The Only Way Anti-Bullying Laws and Programs Can Succeed

Posted by on June 8, 2010

Everyone has jumped on the “bullying bandwagon.” 

People in education, state legislatures, Congress, the media, and elsewhere  love to focus on a single, hot topic issue and then a single, trendy attempt at a response. The education profession is also notorious for fads (or what I call “edu-fads”), such as the current fad of firing teachers and principals in mass in the name of “reform” and “accountability.”  The single issue, edu-fad in school safety today is “bullying.”

Bullying: The Edu-Fad of the Year in School Safety

The U.S. Department of Education’s top school safety administrator, Kevin Jennings, has been clear in making bullying his priority.  In response, we have seen a lot of the education associations, government agencies, and other advocacy groups jumping on the bullying bandwagon.  Many do so out of  legitimate concern about bullying, but many are also saying what they think (or know) those in powerful positions (the U.S. DOE, Congress, etc.) want to hear as a part of the politically-correct trend of the day.  

It’s also easy for legislators, whether in state legislatures or Congress, to beat the drum for anti-bullying laws requiring schools to have anti-bullying policies and reporting procedures.  The vast majority of these enacted and proposed laws have been unfunded mandates.  So what is to lose for the politicians — and how could any of them ever stand against the proposed bills?  No politician wants to be anti-anti-bullying, right?  

Several recent news stories have stated that bullying is more pervasive than any other form of school violence.  School safety advocates, such as Kevin Jennings, have more narrowly stated that bullying is more pervasive than other forms of harassment.  I think it sends the wrong message when reporters and others state or imply bullying is greater than any other form of school violence. School violence encompasses bullying, but a lot of other issues as well.

The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, didn’t say that bullying was the most pervasive school violence problem in Chicago when kids were getting killed to-and-from school. In fact, the Chicago discussions often focus on gang and other community violence.  The U.S. Department of Education responded with a big media press event with the Secretary and Attorney General, and then stimulus money and federal school crisis recovery money (Project SERV) dollars were thrown at the issue. 

In the Cleveland Municipal School District, stimulus money was thrown at school safety to create family liaison social workers at the beginning of this school year in order to deal with family and social service needs, not bullying. This quick-fix program also didn’t last the full school year.  The decision to cut the program’s funding was reported several weeks ago.

Both of these examples reflect a far too common approach to school safety:  Message, policy, and funding by anecdote (and politics).  They certainly don’t reflect a comprehensive, balanced, and sustained approach to school safety.

Bullying: One Component of a Comprehensive and Balanced Approach

Bullying is an issue.  I’ve said in my Congressional testimony, presentations nationwide, and elsewhere that bullying is an important issue requiring awareness and action.  I have related even related how it has hit home personally to family members, friends, and others who have personally shared with me their children’s bullying experiences. 

But bullying is not the only issue in school safety any more than gang violence, drug use and abuse, weapons, emergency/crisis management, SROs, or anything else is the only issue. 

Bullying and its response needs to be framed from a comprehensive and balanced perspective.  As a school safety problem, it must be framed as a problem in context with all other issues threatening school safety.  Anti-bullying efforts must be framed in the context of where they fit into a comprehensive and balanced approach to school safety policy and funding. 

We have lost the focus on the COMPREHENSIVE and BALANCED aspects of approaching school safety.  It is missing in the message, which in my opinion needs to come from the federal and state departments of education, the education associations, and from local school districts.  And it is missing in policy and funding from the U.S. Congress down to state legislatures and many local school districts. 

I encourage all school safety advocates, regardless of our particular specialty areas of interest and advocacy, to work to send a consistent framing of school safety problems, policy, and funding in a comprehensive and balanced approach.  This has to be reflected in message, policy, and funding.  This is the only way anti-bullying laws and programs, or any other school safety effort, will be effective.

Ken Trump

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