Silencing The Bullies
Silencing The Bullies
âAll children can and will learn well,â is the mantra and motto of Newtownâs educators. But in Newtown, as in every other school district in the country, daily ridicule, humiliation, and intimidation ââ the bullyâs stock and trade ââ erode the foundation of that guiding principle. The only thing kids learn well in a place where they do not feel safe is fear, despair, and anger.
On July 1, state legislation went into effect that requires all school boards in Connecticut to develop a policy to address bullying on school grounds or at school-sponsored activities. For educators in Connecticutâs schools, it is no longer merely a moral obligation for them to stand between bullies and their victims ââ it is their legal obligation. The new law requires teachers and other school staff members to notify school administrators of instances of bullying they witness or hear about from students. It also requires administrators to investigate parentsâ written reports and review studentsâ anonymous reports of bullying. The investigations and reviews must be followed up, under the law, with an intervention strategy for school staff to deal with bullying.
Is this all really necessary? Kids taunt each other, and they always have; so what is the big deal?
Research on bullies and their victims reveals some sobering statistics that suggest why it is a big deal. By age 24, bullies who have been identified after the age of seven are six times more likely to be convicted of a crime. Twenty percent of fourth through eighth graders, in one Midwestern study, suffered academic difficulties resulting from bullying. Every school day, 160,000 students miss classes due to fear of attack or intimidation by a bully. Nationwide, 29 percent of students who have been bullied have brought weapons to school.
Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among young people in Connecticut, increasing 25 percent among 15- to 14-year-olds between 1970 and 1998. Children who are repeatedly victimized sometimes see suicide as a desirable escape, and in the mind of a desperate child, the line between suicide and homicide is fine and fragile. Two-thirds of school shooters in one study felt âpersecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others.â
This week, Connecticut joined the too-small number of enlightened states that now recognize that the social cost of bullies in our schools is too steep a price to pay. Early and consistent intervention in our homes, schools, and communities can make a difference. In laying the groundwork for this legislation, a task force for the stateâs Commission on Children found that in school districts where bullying is addressed head-on, it is possible to reduce aggressive behavior by more than 50 percent, which is accompanied by reductions in truancy, vandalism, shoplifting, and underage drinking.
If Newtown truly believes that all children can and will learn well, silencing the bullies should be a top priority.