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.