October is National Bullying Awareness Month, and as we ask our children and our schools to prevent bullying, we ought to take a hard look at ourselves too. Recent attacks on an overweight female Wisconsin TV anchor — and her response — illustrate the point.
This week, Jennifer Livingston of WKBT responded on air to a viewer’s email that complained that she was not a suitable role model for the community’s young people due to her large size. She responded to the attack by saying:
“That man’s words mean nothing to me, but what really angers me about this is there are children who don’t know better…who get emails as critical as the one I received, or in many cases even worse, each and every day. The Internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become a battleground and this behavior is learned. It is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email. If you were at home and you were talking about the fat news lady…guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat.”
My article on ParentInvolvementMatters.org this week, How Adults Can Stem the Tide of Bullying, addresses this subject. Children learn what they live, and they pick up disparaging comments and behaviors from the important adults in their lives. Along with various resources, the piece discusses the positive behaviors that adults should engage in to combat bullying. These include:
- Talking to children about both being bullied and about being bullies.
- Being a role model for kindness, caring, and understanding.
- Speaking with children about bullying and cyber-bullying to make sure they are not engaging in it.
- Discussing how hurtful cyber-bullying is, and emphasizing that what is online stays online forever.
- Emphasizing that online misbehavior could affect your child’s future.
- Encouraging your children to tell you if they are bullied off or online.
- Reassuring your child and making sure to remind school personnel that retaliation cannot be condoned.
- Discussing Internet safety with your children, and monitoring what they are doing online.
- Informing schools if there is bullying, and joining with schools to promote bullying awareness and prevention programs.
A recent article at Parenting.com points out that kids with unmarried mothers and fathers are becoming more common than children with divorced parents. Findings from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia indicate that children are twice as likely to have unmarried parents living together than divorced ones. “Divorce used to be the biggest issue facing kids, when in fact, having cohabiting parents is the more common scenario,” Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, told Parenting.com.
While the article points out that celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie and Kourtney Kardashian, have all but erased the stigma that used to be associated with children out of wedlock, an unmarried parental unit is not as stable as a marriage. The National Marriage Project reported that two-thirds of children will experience the break-up of cohabiting parents by the time they are 12-years-old while only one-quarter of married couples with children of the same age will divorce.
What, if any, are the implications of these findings for our schools and society?
Public Wants Local School Boards to Run Schools
An article by Michele Molnar in Education Week reports that parents and taxpayers look to local elected boards of education to run and improve their public schools. At the same time, the public wants federal and state governments to disseminate learning standards and ensure equitable funding. These were the findings of a study by researchers at Michigan State University based on 40 years of public opinion polls.
With all of the emphasis on federal government initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, it’s important to remember that our public schools are locally controlled. According to the article, more than 90,000 locally elected school board members serve on about 15,000 boards of education in the United States.
It goes without saying that if parents and taxpayers are counting on their elected representatives to run their school districts, they ought to be engaged and involved in the process. Attend board meetings, read local media coverage, and check out school board minutes!
Bullying Specialist Hired Following Complaints
Speaking of local boards of education, the Rochester, N.H. school board voted unanimously last week to hire a “student safety and behavior support specialist” to address bullying and harassment at the Rochester Middle School. This is a brand new position in the district, according to Principal Valerie McKenney. She said she developed the position following community complaints about student behavior.
Last month, a mother and grandfather spoke at a school board meeting about their concerns for their middle school student. The mother told the school board that her child had been severely damaged by teasing and even pulled into a closet by staff, which she believed to be inappropriate. When she asked to see surveillance footage of the incident, her request was denied.
Superintendent Michael Hopkins told the board that the middle school administration will still meet with parents to address behavioral issues with students, but the specialist will work to investigate initial complaints that come in from students, and work with 40 to 50 students that are consistently engaged in bullying.
The new bullying and harassment specialist will receive a teacher’s salary. Was the creation of this position an admission that the existing administration can’t handle all of the bullying in this school? Is this money well spent? Parents at the Rochester Middle School will have to decide.
Conflict of Interest Paid for by Taxpayers
According to the Huffington Post, a Virginia education reporter, who reported on the Alexandria Public Schools for the online media outlet, Alexandria News, was hired as a consultant for the same district to help it improve the district’s public image. She was paid to help with spin control on an independent audit that revealed mismanagement in the district’s capital improvement budget. She also drafted a district-wide and school communication plans, and occasionally wrote press releases. The reporter no longer consults for the district.
Superintendent of Schools Morton Sherman said he did not consider the reporter’s role in the district a conflict of interest. According to the Alexandria News, he has spent more than $4 million on consultants since becoming superintendent in 2008.
The use of consultants in school districts across the country has aroused concerns and is an issue that should be monitored by the public in these difficult economic times. Parents and taxpayers should also be alert to conflicts of interest in their own school districts.
By now you have probably heard about a school bus in Greece, NY where a 68-year old bus monitor was abused by four middle school students. This went on for 10 minutes and was filmed by a student who posted it to YouTube. The video soon went viral and a fund was started to send the monitor on a nice vacation. As of this writing the fund has unexpectedly grown to over $677,000. The fund page (http://www.indiegogo.com/loveforkarenhklein) contains a link to the video, which is approaching 8 million hits. This is sad for Greece, but all schools should be able to learn from what happened. As a retired principal who used to ride a lot of buses, I feel I’m in a position to offer some advice to schools and parents.
Bus monitors need training and tools. Either this district failed to properly train their monitors, or this one wasn’t following the expectations of the program. Neighboring districts should cooperate rather than having everyone invent their own program. Bus monitors are among the lowest paid employees and are seldom naturals at dealing with a group of children. This monitor basically did nothing and failed to report the incident.
Bus monitors need good hearing and reasonable physical skill. This monitor said she was hard of hearing. If that is the case, she doesn’t belong in this position. Perhaps she could be moved to job where her hearing wouldn’t be a safety issue. I’ve seen situations where ineffective monitors make situations worse by either inaction or by yelling and even needlessly putting their hands on students. This might be necessary to break up a fight.
Ignoring this sort of behavior clearly didn’t work. I suspect that the other three students would not have felt emboldened to join in had the monitor effectively addressed the initial taunt. If I were there, I would have said something like “young man, you can either apologize for what you just said or face the consequences when I report your behavior to the principal.” If that didn’t work I would pull out my cellphone and start recording. I’ve done this as a substitute middle school principal many times and it has always worked. Monitors should have a cellphone for communication and recording. As an experienced educator, I could have engaged in a more complex conversation to defuse the situation, but you can’t expect that from a bus monitor.
Use this video for your anti bullying program. Show it to the students and have them work in groups to explain why this behavior is not in the best interests of anyone, especially the bullies. Ask: what would you do if you were the monitor and heard the first student start taunting? What would you do if you were there? What will others think of you if you do this sort of thing? Perhaps the final lesson is, if you do something bad, it just might end up on YouTube.
Dr. Doug Green has been an educator since 1970. After teaching chemistry, physics, and computer science, he became an administrator for the next 30 years with experience at the secondary, central office, and elementary levels. He has also taught leadership courses for The State University of New York at Cortland and Binghamton University and authored over 300 articles in computer magazines and educational journals. In 2006 he gave up his job as an elementary principal to care for his wife who had Lou Gehrig’s disease. After her death in March of 2009 he started a blog (http://www.drdouggreen.com) so he could use his expertise to help busy educators and parents engage in bite-sized daily learning. He can also be found on Twitter (https://twitter.com/#!/drdouggreen).
Jessica Barba, 15, returned to Longwood High School in New York last week after a five-day suspension for posting her original anti-bullying video on YouTube.
The video, which was created in fulfillment of a class assignment on persuasive speech, depicted a fictional teenager who is bullied in school and online and eventually commits suicide.When a parent of another student complained to Suffolk County police, Jessica was suspended. But the school district later reversed its rush to judgment. She was reinstated after missing school for five days, and the suspension was expunged from her record. Police said no crime had been committed.
In the video, Jessica portrays a 12-year-old who becomes despondent and depressed after being systematically bullied. Both the title of the video and statements at the start and finish clearly indicate that the scenario is fictional. The video ends with the girl running into her bedroom and slamming the door; a caption indicates that she committed suicide.
“I chose bullying because it is a problem that I feel strongly about,” Jessica told Newsday. “I believe that bullying has to end.”
This incident all too clearly demonstrates that all of the policies, practices and laws in the world are not going to work unless school administrators use common sense and caring to address issues. Indeed, knee-jerk reactions as exemplified by Longwood School District officials, demonstrate the dangerous pitfalls inherent in zero-tolerance policies and anti-bullying legislation.
Enforcement has to be free of politics, prejudicial judgments, and inadequate research and information. In this case, officials were more interested in protecting the reputation of their district than in the welfare of their student. Jessica should have been rewarded for her ingenuity and creativity instead of being punished. There is simply no substitute for fairness. Hastily meting out consequences to satisfy a public relations problem hurts everyone and compromises the integrity of the entire school system.
The Dignity for All Students Act will take effect in New York State on July 1. Let’s hope that school district officials will enforce this with their hearts and heads, keeping the welfare of students as their number one priority. New York joins 11 other states that have already passed similar legislation: California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
The Dignity Act protects against all forms of harassment, especially those based on race, color, weight, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex. The legislation amends state education law to require schools to incorporate diversity and discrimination awareness and sensitivity training into lessons on civility, citizenship and character education. In addition, schools are required to develop effective responses to harassment and bullying, and to mplement strategies to prevent these behaviors.
It’s important that this and all anti-bullying legislation be implemented in a way that ensures dignity and justice for all students!
The 17-year-old student suspected this week of shooting to death three classmates and wounding two others in the cafeteria of their Cleveland high school was characterized by some as an outcast and a victim of bullying.
Despite all the safety measures schools have put in place since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 that killed 13 and all of the attention placed on bullying prevention, we have clearly not made enough progress. When parents send their children to school each day, their minimum expectation is that they will be safe. The ways to do that are not simple because they involve multiple fronts, including gun control, parenting, school safety and security, mental health awareness, and of course, bullying prevention. As the unfortunate ramifications of bullying come to the forefront once again, here’s a heartwarming story of one young person, Jamie Isaacs, who is trying to make a difference after being a victim of bullying herself.
When adults ponder solutions to the bullying epidemic, they often view young people as a big part of the problem. But LI teen Jamie Isaacs — a victim of bullying herself — is determined to be part of the solution.
Jamie’s journey began when she was a second grade student and was bullied by a classmate at her Lake Grove elementary school. As the years went by, other students joined in, forming an “I Hate Jamie Club.” Members of the club sent Jamie derisive emails and even death threats. Her parents ultimately decided to transfer her to a private school.
Now 15, Jamie has started a foundation, written a book, and is lobbying for stricter laws. She is also in the process of writing and recording a song about her bullying experience and is shooting a music video to accompany the song. Last summer she worked with filmmakers to create a documentary about bullying. Her book, In Jamie’s Words, is her effort to be a voice for other victims of bullying, and to share the strategies she used to persevere.
The Jamie Isaacs Foundation for Anti-Bullying runs a hotline that takes calls from kids who are being bullied. It also presents programs to students, teachers, and administrators to help raise awareness about the signs and effects of bullying. In addition, the foundation assists children and their families to find services and resources to help them overcome the impact of bullying.
According to Newsday, Jamie was recently honored, along with Paige Pless of Albany, by the New York State Senate for their attempts to stop the spread of cyber-bullying.
“I didn’t want what happened to me to ever happen to anyone else,” she told Newsday. She added that it is important for victims not to feel alone.
“That helps them, knowing that there’s someone else out there like them that’s experiencing the same thing.”
Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) introduced resolutions commending the two teens for fighting against harassment and bullying that occur online.
Last month, Klein introduced a cyber-bullying bill that would expand the crimes of stalking and aggravated harassment by adding engaging in “electronic communication” with minors.
“What we’re seeing now in the digital age is hundreds, hordes of invisible bullies that are hiding behind social media and harassing one another,” Klein told Newsday. “The old adage is that sticks and stones may break your bones but words cannot harm you, I think we’re seeing, unfortunately, that words can kill.”
1. In a dismal economy, schools made deep cuts into their educational programs in 2011.
• In 2012, look for more cutting, including mid-year cuts. School districts will consider school closings, grade reorganization, and redistricting. Administrative jobs, particularly district-wide positions, will be on the chopping block. Parents will lobby for central administrative cuts, insisting that an extensive and excessive central administration should not be kept at the expense of educational programs impacting their children. Consolidation of school districts, in a way that reduces administration and retains neighborhood schools, will also be seriously explored.
2. High school and college sports were under fire for lack of accountability in insular “old boys’ networks” in 2011. Most notably, the egregious allegations of repeated child abuse by Jerry Sandusky and the cover-up by his superiors heightened awareness of the dangers to children when there is a lack of accountability. On Long Island, a superintendent who had once been a coach was accused of directing a principal to have teachers inflate the grades of a star football player.
• In 2012, look for more uncovering of favoritism and bad behavior on the part of the adults in charge in high school and college sports. There will be an outcry for fairness, watchfulness, and an overhauling of sports programs as well as child abuse reporting laws.
3. Bullying and cyber-bullying were in the news in 2011 because of resulting teen suicide. States, such as New Jersey, passed anti-bullying laws.
• In 2012, look for more serious discussion about bullying and cyber-bullying. The emphasis will be on programs that prevent bullying and what adults – parents, educators, and others – can do in this digital age where online bullying can occur 24/7. Watch also for a serious dialogue of whether legislation is the answer or if creates additional victims.
4. In 2011, SAT student cheating rings were uncovered on Long Island, and teachers were accused of cheating by changing their students’ answers on standardized tests in Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.
• In 2012, watch for more cheating scandals. While there will be more arrests to crackdown on cheating, there will also be soul-searching reflections about why students and teachers feel compelled to cheat.
5. Many parochial schools closed their doors and there was increasing fire directed at some charter schools in 2011.
• Look for the impact on already strapped school districts as hundreds of former parochial school students enter the public schools in 2012.
6. In 2011, parents formed unions in places as far-flung as California and New York City. These groups were created to empower parents with a voice in their children’s education.
• Watch for more parent power in 2012. For example, in New York State a 2 percent tax cap will go into effect, forcing districts to look for cost savings unless 60 percent of the voters vote to exceed the cap. Parents in New York and elsewhere are becoming increasingly aware that districts can put anything on the table to be cut, including sacred cows such as full-day kindergarten. Look for your district’s schedule of budget meetings, attend them and speak up! Stay tuned to Your Education Doctor for strategies to help you advocate for quality education for your children!
I wish you a happy, healthy, and successful new year!!!
Concerned that he was being perceived as a bully, TV Host David Letterman recently volunteered to stop his persistent fat jokes about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Letterman’s biting humor is nothing new, but when the charge of bullying was raised he backed off.
To be fair, Letterman has not been alone in targeting Christie. Other comedians, political pundits, and average Americans have also derided Christie’s size.
Politicians are accustomed to being the butt of jokes – Christie even mentioned it when he announced Tuesday his decision not to run for president — but did the Christie fat bashing cross the line?
The criticism has nothing to do with whether you are or are not a supporter of Gov. Christie. And let’s be real, Chris Christie is a tough, centered guy, who can withstand whatever is dished out. But what do these fat jokes say about us – about our tastes, our values, our society?
As we observe National Bullying Awareness Month, and we ask our children and our schools to prevent bullying, we ought to take a hard look at ourselves too. Are we promoting bullying by repeating and laughing at fat jokes? Are we encouraging bullying by scornful and sarcastic remarks that we make about gays and others? Are we a party to bullying when we don’t step in and say something when we observe it? Are we allowing bullying to fester when we don’t report it to the school?
We know that youngsters learn what they live, and that children, even at a very young age, hear much more than we think they do. They are also very adept at picking up non-verbal cues. What messages are we sending our children? Are we tacitly encouraging them to be bullies?
Most children who are bullied are not as resilient as Chris Christie. When asked about his weight, his standard answer is: “I eat too much.” And few doubt that he is fully capable of destroying the bullies – if he wanted to. Youngsters who are bullied may develop anxiety about seeing the perpetrators at school and elsewhere. Their school performance may be affected and they may shun other activities. They may become depressed, and sadly some even take their own lives as 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer recently did.
Parents, teachers, and school administrators need to be vigilant about bullying. We need to talk to children about both being bullied and about being bullies. But first and foremost, we should be role models for kindness, caring, and understanding.
Current and prospective laws against bullying may be too simplistic to solve the problem. Aren’t we as adults essentially responsible for bullying? The prevention of bullying begins with all of us examining our words and our behavior.