The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

The failure of the anti-bullying law

At this rate, anyway. As a reaction to the high number of youth suicides over sexual orientation conflicts in their communities, Dalton McGuinty is proposing an anti-bullying law which will permit schools to expel students for traumatic bullying behaviour. Lady Gaga would be proud of us, and probably wag her finger towards Obama for not acting as quickly.

On the surface, it looks like the government finally cares about the young’uns, instead of constantly spewing verbal diarrhea proclaiming their compassion for education. Bullying is no joke. As Jamie Hubley’s case has shown us, and more recently, the infamous Chicago 7-vs-1 Asian battle has exemplified, bullying is a real issue that can take place outside the school, which is exactly the reason why this law may only be a pretty origami crane: beautiful, but hollow.

It isn’t that schools don’t have good anti-bullying programs, although some really don’t. Enforcement is lacking in most schools because many school staff think of enforcement along the lines of a Big Brother kind of thing.  Many kids don’t tell the authorities that they have been bullied because they may feel embarrassed, or they neutralize the damage (ex. “It isn’t that bad, it’s just how I’m supposed to get into the cool group”), or they are unsure if what they are really experiencing is considered bullying. Bullying has many different faces; it can range anywhere from beating someone up, to excluding them from the “cool kids” lunch table, to not inviting them to your birthday party. Even if they really want to tell someone, some don’t feel like teachers will really punish the bully. And let’s say that the victim does tell a trusted authority figure; the bully may feel no incentive to stop.

Although this bill has good intentions, the McGuinty government is making a grave mistake in assuming that slapping a law down would help eliminate bullying. Bullying goes beyond school grounds and school times. What happens when something like the Chicago 7-vs-1 battle happens again? Considering that this event did not happen during school hours nor on school property, is the school still liable for what had happened?

Bullying is a community issue. When the school community constantly exemplifies strong values and morals in a non-oppressive manner, people are more likely to follow the customs of that society. The school and the community should be working together to unravel the issue of bullying, to instill a sense of belonging in each member. When we feel included and significant in our comfort circle, we would want to influence positively on said community. Why would we want to destroy something in which we have invested time?

Solving the issue of bullying does not require a law, nor does it require employing hard discipline.  When we think about how we learn to move forward in a cashier lane when the person in front moves forward, did the law state this? Or how about learning not to stare at the person next to you in an elevator during the ride (hence contracting “elevator neck” from staring at the numbers)? We learn these norms and values not through explicit instructions, but by the embarrassment, shame or guilt we feel when we violate a norm. Now, I’m not advocating in shaming our students in dunce hats, but the main idea is to internalize values into our students.

When people internalize the values of a society, we no longer need to be told that what we do is wrong. Predicting the hurt from the community which you love from your actions would be enough to stop hurtful actions because you care about the community. It’s sort of like realizing that your close relative would be hurt to find out you are committing a crime.

McGuinty’s bill shows good intentions, but it also shows a shallow understanding of bullying. Maybe in a few years, the government will realize that bullying is not only a school problem, but a school-and-community predicament.

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This entry was posted on January 24, 2012 by in education, politics, society and tagged , , , , , .

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