Everyone has a role in ending bullying
Last week the Medford Area Public School District began a community-wide discussion on bullying.
The hope is that it will start a dialogue between parents, community members and school officials so that the community can address the concerns about bullying.
This is great.
It is great to raise the ongoing issue of bullying and bring it to the forefront. It is great for the community to take an active role in addressing longstanding concerns. It is great to have school board members being proactive about such a potentially hot button topic rather than hiding from it.
When the dust settles on the process, the hope is there will be a renewed vigor in enforcing the district’s already zero-tolerance toward bullying. Without consistent enforcement, even the best intended policy isn’t worth much. The challenge with enforcement is that bullying looks different depending upon the lens you are looking through. Children acting obnoxiously is not automatically bullying, but for the student who has had food tossed at them while attempting to eat lunch in the cafeteria or who got called out for being in any way different than their peers, it sure feels like bullying, even if the people in charge don’t see it that way.
The broader question as the district goes through the exercise in asking the tough questions about bullying is ultimately if we as a school community are giving our students the skills they need to survive and thrive in the real world. Or are we as parents and educators preparing them for the world of sunshine and roses that we wish would exist.
The harsh reality is that bullying occurs virtually everywhere. It would be great if it didn’t. When we as a society venerate business and political leaders who have made displays of bullying behavior part of their brand identity, it is hard to suggest that it is anything but the status quo. Or that those behaviors shouldn’t be copied.
Rather than teaching children to run to teachers, principals or other authority figures, children need to be taught to be self advocates. They need to be given the tools to deal with bullying when it happens.
The hard truth is that in the real world, those authority figures won’t be there or simply won’t care. Too often bullies go unchallenged and in absence of any consequences become bolder in their behavior.
That doesn’t mean we give up. It just means the trail up to the shining city on the hill is a steep one. It is the responsibility of all adults to leave the world a better place for our children and their children and all children. We are doing a dismal job at that.
We must do better to be kind. We must do better to remember the most basic rule of treating others like we want to be treated. We must do better as a society in choosing people to emulate who reflect these values.
A well-worded policy won’t be a magic bullet to end bullying, but the community-wide discussions getting to that point just might be.