Bullied: The Fallout of No Child Left Behind?
Dr. Robyn–One of my daughters (I have 9 yo twin girls) is being bullied terribly. I have spoken to the teacher, principle, adjustment counselor. I have even had Tim and Kim speak with her this week because she brings it home to hurt her sister and disrespect me. How do I get the school to adopt a No Bully policy? Next year will be their last year in elementary school but these children will be moving on to middle school with my girls. It started with just a few children and now the whole class is mean to her. She says she has “no friends” and she doesn’t anymore. She has gone from a confident child to a child that thinks she is ugly, fat and deserves to be treated badly.
I’m not a very politically-minded person. I don’t spend hours debating the current campaign or arguing about something George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or John McCain did or said. I do care about children though—and as you know, I’ve got a lot of opinions when it comes to kids and their education. Particularly, my focus is typically on ways to help children reach their potential and become generous, open-minded, respectful, confident, leaders—rather than on who’s getting the most electoral votes.
After reading a brief post in the Washington Post this morning on the importance of teaching the whole child in school, my feelings, as usual, became more acute. We talk about the need for character education and yet in many schools, kids aren’t receiving it.
It’s been difficult to see the emotional fallout regarding the intense focus on academics during the era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). High expectations in reading and math have left children in an emotional and social funk. I’ve already started receiving requests for bullying and leadership seminars from schools who anticipate a continuation of the bullying trend that’s happened over the last 7 or 8 years. Children don’t know what to do and teachers don’t know what to do– and nothing much is being done in most places.
What’s going on now is similar to what happened decades ago– lack of knowledge, lack of no-how, lack of money, lack of listening, and lack of implementation in schools. These reasons, I believe, were the same reasons that I wound up getting horribly bullied in elementary school years ago. Are we still in the same place?
No promotion of positive values—no prevention of alienation, no expectation of character in action– even if today’s bully is tomorrow’s criminal. Perhaps it isn’t hard to believe that this is part of what fuels (and pushed me in the past) to become a child development expert in my adult life. I figured, “I guess I’ll have to figure out the answer myself.” The teachers at that time (and I don’t think it’s gotten better in most cases since), had absolutely NO CLUE what to do about bullying. There was no real protocol and a real feeling of dart throwing in the dark when it came to solving the obvious issue.
Time to let the cat out of the bag…
It was fifth grade when it first happened to me. Admittedly, I was a sensitive girl—very friendly, quite intuitive, and often, too eager to please. This social profile, along with the fact that I had become too close with a girl who was already considered “the best friend” of another bossy, albeit insecure, 5th grader, named Jenny, put me in a precarious situation. I was ready to begin some of the worst days of my life. As an adult, I can still say that with confidence. I was about to become a consistent victim of bullying during this unfortunate year. Boy, do I have some stories that would make your head spin.
While in Martha’s Vineyard this past weekend, I had a great conversation with some of my friends about the tragic sabbatical that children have taken from social and emotional education. On the one hand, the lack of character education in schools is absurd (and why we’re so grateful to Powerful Words Member Schools for supplying it in the after-school arenas).
On the other hand, the children have been robbed of natural social lessons due to the diminishing budget for gym (time when children need to work together outside of the academic world), art (a time when children can express themselves artistically and put their feelings about nonacademic things to paper), drama (an activity that allows children to act out, try out, and get out their feelings in a healthy way), music…and the list goes on and on. And let’s not get started on the fact that children have full access of the computer/internet and no education about the decorum, respect, and responsibility it takes to use it. We can say “it’s got to stop” but without the opportunities for children to learn positive interactions and the diminished focus on providing such opportunities in schools, we’ve got a major problem.
So now what?
I’m troubled and reassured by the schools that are asking to bring me in to talk to the children about bullying —in person, cyber, or otherwise. They may actually be noticing it may be a problem—or they’re simply trying to “shut up” a parent who’s complaining that their child is being bullied (something that is definitely happening in some of these schools). It’s clear that money is tight– since most of it is designated for more math or reading prep– not social education. This has to be a one-shot deal. But what can I possibly do or say in an hour that’s going to change the social climate of the school?
There have been plenty of parents who’ve reached out and written to tell me about their child who has been bullied, teased, terrorized, ostracized, and gossiped about.
I’ve already gone into school to role play strategies that are meant to help children cope when a bully “attacks.” But I’m not really sure that it’s where I should put my focus. Do you? I mean, why give the education to the “victims” when it’s really the leaders and bullies that need the social education —I guess I’d rather “promote” positive interaction rather than “prevent” (which implies the risk is still very much there), negative interaction.
So I’m at a stalemate. I admit it. Since the schools aren’t really asking for it– I’d like to ask you for your opinion. If you had someone go into your children’s school to talk about bullying—or someone who was actually going to make a difference—what would you want them to do or say? My inclination is to talk to the “leaders” in the school (the teachers would have to pick these out) and put them through leadership training.
What do you think? What would you want for your children? I’d like to help but I’m not really interested in putting a temperamental band-aid on a sore subject nor am I interested in being the walking check-mark next to the school administration’s program requirement list for the year.
As educators, our after-school program instructors that constantly keep their eyes on respect, discipline, confidence, responsibility, generosity, and more– we thank you– you are needed more than you can ever know. I wonder how many children you have saved from being the victim as well as the bully– through the consistent use of character education and Powerful Words. Now we need to know how to transfer some of our expertise and programming into the school systems that need it so badly.
Your comments and ideas are respected and very much wanted. Please comment below.