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Bullying: “If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist”

May 10, 2011

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.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2011 11:38 am

    Sadly, this was the response of our son’s school. He’s in the second grade and was punched in the stomach by another kid. (A kid with a history of violence… again, SECOND GRADE!) I sat down with the principal & teacher and they first told me it was an accident (punched in the stomach so hard it left a bruise… BY ACCIDENT?!!) and then that my son started the fight (apparently, telling the kid not to cut in line or jump over other kids = starting the fight). Finally, they told me that my son’s “is not the type to be bullied.” At that point, I pretty much “yes’d” them until I was out of the meeting because I saw I’d get nowhere with them. My wife pulled him out of school and he was out for over a week. Now we’re working with the superintendent to try to solve this problem.

    • Corinne Gregory permalink*
      May 11, 2011 12:31 pm

      I think this is absolutely tragic; what’s worse is that it’s all-too-common a story. We have to do better…aren’t our kids worth it? Let me know if I can be of help in any way.

      • May 12, 2011 6:58 am

        Thanks. Do you know who you should go to if you don’t feel that the superintendent of your school district is helping? The department of education?

      • Corinne Gregory permalink*
        May 12, 2011 7:04 am

        I would first go to the School Board — you usually have one member specifically “responsible” for your school, but I don’t know about your particulars. If that doesn’t work, then yes…the Dept of Ed — again, there is usually a group/dept that is responsible for school safety. If physical assault is involved, it’s not out of line to file a report with the police, but I would only do that if the school board doesn’t respond.

        Does that help?

    • Joy permalink
      June 8, 2011 6:46 pm

      My son started being bullied in second grade too! He was the littlest in his class and was bullied by the biggest. You want to know why? My son was best friends with the girl that the bully liked. She didn’t like him back. Yeah, second grade. In our school, they don’t have a “bullying problem” they have a “tattling problem” My son’s in grade six now and has learned to keep his mouth shut. Now I go in and let the teacher know who’s picking on him and what they are saying to and about him. If a kid tells on another kid, they don’t take it seriously. Or it’s their fault – or your’s because you’re just “coddling” him. I am soooo tired of the whole thing. It’s really discouraging – I hope things improve for you. We’re in Canada – but this is universal.

      • Corinne Gregory permalink*
        June 8, 2011 8:12 pm

        Thanks, Joy, for your comment. We have solutions that we can offer to Canada, too. Let me know if you’re interested. This is NOT how it has to be. We can build cultures where this behavior just doesn’t happen. Proven in 11 states across the US and we’re happy to serve Canada, too!

  2. Valerie @ My 2 Cents permalink
    May 11, 2011 7:50 pm

    I had this type of incident too. My daughter in 1st grade was bullied. She had was picked up by the throat and recess and held up agains a fence by a third grader and had another bang her head into the cement cinder block wall while they were standing in line against a wall. I demanded they switch her to another class and warned them about another incident like that at recess. I ended up pulling her out and homeschooled her for many years. She is a graduating senior this year but I hope my younger three never go to PS. I have been homeschooling for years now and love it!


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