News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective
14th May 2010

Mixed views on new anti-bullying law

posted in Education, In the News |

You can’t legislate kindness, despite the state’s new anti-bullying law. It’s not that I don’t support the law or realize the harm bullying inflicts, or that I’m worried about another unfunded mandate the law requires for schools: “train all staff, report all incidents.” We should insist schools deal with bullying. In Lowell, we have had bully-prevention programs and policies in place for years, but are they effective and will the law help?

No doubt, the new law and recent tragedies (the Globe reports one from Alabama today) have raised awareness that bullying can be deadly and that schools must make prevention a priority. This is a huge improvement from shrugging it off as simply a rite of passage. A very long time ago, when I was bullied in the seventh grade, I hid it from my parents and teachers (something many kids still do) because of shame. I finally confided in my older sister, who advised me to stand up to the ringleader, a big, tough girl with mean friends. My days of being bullied ended with a fistfight after school, not the advice given to today’s victims, but one that worked for me. Standing up to that girl changed me. And although I have not had to put my hands on another since, I have remained a fighter in other ways.

Times have changed, and violence is not the prescribed approach for school bullies. Last week, the Lowell Public Schools in conjunction with the Lowell Police Department and the Middlesex District Attorney’s office hosted a community meeting on “Bullying and Violence in the Wired World.” (Dick wrote about it here on his blog.)  The cyber-bullying event explored the role technology has played in making bullying more pervasive, damaging, and deadly.  (View the taped meeting at Lowell Educational TV‘s website.) The day before the Lowell event, Boston Globe Magazine published an article on the topic that raised some sobering concerns about these programs. According to the report, there is little evidence the programs are effective: “…here’s what has gotten lost amid all the legislation and finger-pointing: None of the current anti-bullying programs, despite their fanfare, have been successful in reducing actual bullying among American students in any meaningful way.”

The article also noted that programs should focus on bystanders rather than bullies and victims. Many of Lowell’s programs address bystanders as key players, with tools such as “kindness walls” and “bully boxes” as ways to sensitize and empower students who stand on the sidelines. Yesterday, the Globe published another story about how communities are using the law to jumpstart discussions and policies around bullying. Even if you can’t make meanness a criminal offense and you can’t eliminate bullying behavior completely, these efforts should heighten awareness, impact the way we deal with these issues, and ultimately improve our school communities—hopefully no fistfights needed.

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