BULLYING: HOW TO COMBAT IT

                                    BULLYING- WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

If you go into the lobby of the Department of Education in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, you will see large placards displayed which inform one about how bullying is being handled throughout the Commonwealth.  It is mostly a description of programs that highlight bullying and its negative consequences and educational tools that might help in its eradication.

It’s not that I don’t believe in education, it’s just that in the case of bullying, it does not work. If what they mean is that we should read about bullying and teach from a prescribed curriculum for kindergarten to twelfth grade, I don’t believe that it will work. If bullying is such a great problem in our schools, and evidently in our society (I read Jonathan Martin and the Miami Dophins), how come no one has come up with a solution yet.

Once again, I will make use of my experience as a principal, assistant principal and human relations coordinator. I still feel that unless you have had some experience in a school, whether elementary or secondary, or even at the post-secondary level, you will have difficulty in seeing what must really be done.

I was blessed with having one of the best elementary principals working in a district, in which I was the superintendent.  Bob was a tall and lanky product of local public schools who got his teaching and principal tickets at local colleges. He was familiar with the community and its values. Bob was intimately involved in his 600 student school from morning till night. He knew most of the children (including my own, they still call him Uncle Bob) by first name. He wandered the halls; spoke with teachers, parents and other community residents. His understanding of the kids in the school was his badge of honor.

What does this have to do about bullying? As you can imagine, bullying is never really hidden. If you are a teacher, an aide, a principal or a custodian, you can see when a child is being set upon. If you were a teacher in Bob’s school, and had a problem with bullying in your classroom, most times you took care of it. If you were a consistent person with discipline, the bullying was never allowed to continue for very long. Teachers made a practice of handling bullying in a specific way, to their tastes, all through the year.

If the bullying went further, and landed in Bob’s lap, then the bullyer and the bullyer’s family were in for a very long series of meetings with Bob ( which involved him offering them candy and fruit, mostly apples and bananas). Bob would constantly check on the progress of the bullyer and the child who was bullied. Bob was so good at this because he was bullied as a kid in 6th grade and he never forgot it. He met the bullyer many years later and it turned out that Bob was much bigger than him. Bob was going to remind this fellow of what he had done. He saw that the man was changed and that he was no longer the rotten child that he had been in elementary school. He shook hands with him and walked away.

Not only was Bob confident in his ability  to deal with these situations, but he and his staff made it perfectly clear to parents that this was not tolerated at the Kutztown Elementary School. Bob and his staff created a culture in the building that was plain to all, “No Bullying Allowed Here.” It was understood by not only the kids in the school, but one or two generations previous. Bob was there a long while.

Sure this is a single case. However, I saw a dramatic change in another school building. In one year, the new principal at the high school, who had replaced someone who was not attuned to the school and the kids, changed the tone and tenor in the building. He was astounded by the level of bullying and made short work of it. He backed up his teachers when they brought these kind of problems to him. That made them an anti-bullying team.

There are many of these stories of men and women who have created a climate within the school that does not tolerate bullying or other anti-social behaviors. Are there failures? Sure there are. However, in my experience, even in racially charged situations, a climate can be created whereby problems can be worked out. In my own case, an intergroup council was created to discuss and settle a number of the racial problems. Did it always work out? It did not. However, the students began to learn that there were other ways of handling things, other than conflict.

How about schools that are transient. There are those in big cities that have their enrollments change by 85 percent in one year. What do you do then? No matter who the children are before you, they must understand the values of the school. It must be made plain to them and their parents (yes some kids have only one parent, or in some cases none) that this is the set of values that we will operate under while your children are here. Whether you speak our language or another language and come from another place, or country, these are our values, so that your child can get the best education possible.

Cyber bullying is an extension of the school climate. Although those who do it believe that they cannot be caught, they can be. In this modern world of technology and Facebook, twitter, noodle  tumblr, Instagram, an email, a cyber-bully or group of bullies, can’t stay hidden for long. The technology for finding out who the culprit is (or are) is available if you want to use it.

It saddens me to hear about children who are so affected by technological bullying that they take their lives, or take other’s lives. School staffs must be aware of what is going on in their schools. A good way to find out what’s going on is to establish one or two groups of students. I am not suggesting a student council made up of the elite in the school. How about the principal in conjunction with the staff choosing one student from each school group (kind of like a sociogram), jocks, cheerleaders, goths, plain people, behavior problems, shy guys, etc. Meet with the group (or groups) one time a week, depending on the schedule. After a while, as the group develops, your knowledge of the school’s students will be clear to you. How do I know this will work? I have personally seen it work in a school in which I was the principal.

Yes, it can be done at any level- elementary, secondary and also post-secondary.  You may think that you cannot schedule such meetings, but you can. You will be curious to know if these students will become known as snitches.  They will at first, but confidentiality will be stressed. Soon, other students will want to be part of the group and you may have to start group 2.0. I know of other schools who have tried this with success.

Your best defense against bullying, whether physical, psychological (mean girls) or cyber, is to be aware, through whatever means, of what is happening in the school. If you create a culture that considers bullying an outlier, you will succeed. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a complete school staff and a community to counter bullying.

YOU ARE ALL WRONG!!!!

I never thought that I would say this to Eric Hanushek. “You are mostly correct about money not being the whole answer.” I have just read an article (more of a monograph) about how Corey Booker, now U.S. Senator from New Jersey, got Governor Elect Christie and Mark Zuckerberg to agree to reform the Newark School District in 2009. I did not have the heart to read the entire article. It reminded me of the Annenberg Urban Challenge Grants, as well as the Annenberg Rural Challenge Grants, and the soon to be expanded charter school action on the national level.

No matter what these right minded philanthropists- government types do, nothing will change, on a large scale, until the sending homes and communities change. There really isn’t a program that includes large scale changes in where the kids come from. There is no culture out there, whether in urban or rural settings, that seeks to make things better for the families that send their children to public schools.

I have actually been at meetings where money is being given out for school based programs that take nothing into account about the communities. No matter how much dough Bill Gates gives to change his view of the school world, it will not succeed.  The lessons of charter schools and cyber charter schools are that frightened parents want their children out of dangerous schools in dangerous parts of neighborhoods.

Take a look at the studies of charter schools across the country. Most of them are not better data wise than the public schools from which the children came. Maybe Geoffrey Canada has the right idea. It certainly is not just a school problem. It is a community problem that no one wants to deal with. Why have we allowed our inner cities and rural areas die economically, producing grinding poverty? Are we really salving our consciences by producing programs aimed at poor people that last for a while and produce minimal positive results?

Yes, there are some programs that seem to do some good. Good pre-school programs are one example, as are Title I reading efforts. However, with every change in administration, whether at the state or federal level, previous programs are thrown out and new ones, with fancy names, rise from the ashes. It takes years before these programs mature and then they go away with a new administration. I remember most of them and have created a list of them that I call, “Educational Panaceas.”

So as not to agree with Rick Hanushek entirely (he knows I can’t do that), money is certainly a major factor in fixing our urban and rural educational systems. I believe that each school in our country needs the kind of transformational leadership described in James MacGregor Burns Pulitzer prize winning book of 1980. Leadership should have a moral component to it. There should be a human value to what a person does as a leader. It cannot be the loud mouthed political leader, or a macho charismatic with only his/her own future in mind.

Are there such people? You bet there are. They are all over in the most unexpected places. Many of these folks are not educators. My own children and their spouses would be those kinds of people. I see them in their milieu working with children and adults in a non-threatening manner and achieving their own personal satisfaction with no thought of self-aggrandizement.

We certainly have them in education. I know that Eli Broad thought that we might find them in the military and then have them go into urban places and beat down the opposition. Eli, it really doesn’t work that way. The successful leaders are well aware of the community, well aware of child development, concerned with the future of the children under their care and willing to work hard with those who share their values.

I have mentioned John Sava, Marcus Foster and Jim Rhoades as three of those people. I could mention many more that are now in the trenches. Let’s put the money into an Education Trust Fund right now and begin to find these people. Support them and the communities that they are entrusted to serve. Let’s give the real leaders a chance to flourish instead of pouring billions into such things as “Race to the Top,” “No Child Left Behind,” “Common Core, “and Charter Schools.”

Eli, Mark, Bill, and others, you obviously have strong feelings about improving education. Stop for a moment. Cease all of the giving and look at what really works, not large scale testing, which shows that we are not reaching children in poverty. Let’s stop fighting with those that are trying hard to do a good job, whether teachers, school boards, politicians, parents or others and start at the beginning.

There Rick, am I now coming around to your side of the fence?

WHAT DO WE DO NOW????

I have just been told by one of my closest friends that he and his wife will be moving closer to their children and grandchildren in New York State. They are planning on selling their house shortly and moving out as soon as they can. Another one of our congregants has already moved away to Massachusetts to be close to THEIR children and grandchildren. Some other friends are contemplating moving to South Carolina as soon as they are able. Other friends have already moved to South Carolina and Florida. Another friend moved to Austin, Texas.

Our lives are here in Pennsylvania. We have been living here for the past 51 years and have no need to live anywhere else. With our advocacy for rural education and rural folks, we are locked into living around the Harrisburg area. Our daughter has suggested that we move closer to her in Virginia. We would then be closer to our son and his family who live in Maryland.

We do not want to live in an age cohort community. We want to be able to be around people of all ages. We are not the kind of people who would enjoy living in a gated community. (I never realized until a short time ago that heaven is a gated community) We are still active and purposeful in our lives. There is one problem with what is happening. All of our friends are leaving or have left.

Making friends has never been a problem for us. No matter where we lived, we were always able to connect with people socially. However, at our age, it is not easy to break into other people’s lives. There are fewer people to call at the last minute to have dinner at Giotti’s or Hong Kong Ruby. The circle of friends diminishes even in our Temple. We have gone down from 96 members, when Carol was president about 10 years ago, to a paltry 42 these days.

Carol and I have discussed this subject ad infinitum. There does not seem to be a readymade answer. I guess we could join other organizations, become active in some other ways, or join another temple. Each one of those suggestions holds nothing for me. I really don’t go out bowling or drinking with the boys. I play golf rarely and when I do it is with the friend who is moving to New York.

I must say that we are not lonely. We still do our work, go on vacations, try and be of some service to people (Carol just ran a Walkathon to help refurbish the Pennsylvania Holocaust Monument). I am aware that others have this problem. It is not something that we think about each day. It is more an observation about the state of our lives at this moment. Who knows that the future might hold? If things continue to go a certain way in our country, I may be making new friends at a rapid rate.