Bullying: “If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist”
Do you remember being a child and pretending that if you had your eyes closed you or someone else with whom you were playing the game was invisible? The thinking was, “If I can’t see you, you aren’t there.” Well, most of us grew up and learned that just because you aren’t looking at something or someone, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
I read an article this morning in the Miami Herald that has me concerned that our schools may be falling into the same child-like dreamland. The gist of the article is that in Florida, apparently cases of bullying are going under-reported in school districts across the state. If you look at the chart cited in the article, bullying has decreased in every school district over the past two years listed (2008-2009, 2009-2010). Virtually half of the school districts in the state, the Herald shares, reported fewer than 10 bullying incidents per year.
School district officials question these statistics. Pinellas County reported only 71 bullying incidents in 2009-2010. Given what we know of previous data, school district size, and average rates of bullying nationwide, the officials would have expected a number closer to a little over 1,100. Maybe the wide variance in expected vs. reported numbers is due to how they are defining bullying? Or, maybe there’s something more troubling — and potentially dangerous going on?
I frequently have education officials share with me after one of my presentations that their school “doesn’t have any problems.” If this is true, then not only do I think it’s terrific, but I want to know what they are doing right where everyone else isn’t seeing the same situation. More likely, however, is that the school administrator’s don’t want to have the stain of “bullying happens” on their school. And, who can blame them? I would completely support a magic wand that just made everyone play nice and treat each other with respect and compassion. I’d be out of a job, but I could go on to my next dream profession.
I’m not saying that schools are being malicious or devious in trying to downplay the challenges they face. It IS dangerous, that’s true, but when education is already so under-fire, what principal wants to stand up in public and admit that, in spite of their efforts to date, they have not been able to get a handle on bullying, and, in fact, it’s getting worse?
It would be honest, because this IS what’s happening in most of the schools across the country. But to admit to a problem like this implies that our “best efforts” aren’t good enough. News flash, though, folks: they aren’t. Bullying continues because we are looking at the problem much too late in its lifecycle. We don’t need more “anti-bullying” policies, approaches, laws (like the one currently on the table in Oregon requiring tougher reporting), or similar. What we need is to address overall student behavior and motivation. Yes, I mean social skills, emotional development, character education. Spend a little more time on the fundamentals, and make sure EVERYONE has it (students, teachers/staff, parents), and you will be surprised how not only your bullying numbers plummet, but your overall environment will become safer, happier and more productive.
That is the problem we’ve been ignoring for too long. And the reality is, by pretending we don’t have a problem, we continue to doom ourselves and our kids to the same mediocre outcomes.
To really fix this requires courage. It requires courage, it requires committment, and it requires a strong belief that things CAN (and must) change. I’m going to continue to call for those enlightened leaders to be bold, not be afraid of the truth, and take a stand for what your educational environment SHOULD be. And if you need help in realizing this dream, contact us and we’ll be there to help.