Bullies Ruin the School Experience

Bullies Ruin the School Experience

I was picked on during my younger school days. I’m not complaining; that’s just the way things were back then. The bigger kids picked on the younger students, and the trickle-down effect led to a few bullies in the school.

Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of good kids and students, but there were bullies who had to take out their aggression on the 98-pound weaklings. I fell into that category.

Let’s get one thing straight right now: Bullying is wrong.

Bullying goes against everything that schools stand for. A school should be a safe haven filled with opportunities to learn and grow; it is a place for children to expand upon their perceived talents and abilities, a place to be nurtured and treasured.

Today’s grown-ups are rightfully concerned about the state of education in the United States. Among their concerns are funding levels for schools and whether standards on which those schools are judged truly reflect students’ performance.

When discussing the social climate at schools, adults would do better to ask for input from the students about bullying and other types of harassment. Why? Because one-third of students between the ages of 12 and 18 reports being bullied at school. This includes verbal harassment in the form of ridicule or rumors.

The National School Board Association (NSBA) has launched a campaign that facilitates face-to-face meetings between students and school board members. In fact, the Department of Education has awarded $38.8 million to states to measure school safety and intervene in schools with the greatest need. NSBA is encouraging school board members to meet with groups of students and ask point-blank questions, such as: “Do you feel safe at school?” and “Do you feel respected by teachers and staff?”

“I don’t think we can solve [the problem] without the students,” said NSBA President Mary Broderick. Students can improve the dialog about improving a school’s climate, and if teachers, administrators or even parents would listen, students would be the source of a wealth of data. It also is a great opportunity for educators to show students they are listening and are aware of and acting on the problems of bullying.

A great example of a school addressing bullying and cyber-bullying is Liberty Common High School in Fort Collins, Colo. Its policy is clear, and if the policy is not enforced, parents can pull their children from the school.

Schools that successfully thwart bullying have common characteristics and are worthy of further attention by policymakers and school officials. For starters, schools should offer an ambitious, well-ordered curriculum that challenges all students. Behavioral expectations should be clear, concise and plainly stated. All students should be fully occupied with schoolwork, homework and edifying extracurricular activities.

Instructors should be competent and skilled in pushing all students to higher levels of academic achievement. Parents should be active and engaged in the school.

Most importantly, parents who find these standards are not being maintained by their students’ school should be free to move their children to schools that do.

“When I began my work as education commissioner in Rhode Island, I pledged that every decision I would make would be in the best interest of the students,” said Deborah A. Gist, who still retains that position. “To make sure we are working in the best interest of students, it is essential to meet with students and to hear their voices and their concerns.”

Keith Welner, professor of education at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said students should be asked to speak about not just whether their schools have anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies, but also whether those policies are known and enforced.

Bullying undermines the safe learning environment that students need to achieve their full potential. Reforming public education in the sensible direction of having school choice, parental empowerment and truly professional (non-union) educators is an imperative first step toward relieving the bullying affliction. By stingily maintaining its monopoly status (at the expense of parenting), government bureaucrats and their political allies are themselves being bullies.

“And, like all scoundrels, these bullies deserve the firmest resistance from Americans who still value freedom,” said Bob Schaffer, chairman of the Colorado State Board of Education, and former U.S. congressman.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Security Today.

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