Bullying is a problem. It has to stop. We have a web site.
These are three take-aways from the first day of U.S. Department of Education’s “first ever” bullying summit according to a review of today’s news accounts, social media chatter, blog sites, and related sources.
So what is new? Well, they announced a new web site to pull together bullying information. I wonder if anyone there knew the feds already had a pretty well-known and widely advertised anti-bullying web site at Stop Bullying Now, a part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services???
So now we have two federal web sites on bullying. Or will they shut down the well-established one at Stop Bullying Now and just have one new one that will take three or four more years for to become widely known like the Stop Bullying Now site? After all, why not confuse people a little more? That is the role of the federal government, right? But I digress…
SPEECHES, STATISTICS, AND RESEARCH
Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, opened the conference with several-year-old survey statistics on the number of kids who have bullied and told the select group of attendees that bullying undermines learning, according to a CNN report on the meeting.
“It is an absolute travesty of our educational system when students fear for their safety at school, worry about being bullied, or suffer discrimination, taunts, because of their ethnicity, their religion, sexual orientation, disability, or host of other reasons,” said Duncan.
Similar stats were bantered around elsewhere. I wonder if anyone happened to mention that most all of ED’s data is from a limited number of academic-type surveys since the there is no federal mandatory uniform crime reporting of actual incidents in K-12 schools?
A panel of several individuals presented research, research, and research. The presenters also called for more…..ugh, yeah, research. One panelist even suggested the next step would be to talk with kids about what is going on in their schools with bullying, and then find out what programs work. Wow, now that’s some powerful stuff!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention getting a chuckle out of one attendee who asked a question of the research panel by prefacing it with describing her name, the name of her book on bullying, the fact she was the first person to write a book from a particular perspective, that she gets asked to speak at programs….and, ugh, I think there was a question afterwards but I may have nodded off during what appeared to be a self-promoting speech with a possible question thrown in somewhere. Having attended these types of events in the past, this unfortunately is not unusual when you have a room stacked with non-profits, community-based organizations, academicians, DC beltway bandit contractors and consultants, etc.
PERSONAL ANECDOTES: A PACKED HOUSE – BUT WHO PACKED IT?
The audience reportedly had its share of high-profile youth and families who have made the news about bullying in schools. A Philadelphia area fifth-grader who wrote to President Obama and received a personal letter from the President was present and acknowledged by Secretary Duncan.
Is it just my conspiracy-theorist mindset or does anyone else find it less than “coincidental” that the President’s letter was released and publicized less than one week before this “bullying summit”? And then, poof, the next thing the young girl knew she was sitting in a DC hotel at a bullying conference. Some might suggest this was a politically orchestrated event?
The mother of a Texas boy who reportedly committed suicide because of bullying was also invited to attend the conference, according to a report in the Dallas Morning News which ran the very first day of the summit. Other victims of bullying and/or their family members were also present. Again, a coincidence?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the old political game of “put a personal face on a political or social issue” by a politician and/or organization advancing a social or special interest agenda might be at work here, too. Far be it from me, though, to suggest this was a well-orchestrated event to push an agenda which may exist beyond what is presented at the surface.
Perhaps it was also a coincidence that several advocates/activists also reported being in attendance including:
- Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the advocacy group formed and directed by now-Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education for Safe and Drug Free Schools, Kevin Jennings. GLSEN’s Twitterpost noted, “I applaud platform given to youth advocates here, including @GLSEN’s own David Aponte.” GLSEN’s Facebook pagealso notes: “The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard is one of the prominent bullying prevention experts attending this anti-bullying conference in DC. Good to see DC finally taking notice. We need federal leadership across all districts — along with passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act — to bring about real progress.”
- The Human Rights Campaign, self-described on their web site as “America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.”
Perhaps this, too, was a coincidence. But I don’t think so, especially given what I laid out earlier this week in my article entitled, “Anti-Bullying Laws Are Being Driven by Gay Rights Advocates.”
Meanwhile, it was probably also no coincidence that last week, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and ten cosponsors introduced a companion bill to a bill introduced in the House last year by Rep. Linda Sanchez and 119 cosponsors. The Safe Schools Improvement Act requires comprehensive anti-bullying policies in public schools.
States will also be required to report data. No one knows exactly what this will data collection will look like as of now. GLSEN issued a press release on August 5th which included accolades for the language in the legislation “…that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.” Perhaps this is a clue as to at least some of the data that schools will have to produce?
Having attended summits, conferences, workshops, think tank groups, task forces, and so on over my 25+ years, I know that a lot of these sessions involve prepared speeches by VIPs, data to fit the occassion, research pontification, political staging and agendas, and rubber chicken lunches. And in fairness, even the most veteran and cynical attendee should still be able to get some new information or insights, even in well-crafted political events like this “first ever bullying summit.”
My biggest take-away is an emerging theme of “civil rights” and the influence of gay rights advocates on current discussions, proposed laws, and lobbying efforts under the umbrella of “bullying” and “climate.” We’ll see how Day Two of the summit turns out, but my view of Day One of the summit, movement I see occurring on proposed new federal laws, and the intensifying advocacy activities suggest there is much greater influence of a broader advocacy and political element beyond the surface level traditional discussions of “bullying.” If this turns out to be the case, I believe the real agenda needs to be laid out and cards put on the table so there can be informed, educated, and honest debate — and so school safety will not be used as a political tool to more subtly push broader social and political agendas.
So my take of Day One is that there was relevant substance with discussions of research, programs, and challenges to address bullying. But there also appears to be a strong underlying influence of advocates with social and political agendas attempting to change policies, laws, and funding directions as well. Stay tuned on this issue…
If you have time, you might want to watch some of the session recorded on C-SPAN. The first hour is on research. The challenge on the research and program ends: Figure out how all of this helps principals and teachers create schools when they are pressured to boost test scores while also dealing with major budget cuts resulting in losses of school counselors, intervention specialists, school security officers, school police officers, and professional development training?
These challenges were raised in The Christian Science Monitor’s coverage of the summit entitled, “School bullying summit’s big hope: an anti-bullying tipping point.”
And unfortunately, they’ll likely be raised again as behavior, discipline, and violence problems increase while the prevention and security resources decrease. There may also be broader civil rights, political, and social agenda changes that will also bring challenges. Stay tuned …
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