What makes a bully? Part 2

By | February 8, 2010

I reworked my recent blog entry a bit and submitted it to the Boston Herald for consideration as a letter to the editor and/or “As You Were Saying…” (which is what the Herald calls guest op-eds) column.  Here’s the letter they published today:

Good citizenship taught

The school my wife and I chose for our children stands out dramatically because the students, faculty and parents are nice to each other and happy to be there. This does not happen by chance; it is the result of a consciously designed, constantly maintained culture which emphasizes respect and empathy as the community’s most precious values.

That culture could not possibly be achieved through punishment and discipline. Rather, good citizenship is an essential component of the curriculum, in every class and every grade.

And therein lies the solution to bullying. Schools cannot merely teach our children not to be bad; we must teach them to be good.

Jonathan Kamens, Brighton

Here’s what I originally sent them:

Standing up to bullies is not enough

The terrible tragedy of Phoebe Prince’s suicide, following months of relentless bullying by other students, has triggered yet another wave of calls for schools to enforce strict anti-bullying policies. Such policies are important, but if they were enough, then the bullying problem would have been eliminated long ago. Bullying is the symptom, not the disease, and the time for stronger medicine is long overdue.

When bullying is pushed into the spotlight, it is always because of a tragedy. The rarity of these leads us to believe that the bullying which caused them is also rare, a belief to which we cling because it absolves us of communal responsibility. But in fact, bullying and meanness have become the norm: a 2001 study estimated that 30% of students in the U.S. were involved in bullying.

The academic subjects taught in school are intended to give our children the skills and knowledge they need to grow into happy, successful adults. Respectful, polite, and thoughtful behavior, which in our parents’ day was referred to as “good citizenship,” is just as critical as reading, writing or arithmetic, and it, too, needs to be taught continuously.

The school my wife and I chose for our children stands out dramatically from the others because the students, faculty, and even the other parents are nice to each other and happy to be there. This does not happen by chance. Rather, it is the result of a consciously designed, constantly maintained culture which emphasizes respect and empathy as the community’s most precious values.

That culture could not possibly be achieved through punishment and discipline. Rather, good citizenship is an essential component of the curriculum, in every class and every grade.

And therein lies the solution to the bullying problem. Our schools cannot merely teach our children not to be bad; we must teach them to be good.

The terrible tragedy of Phoebe Prince’s suicide, following months of relentless bullying by other students, has triggered yet another wave of calls for schools to enforce strict anti-bullying policies. Such policies are important, but if they were enough, then the bullying problem would have been eliminated long ago. Bullying is the symptom, not the disease, and the time for stronger medicine is long overdue.

When bullying is pushed into the spotlight, it is always because of a tragedy. The rarity of these leads us to believe that the bullying which caused them is also rare, a belief to which we cling because it absolves us of communal responsibility. But in fact, bullying and meanness have become the norm: a 2001 study estimated that 30% of students in the U.S. were involved in bullying.

The academic subjects taught in school are intended to give our children the skills and knowledge they need to grow into happy, successful adults. Respectful, polite, and thoughtful behavior, which in our parents’ day was referred to as “good citizenship,” is just as critical as reading, writing or arithmetic, and it, too, needs to be taught continuously.

The school my wife and I chose for our children stands out dramatically from the others because the students, faculty, and even the other parents are nice to each other and happy to be there. This does not happen by chance. Rather, it is the result of a consciously designed, constantly maintained culture which emphasizes respect and empathy as the community’s most precious values.

That culture could not possibly be achieved through punishment and discipline. Rather, good citizenship is an essential component of the curriculum, in every class and every grade.

And therein lies the solution to the bullying problem. Our schools cannot merely teach our children not to be bad; we must teach them to be good.

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