NY Times: How should schools Handle Cyberbullying?
The NY Times ran a story yesterday (6/28/2010) that covered the topic of cyberbullying and whose responsibility it was to ensure that kids were using the Internet, cell phones and other connected media in a safe, sensible way.
I find the question itself interesting (the title of the article was the title of this post). The point of the article was two-fold: not only what is the jurisdiction or responsibility of the school when the cyberbullying occurs off-school hours and on private compters, but is directed at other students? The second issue is: what do SCHOOLS do about this kind of bullying?
The challenge that, with every new “type” of bullying, schools (and others, to be fair), think that we have to impose some type of new and specific type of solution. So, now we have specialization on cyberbullying, not just “regular” Internet safety. I’m not saying it’s not a good thing to talk about the specific types of bullying, but we keep applying subject-matter bandaids to each new “problem,” when in fact we do virtually nothing to deal with the underlying cause.
Look, cyberbullying isn’t it’s on special “species” of bullying as much as a calculator is a new form of math. It’s a “tool.” Yes, there are some specific traits that are singular to anything “Internet” that don’t exist in face-to-face bullying, but in general the bullying comes from the same underlying cause: kids that lack essential empathy, compassion, caring and respect that helps them understand that treating other people this way is wrong.
So, instead of dealing with that, we try to put “fixes” in place. Policies, procedures, laws…you name it. The NYT mentions that 44 states now have anti-bullying laws on the books, but most of the kids doing the bullying aren’t exactly going to be impressed by that fact that bullying is against the law, are they?
I keep going back to this — the mantra: if we spent 1/2 the amount of time addressing the underlying cause of why kids do a whole bunch of anti-social stuff we’d have so much better environments for learning. That includes disrupting classrooms, disrepecting teachers, staff and peers, picking on others, bullying and…well, a whole ton of other stuff. If we ONLY looked at the problem from the perspective of “prevention” rather than management and mitigation, we might find that we gain ground in this area. As I explained to Steve Gallimore last week during my interview on LifeTalk Radio, bullying is nothing more than the extreme end of overall inadequate social skills. As schools on our program have shown, when we focus on building pro-social skills, many things resolve themselves including bullying. Not because we have better policies or procedures or laws, but because the kids understand that this isn’t how they should treat one another.
If we don’t deal with the underlying cause, it won’t matter what we do about cyberbullying. It won’t be the end. There’ll be something else that happens, some new way of torturing or tormenting each other, and we’ll look for some new and special ways to fix that new trend.