We had another bullying incident affect one of our children today. Something like this has happened in our family every year (this one is mild by comparison to some others, thankfully).
It’s going on everywhere. A student at another high school just a mile from our home committed suicide last year rather than face repeated bullying. It’s a tragedy widespread enough to have its own name now: “bullycide.”
I can’t claim expertise in bullying statistics, trends, or causes. I know our own family’s story well enough, though. Our children have been advised to “ignore it first, then ask the other person to stop.” It hasn’t worked. (How surprising is that?) They’ve been told to “advocate for yourself.” That’s good advice as far as it goes, if the theory is true that bullies seek out those who seem weak. There is a limit, though. If someone threatens me with a weapon, I’m not going to “advocate for myself,” I’m going to call the police. That principle has a parallel in the schools: sometimes teachers and administrators must get involved.
The solution cooked up by one of our daughter’s grade-school teachers was to write a mark on the whiteboard when she caught a student misbehaving. She gave one student twenty-six marks one day. Something was desperately wrong there. We finally got Lisa, our daughter, transferred to another classroom, where the teacher had a reputation for being terribly strict. Lisa was just thankful and relieved to be in a safe environment at last.
A few months ago she and I talked with a middle-school counselor who has been trying to strengthen anti-bullying measures in our county. Lisa was hoping there might be some way she could help as a student. I asked the counselor what he considered to be the causes of bullying. He answered in terms of broken homes (undoubtedly a major contributor), and also self-esteem issues among both bullies and victims. He’s a thoughtful and well-informed man, but still his list seemed to be missing something, so I asked him, “Isn’t it also that bullies know they can get away with it? Wouldn’t bullying decrease if schools took strong disciplinary action against it?”
It wasn’t a new thought to him—but it had hardly been mentioned at the last anti-bullying conference he had attended. Bullies can be very good at hiding what they do, he said, which partially explains how they get away with it. Our family’s experience, however, tells us that some bullies get a pass. Even when the schools have known what was going on, they haven’t always done much about it. Sometimes they have (one principal stands out as excellent among them), but not consistently enough at all.
I was a music education major at Michigan State University in the 1970s, when MSU’s education department was regarded as one of the top two or three in the country. Our training included a semester in a sensitivity group—a valuable experience for the relationship training it provided, yet weakened terribly by the ethical philosophy informing it. The buzzword of the day was “values clarification.” Teachers were not to impose ethical values, but rather to help students clarify and understand their own, with a view to honoring all students’ values. It was an incoherent idea from the beginning, for there is an ethical value expressed even in that; and to enforce (or not enforce) any rule whatsoever is to communicate and to impose a value upon students. Moreover, as Josh McDowell has pointed out, the Columbine shooters were expressing their values, too. Why not honor them for the clarity of their purpose, if clarity was indeed what their schools were trying to promote?
Values clarification was the fruit of an unbiblical and manifestly false view of persons, that we are basically good: if only our goodness can be drawn out from inside us, we will all do good to each other. This failed educational doctrine has never disappeared as it deserves; instead it has morphed over time into tolerance, the value imposed on others by those who would never dream of imposing a value on others. The effect of values clarification (or at least its underlying philosophy) remains in schools’ unwillingness to recognize evil for what it is. One telling outcome of the 9/11 tragedy was young persons’ “full cognitive meltdown:”
The campuses, once citadels of opposition to military action, generally are quiet, in part, said author and commentator David Rieff [in October, 2001], because this generation of students is hamstrung by the “politically correct” education it has received since kindergarten. “The nice kids have been taught that all differences are to be celebrated,” said Rieff, currently a visiting professor at the University of California Berkeley, “and they’re in full cognitive meltdown. Their homeroom teachers and guidance counselors never told them that there are people in the world who mean them harm.”
To young people educated in this way, Rieff said, “it just doesn’t make emotional sense that cultural differences could lead to war and not greater understanding.”
Schools need to help children understand that evil is real. There are people in the world who mean them harm—and some of them might be riding the same bus with them.
There is a growing anti-bullying movement in America. I welcome and applaud it. I doubt it will succeed the way it could and should, though, unless it takes seriously what Bible believers have known all along (but which our culture has suppressed): that supreme goodness is not bound up in the heart of humans, just waiting for the opportunity to be released. There is evil among and within us. It needs both redemption and correction. As long as we try to hide these obvious truths from ourselves, bullycides will increase, and children like my daughter and her friends will continue to get hurt.
The school assured us today that they will deal with this incident appropriately. We’ve always worked hard to keep good relationships with our kids’ teachers and administrators, and this time I think they will do what needs to be done. I’d love for them to prove my thesis wrong (this time, at least) that schools don’t respond the way they should; for obviously it is a generalization that has exceptions. If they take the right action I believe it will help. It’s hardly the whole answer, but it would be a good step to take.