Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bullying: Looking For Answers in All The Wrong Places

It is heartbreaking to witness the pain of someone enduring the effects of bullying.  Making our school safe for all our students is a responsibility I take very seriously.  Learning and growing in community cannot exist in an environment of fear, intimidation, harassment, or loneliness.

Recently I've been reading about how more and more provincial/state governments are passing laws/legislation to "rid schools of bullying".  Ontario has passed such legislation.  In the United States, following the tragic events at Columbine, many states passed zero-tolerance laws dealing with bullying.

As I understand it, the government here in British Columbia is also contemplating such legislation.

This pending reality here in BC has me asking:

Are we looking for answers in all the wrong places? 
From my experience, most/all schools and school districts have clearly written anti-bullying polices.  The criminal code of Canada already has sections included in it that make certain behaviors associated with bullying illegal (e.g. criminal harassment)

In a recent Maclean's Magazine editorial, the authors assert that in th jurisdictions that have passed "tough anti-bullying legislation" things are not getting better.
 "....after 13 years of attention and legislation, everyone seems to agree that it's getting worse.  Something has gone very very wrong."
Many have suggested that this "get tough legislation" experiment has driven the problem further underground with students and has "increased the hostility and escalates the bullying."

When I think about this reality, I am reminded of Peter Senge's quote:
Today's problems are a consequence of yesterday's solutions.
We need to take notice of this evidence.

The solutions require a systemic understanding of the problem.

As much as I don' t think that legislation or policies provide the complete solution, I would also argue that one off "anti-bullying" events can lull us into a false sense of reality.

Any workshop, awareness day, school policies, slogan or legislation need to be a part of something much more systemic - namely an ethos of love, kindness, forgiveness and caring that imbue a school's culture and relationships.  These values need to communicated and lived daily - by every adult and every student, in every class and in every relationship.

When someone in the community experiences hurt, the situation needs to be dealt with immediately.  A conversation, a phone call, a meeting, a suspension (away from school or in-school), restitution, restorative actions - any and all interventions that will restore justice to the situation.

Schools need to have polices and protocols in place.  The real work lies in acting on the polices and protocols.   This requires the adults in school (usually administrators) to "skate into the puck."  It requires courage and fortitude.  Intervening can be difficult and charged with emotion but intervene we must.

Let me also emphatically state that both victim and perpetrator need to be treated with the utmost respect and care.  Bullying is a problem of brokenness.   Our job is restore wholeness.

The evidence is clear  - legislation will not "rid" schools of bullying.


  1. Could not agree more. Policies tend to mean a great deal to those who tend to follow policies, and very little to those who don't follow policies. Until we get down to the antecedents of those types of negative behaviors and work at that level, policies will always be reactive.

    Awesome post, John!

  2. Hi Cale
    Appreciate your comment. I would also add that policies mean a lot more to those who write policy. The easy part is writing the policy.

    1. I agree that all too often policy means more to the policy writer(s) then to those who are recepients of policy. Engaging in policy writing can be a daunting task partiicularly if you are trying to engage stakeholders who are to implement policy or affected by policy decisions. I agree that no policy, government edicts are ever going to bring about attitudinal changes - it is front line people such as principals,teachers and other staff personnel that are going to bring about effective change if as John says there is a concerted effort to bring about an ethos or climate of compassion, kindness, respect and love of neighbor.