rights the state owes all is not ok. [trying hard to not sound like Sue Bradford]

I am not talking jail or periodic detention or hefty fines for these kids or even criminal records, simply remove them from the situation. Make them be the ones that have to deal with making new friends and adjusting to new schools instead of the victims. Make them have to face up to what they are doing by the social ostracisation that comes with being stood down, suspended or expelled. Then maybe they will reflect on why they do what they do, why they think it is ok to treat people like that.

That latter point is another thing that bugs me about the standard approach to the bullying problem. If I was subjected to the kinds of things my son has gone through this year at my place of work my employers would not stand for it and would not call me in to meetings to talk about strategies or commission reports as to why my co-workers were acting that way.

If someone got a group of their friends together and pulled my pants down at work and someone else filmed it on their cellphone camera, those responsible would be immediately suspended pending investigation and on investigation would be fired; even in this politically correct employment environment where it is virtually impossible to fire anyone.

We expect children to put up with things that adults would never tolerate in their equivalent social setting; things that society deems abhorrent; things that are often far more hurtful to them at their age than they are to a grownup. I really don't care if the cool people at work don't like my haircut or my handbag; I don't go to work to make friends. Provided they don't get in my face, I can happily work in an environment where I am not that popular or even that liked. For a teenager, however, that sort of thing is much harder to handle because they are going through the very process of separating their identity from their family's and working out who they are. They are in the process of learning self-acceptance whereas I, in my mid 30's, worked that out years ago.

Worse, we send children back into environments where they are treated like this, where they have to face their abuser before they are ready to. Matt was assaulted a few months back by a nut-bar parent of one of our other kids friends (the guy turned out to be being investigated by CYFS). The assault was really minor but it took Matt some months to stop freaking out that he might run into the guy if we happened to be in situations where he might be - a pretty normal response from someone who does not regularly engage in violence. Kids who get assaulted at school are regularly sent back to classes where the people who have hurt and humiliated them are sitting in the next row, usually the next day. Any time off to allow the victim to get over the bullying and prepare for seeing the bully again is truancy or even if the school graciously permits this time off, it is the victim getting behind in the school work. The injustice is outrageous.

The final objection offered to the zero tolerance approach is that even bullies need an education and if you kick them out of school you are denying them this basic right. While this is true, I don't get the problem. Everyone is entitled to liberty yet if an adult commits assault, theft or serially and criminally harasses someone they voluntarily risk their liberty. That's their problem. They knew the consequences, they chose to engage in the action. Ditto with the bully. If you have to choose who gets an education then the guilty part loses over the innocent.

There are other schools and if they mess that up by bullying some more there is correspondence, boarding schools for bad kids, home education. It is not like removing them from one school is going to ensure they don't ever get an education but it sure is hell going to bring it home to them that if they want one they better not wreck another kid's.


  1. "Even bullies are entitled to an education ..."

    The major issue I see with thinking education in this way (not that I am saying you are) is that currently that "entitlement" is enforced.

    Don't get me wrong, I strongly believe in educating children, however, I think that having the state "educate" and enforce participation in the type of "education" it deems necessary is a terrible way of educating children.

    But that's a minor point, really, as my main point is more about what is and isn't socially acceptable behaviour for children and on how that isn't being taught any more.

    I voluntarily teach religious education to Catholic school children and recently handed out to them an Examination of Conscience based on the Ten Commandments.

    In today's modernist Catholic circles, an Examination of Conscience is generally considered an ancient practice that is not relevant in today's world. However, if you were to read through it, you'd see just how relevant to controlling one's behaviour it is. (link to PDF file).

    Most bullying behaviour would be covered under Commandment 5: Thou Shalt not Kill.

    Perhaps you think that because you have not killed anyone, this commandment does not affect you. This commandment is about having anger and hatred towards others and wanting to do harm them. Sometimes we all get angry, but we need not act on it, we need to act in love. To act in love means we love life:

    Do I love life in all it's forms? If no:
    * Do I hate someone?
    * Did I have a fight, or try to hurt someone?
    * Have I hurt someone's reputation by saying mean things about them?
    * Do I fail to control my anger or my temper?
    * Am I purposefully mean? Do I say things to hurt people?
    * Do I fail to help others when they need help?
    * Do I fail to love my neighbour?

    I think the reason this sort of thing is not acceptable in Catholic circles is because we have taken on too much of a secular mindset which puts the focus or the blame on any behaviour on the other, not on the self.

    And in society in general, I don't see anyway of this changing until more people take on and live Christianity fully - because nothing else demands that you regularly examine and control your own behaviour (to varying degrees, of course, not quite sure how Protestants deal with this).

    But NZ society is moving in the other direction, away from Christianity, therefore it's going to get worse.

  2. Why do adults get proper protection from them but not our children? This inequality in the most basic of civil rights the state owes all is not ok.

    I agree with your post and clearly your son has been denied justice; I am not certain I fully agree with your interpretation.

    I think it is because children are not treated like adults (i.e. responsible individuals) that we see this wimpy approach to bullying. The difference is the focus is on the child bully, not the victim, whatever their age.

    I think your post possibly misses this because the 2 examples are child/ child and adult/ adult.

    Adults talk about how they are effectively stopped from doing anything against "children" for fear of being blamed. So a 15 year old may assault a 30 year old who fears striking back lest they face an assault charge.

    So victims of "childhood" bullying are abused by the system whether the victim is a child or an adult.

    At some of which likely derives from the false Marxist belief that people are basically good and evils are all imposed from society, not from our own nature.

    I agree the solution is low tolerance for the behaviour; shame and physical discipline may go some way towards improving the behaviour also.

  3. Lucyan I believe education is a privilege and not a right. Sdaly we have it as a right and not a privilege. That is one of the ways we have got it wrong as a country.

    If I was minister of Ed I would make students pass an attitude and academic test at certain levels to see if they can go to the next level.

  4. Well, on the bright side, it could be worse.

  5. Shem, interesting contrasting education as a right vs a privelege.

    You see, I think education is a duty, for both the parents and the pupil. Education is part of what makes a civilised society work, and without it we'd fall back into barbarism, therefore it's also everyone's duty to ensure that what children learn is worthwhile.

  6. A duty it may be but most of the parents I have dealt with don't see it like that.

    Sadly, most parents have little clue about what is taught in schools. Added to this even less want to get involved and play an active part. This is a shame especially when we have a curriculum and leadership structure that is very much community led.

  7. Why is it that no one teaches bullied children to fight back. I'm talking about teaching them to physically look after themselves, meaning that if a bully comes to shove them against the wall, you break his wrist and kick him in the balls.

    I realise that in the western world we've all swallowed the mantra that violence solves nothing and all that, but you cannot go through life complaining to tribunals and authorities for everything. Look around us, we as adults are constantly told to walk away, don't fight, run and hide always so we can be safe. Yet people no longer live in freedom anymore, the streets don't belong to us anymore. The criminals are doing what they feel like. And we are becoming nations of cowards, unable to defend ourselves and i think we are raising our children in the same way.

    Why do we always tell our children to run to the teacher or to mommy and never get involved, why can't we teach our children, especially the bigger, stronger ones to step in and help a small kid who is getting his ass kicked. Is it because if we ourselves see something wrong in front of us, we will look the other way?

    Maybe i'm talking crap here, but zero-tolerance, anti-bullying, non-violence, talking, feelings and all that have been around for a while in Australia and just recently we found that kids' biggest worry is still bullying. And i'm sure it's the same in other western countries. So if all this new-age stuff works, i'd like to see it in action.


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