Monday, October 4, 2010

Random Thoughts on Bullying

I figured that I would give some thoughts on bullying.

It is not just a bandwagon thing for me.
I live and work between two of the towns known for high-profile suicides due to bullying - Acton and Tehachapi, CA.

Enough people have discussed the topic, so I do not want to be repetitive.
I want to offer some thoughts that I have not seen discussed.

I spent two years as a high school Vice-Principal.
Bullying cases were always the toughest to discipline.
In general, I was not involved until way too late in the process.
Too often, things had flared up to a critical level.
Often, the one being referred for discipline was the victim.
Essentially, the victim boiled over to the point where they lost control and things got out of hand.
When a victim throws chair at the head of the bully, they are going to get in trouble.
If I think that the bully provoked the situation, I need proof.
It is rare to get a good third-party witness that allows me to discipline the bully early.

This scenario is for kids that lose control on the bully.
I doubt that it would help the ones that take it out on themselves.

Aside from Cyberbullying (see below), there were only two scenarios when I could effectively discipline bullying.
#1 - Multiple reported incidences. This allowed me to justify a "where there is smoke, there is fire" progressive-discipline penalty.
#2 - I had a good, adult witness reporting the incident.
Otherwise, no evidence = "We told the administrator, but nothing happened!" (or so it seems.)

Zero Tolerance gets a bad rap because of all the press time is monopolized by people who have used Zero Tolerance to a stupid extreme, in the absence of common sense.
However, much like the "broken window" policing method, Zero Tolerance has its place.

Look at cases of Hazing.
Hazing could even be considered a form of institutionalized bullying.
I am willing to bet that, if you researched the literature and studies on hazing, the lowest incidents would not be at institutions that spend the most money on special "anti-hazing education programs."
My bet on where the lowest incidents of hazing: institutions that have adopted Zero Tolerance policies as a result of civil litigation.
Of course, these are probably the institutions forced to invest money in anti-hazing programs.
It is amazing on how, where there is a will, there is a way.

Where is our will?

Zero Tolerance should not just be implemented at the administrative level.
It must be administered at the "Every Adult, Every Incident" level.
Then, Progressive Discipline and Due Process (The two things that protect the bullies being disciplined.) can be navigated to an effective result.
If/when this happens, the issues of disciplining bullying should be significantly decreased.
Again, where there is a will, there is a way.

We need to watch Cyberbullying.
On one hand, it has taken bullying to extremes.
As a Vice-Principal, I had one successful expulsion for bullying - Cyberbullying.
There were two reasons for this.
#1 - It was an extreme case, and I already had one previous documented opportunity of intervention.
#2 - Cyberbullying leaves evidence. This is a minor silver-lining, but a silver-lining nonetheless.

California Education Code allows schools to discipline Cyberbullying, even if it theoretically occurs outside of school.
Therefore, this type of discipline is easy... hit "print" and give to your administrator.
(Also, print proof that "LoCaChIcA", or whomever, is who you claim.
Teenagers rarely use their legal name in email addresses.)

If you live in another state, check to see if your state has a law that clearly allows school discipline for Cyberbullying.

I do not think that the answer is really that complicated.
I really think that it is a matter of will.

Where is our will?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Eric,

    Nestor Lopez-Duran has a good summary of the research on anti-bullying curricula / programs at

    One issue around bullying (possibly moreso in the elementary & middle school settings) is that parents are aware of bullying, but don't have effective means of communicating with the school around bullying.

    There's a new project to help: