The Bully and the State
Classroom bullying seems to be getting a lot of press these days. In fact, in the UK it is one of the frequently cited reasons for a family to choose to homeschool. Just how prevalent is bullying here in the US? Some statistics:
  • 1 out of 5 kids admits to being a bully, or doing some "bullying."
  • 8% of students miss 1 day of class per month for fear of bullies.
  • 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month.
  • Playground statistics--Every 7 minutes a child is bullied. adult intervention: 4%, peer intervention: 11%, no intervention: 85%
Clearly, we have a problem. And of course, the state has a solution. In 2006, Nebraska's State Board of Education adopted a resolution against bullying. They joined our legislature in unanimously voting to declare September 25-29 Nebraska School Bullying Awareness Week. Now we have a bill before the unicameral to require all Nebraska schools to develop a policy to deal with bullying and to review it annually.

Among the speakers before the unicameral was Shereen Salfity, a young middle school student who helped child psychologist Dr. Patrician Newman write a book: R.A. Hurts...A Book to Help Kids With Bullying and Relational Aggression. Thirty thousand copies were printed off to distribute to schools across the state. And she had the opportunity to autograph a few copies for our state legislators. It is the sort of bill that will probably get passed because who can oppose it? And the law does not really do least I hope. After all, if your school district does not have something in place to deal with the behaviors this bill defines as bullying, it should be considered criminal.

Luckily, the bill's definition does not go so far as to include "relational aggression" as it is defined by this booklet: eye rolling, exclusion, gossip and teasing. This is probably the most common form of relational difficulties found in school, and I do not at all mean to belittle it as a sincere problem by those who experience it. I can't help but wonder if this definition has something to do with a tremendous discrepancy found among the statistics in the compilation linked above, however.

Either way, bullying is a threat to the safety of our children and "something" must be done about it. It seems our natural tendencies these days to look to the state. In fact, in the wake of eight school shootings in 1988 (before Columbine), schools began looking to the federal government and the Safe Schools Initiative was born. The US Department of Education, the US Secret Service and the FBI are all involved in the program, which is almost certain to be expanded since President Bush put together the Conference on School Safety.

But the problem goes deeper than what the state can possibly address. At the end of last year, Lincoln principals pressured the Department of Education to continue to provide a police presence in the middle schools. Board Member Lillie Larson's comment was perhaps the most insightful:
Also, police bring a certain authority to the school that neither teachers or principals have, said board member Lillie Larson. Lincoln Journal Star
Teachers have no authority. Principals have no authority. And that is due in large part to the fact that the parents have no authority. Only a man in uniform with a gun.

Until we can reverse the breakdown of our families, we will continue to see an increase in school violence, bullying, relational aggression or whatever term you want to come up with for it. And the state will be increasingly involved with controlling the students.

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