Beyond Bully Prevention

by Jody Sokolower

RSEditors_Jan2012_146One of the pleasures of working on Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality has been the discussions among the editorial committee as we have outlined the book, reviewed submissions, and brainstormed chapter introductions. We’re a small group but we span generations, cultures, and experiences; our meetings are lively, thoughtful, and mind-expanding.

One of the most important issues we’ve discussed is the proliferation of anti-bullying campaigns now being marketed and implemented in school districts across the country. Talking openly with children about how we treat each other is almost always a good thing, but we have serious concerns about anti-bullying as an approach.

For one thing, anti-bullying is reactive rather than proactive. Building community—helping children look for what connects them with others and encouraging them to feel empathy—creates classrooms and schools where bullying is much less likely to happen.

For another, bullying freezes children (and adults, too) into static roles: the bully, the victim, the potential ally. But all of us are more complicated than that, and most conflict situations are more complicated, too. Teaching young people to understand the social contexts that can lead to problems—racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, among others—gives them the tools to solve problems without labeling others.

9780942961591.MAINI remember an example from when my own daughter had just started 6th grade in a new school district. She has always been gender nonconforming, and middle school is especially hard for nonconformists of all types. Another girl on the basketball team teased her nonstop for dressing like a boy, looking like a boy. I knew that this child was being raised by a grandmother who was now too ill to take care of her; her home life must have been incredibly stressful. As a lesbian, I had a strong hunch that issues of sexuality and gender were barely beneath the surface for her, too. Tensions over race and academic confidence were part of the mix. But the school did no community building; there was no effort to help students talk with each other about the issues they were grappling with as brand new adolescents. What a difference it would have made if teachers were talking to each other about how to create something positive. Instead, my daughter stopped playing basketball.

Giving teachers the tools to support students—all students—is at the core of why Melissa, Kim, Jeff, Rachel, and I are so happy to be working on Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality. The beautiful work being done by educators all over the country inspires us every day.

And the enthusiastic response to our Indiegogo campaign has made us realize how many of us are eagerly awaiting this book.

If you’d like to delve more into the problems with anti-bullying campaigns, check out “10 Ways to Move Beyond Bully Prevention (and why we should),” by Lyn Mikel Brown. You can read it online now or as part of our book as soon as it’s published.

Watch the video that tells the story of how the book came to be, and join the community of supporters who are making it possible for us to publish it.

One thought on “Beyond Bully Prevention

  1. “Prevention” is the key word here that gets overlooked. When I do consultations on bullying prevention and restorative justice in schools and youth work, I am always clear about how the term “anti-bullying” is counter productive and prevention is where the focus needs to be. Violence prevention under the health care model of the CDC is the best way to adapt peace education in schools. Empathy and compassion as well as non-violent communication education starting at a young age are first steps. Adults also must be trained and practiced in modeling behaviors that we want to see emulated by youth. When there are vindictive power struggles and passive aggressive conflict strategies at work in the school staff, the students will learn these behaviors (not to mention what they learn at home and on TV). I agree with the author on all the points made, but using the word prevention IS appropriate. We want to prevent violence, not just put a band-aid on it with some fancy curriculum that costs districts an arm and a leg. Let’s keep the term and use it when real prevention is being put in place. We also need teachers to start doing research on what they are using in classrooms. Social Emotional Learning and many peace education techniques (such as non-violent communication practice and modeling) can be effective but until we start collecting data on it it will go unnoticed and the expensive trending “anti-bullying” garbage will continue to be sold at everyone’s expense.
    Thank you for this article, I would love to discuss this issue further.
    Megan Christopher MEd, MS, LLC

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