Is the rise of bullying at schools tied to Progressive education policies?

There are a couple of things about modern life that are hard to understand.  The first is why so many more children have potentially fatal peanut allergies than did in my youth.  I have no idea why this is so, and probably never will.

The second thing that’s been mysterious to me is why bullying in school has suddenly become so epidemic.  When I was young, there was certainly bullying (and I, being small, near-sighted, and socially awkward, came in for more than my fair share), but bullying really wasn’t a big deal the way it is now.  For one thing, I don’t recall a single instance of someone committing suicide in San Francisco due to bullying during my school years, and I was one of those wonkish kids who read the paper daily (explaining, no doubt, why I was targeted for harassment). Lately, though, I’ve come up with a couple of theories about the rise of bullying.

There’s no doubt that social media is responsible in part for bullying.  The fact that children can use Facebook and texting to bully from a distance makes the whole process so much easier.  It’s one thing to insult a person to her (or his) face.  That requires a certain amount of chutzpah.  It’s another thing entirely, though, to add your “like” to a derogatory comment on someone’s Facebook page.  That’s practically anonymous and gives one an emotionally safe distance from the emotional damage one is causing.

Even social media, though, doesn’t account for the atmosphere in schools that makes relentless bullying socially acceptable.  And really, when one considers the omnipresent anti-bullying campaigns that are an integral part of every schools curriculum, it seems odd that bullying is equally omnipresent.  Or does it?  Could those anti-bullying campaigns be part of the reason bullying is on the rise?  I think so.

The schools in my community perfectly exemplify the modern educational approach to bullying.  They certainly don’t ignore bullying.  To the contrary, they talk about it constantly.  They hire touchy-feely gurus to come in and have the kids “open up” about their feelings, apparently in the belief that doing so will increase the average 14-year old’s empathy.  They also have peer groups of “specially trained” students who walk around ordering other students not to engage in bullying and who are supposed to mediate school-yard quarrels.  I have it on the best authority — the kids’ themselves — that these peer advisers have all the warm, cuddly qualities of a member of Mao’s youth brigade.  Just as anti-bully campaigner Dan Savage turns out to be something of a bully himself, those teenagers vested with the power to stop bullying tend to let that power go to their heads.  (Not all of them, of course, but enough of them to make other kids sour about the peer advisers.)

Kids who are caught engaging in bullying are counseled, made to do “reparative” work, overseen by faculty members and peer advisers, and otherwise made the objects of a great deal of attention.  Unsurprisingly, when these bullies do get caught, they do not have warm and cuddly feelings towards those students who presumably ratted them out.

Oh, and here’s the really important thing to know about how schools deal with bullies:  self-defense is not an option.  The only recourse for a bullied child is to tell the school authorities.

In theory, this sounds lovely.  It does away with vigilante justice and minimizes the fights that used to be fairly common on school playgrounds.  That’s the theory.

In fact, making self-defense a crime is a bonanza for the bullies.  The alpha child with a mean streak quickly figures out that, if he acts first to create a reign of terror, the other children are powerless to stop him.  He’s figured out that it takes two to tangle sufficiently to get the authorities’ attention.  As long as he’s dishing out the bullying, but no one is fighting back, the bullying is virtually invisible at the adult level.

Schools will tell you that they also counsel children how about how to avoid becoming victims.  This is a semantic gimmick.  To the extent the schools “teach” children how to avoid bullying, it doesn’t involve basic physical self-defense (which includes things as simple as walking in a confident way) or verbal self-defense (ways to take control of and deflect a potentially hostile interaction).  Instead, it’s all about “feelings.”  Well, the only “feeling” the bullied child knows well is fear.  Being told to “express” that feeling doesn’t prevent the bullying. Nor does all this “feeling” talk defer the alpha child who’s intent on doing a bit of no good.

The enterprising bully is also unfazed by the fact that the schools have rules against punishing whistle-blowers.  After all, the schools also have rules against bullying in the first place, but that’s clearly not stopping anyone.

In the old days, school yards meted out a form of rough justice: fist fights.  They weren’t common in my day, but they happened.  Two boys would hit the ground in a tangle of fists and feet, all the other children would gather around hollering “Fight!”, and, after a few minutes, a teacher would come along and break it up.  That was usually the end of it.  Fighting wasn’t encouraged, but it was tolerated up to a certain point, because it constituted community policing.  The kids took care of things themselves and, along the way, they learned how to be responsible for their own safety, rather than dependent on others.  (Please note that I’m not advocating kids beating each other up, nor am I confusing the rather innocent fist fights in my middle class schools with the brutal knife, gun, etc., gang fights that take place in America’s more dangerous schools.)

There is a perfect analogy for what’s going on in the schools:  gun control laws.  Those communities that have banned guns, and that have made even home defense a criminal act, blithely expected crime to go down.  Instead, of course, it went up.  Knowing that potential victims were helpless didn’t make criminals feel a sudden gush of compassion.  Instead, it heightened their hunting instincts.  Even the most thick-headed amongst them was able to figure out that the home robbery situation, rather than representing a risk, suddenly had all the fun and profit of hunting fish in a barrel.

On the street, the saying is that, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.  The same is true in the schoolyard, only it’s worse.  When seconds count, the school authorities aren’t there at all and, if a brave child tattles on the bully, either by telling his parents or by telling a school official, the bully suddenly becomes the center of the kind of attention that can only make the victim quite nervous about subsequent repercussions.

The best way to prevent violence is to have a population that can defend itself.  While Progressives think that everyone who knows how to fight is a potential bully, I believe that everyone who knows how to fight and who is taught about justice, morals, and decency, is a bulwark against bullying, because he can protect not only himself but also those smaller and weaker than he is.

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  • Ron19

    So, Bookworm, did you ever take up the offer to go to the shooting range?

  • Bookworm

    That fell through, but I’ve got a certificate for a four hour lesson. The only downside is that it’s an hour’s drive away, which is pretty far afield for me. 

  • bkivey

    I’ve commented on the subject when you posted previously, so I won’t belabor the points here. I would posit that part of the increase in school bullying isn’t only Progressive policies, but the Progressive environment many schools (and most public ones) operate in. Scratch a Progressive, and you’ll find a bully. I’d wager that from the time a child enters first grade, they’re exposed to the Progressive mindset of taking cheap, snarky shots at their ideological opponents. When a child sees ‘adults’ acting this way, it’s no wonder they think it’s OK.

  • Caped Crusader

    Proving once again that liberalism really IS a mental disorder, making logical thought and action impossible.
    Ron19 inquired as to your handgun progress. Once before I promised to lend you an IDF training DVD on urban shooting. I recently found it again rummaging through old DVD’s, the offer still stands if you get a permit.

  • Peter

     Book, it’s 100% the draconian rules against fighting. I didn’t get my growth until a year or two after the other kids. I was bullied hard until I learned to fight back. The thing about bullies is that they’re cowards. I learned that, no matter how badly I lost the fight if I got at least one punch in, the S. O. B. would leave me alone. So I got that punch in. If I couldn’t, I’d come back. By the time my parents were called to the school a couple-three times the bullies had started to pick on someone else.
     Now I’m sixty five years old. And I’ll still come back. At my age though, if I do come back I’ll have something in my hand. Bullies and would be bullies can sense that. So I can pretty much live as I wish.

  • lee

    i was bullied as a kid until i stood up one day and whacked the bully on the head with a book. i did not get in trouble for it. i actually think the teacher laughed.

  • Ron19

    Half a century ago, fighting back didn’t stop the bully, it just prolonged the fight until an adult came along and broke it up.

    Leaving didn’t work either, another bully just followed me and kept hitting.

    One time I complimented a girl on something; she took offense that I noticed and sicced her football
    lineman boyfriend on me.  By the time a day later that he approached me and said that he was going to beat me up at her urging, he looked like he really didn’t want to do that, but, after all, she was his girlfriend.  I decided that I was dead anyway, and so just “offered my throat” to him.  He hemmed and hawwed and glared at me, but decided to leave me alone.

    Nowadays, I sometimes get bullied verbally.  It might be an acquaintence setting up a situation to get some other people to do something innocent that they don’t want to do but can’t get out of, or some friend tries to order me to do something without any consideration of what I want. 

    Getting bullied can also be like what Mel Gibson did in Braveheart.  The two armies were lined up facing each other on the battlefield, and the leaders were negotiating what gifts they were offering to bribe each other to leave each other alone.  Mel was not invited to the negotiations, but just told his friends that he was going to pick a fight.  He rode out to the parley, and rode around them making unreasonable demands and insulting the opposition until they turned and rode away in disgust, and came back fighting.

    Wars and such are still the same.  Sometimes the bullies simply willl not stop on their own no matter what you do.      

  • roylofquist

    There are plenty of bullies in the adult world. Youth is the best time to learn as many life lessons as possible. The self esteem and anti-bullying movements are a disservice to our children.

  • Jose

    As a youngster I did my best to heed my mother and teachers to abstain from fighting.  I was also afraid I might hurt someone.  As a result, I was the 4th grade kid who got picked on by all the 3rd graders.  My self esteem was rock bottom.
    If I could change one thing about my childhood, I would encourage my young self to fight any time the other party started something.

  • USMaleSF

    You make an excellent point. (And not, of course, for the first time!). It leads me to wonder at the far wider extent to which the liberal regime creates so many of the very same “problems” it becomes fixated on “solving.”

    Kenneth Minogue’s great work of 50 years back, The Liberal Mind, showed that “solving problems” is a liberal obsession; it would not surprise me if it were unconsciously or semi-consciously setting up a great many of the messes (real or perceived, it makes no difference to them) that it becomes obsessed with fixing.

    How many, for example, of the “poor and vulnerable” for whom we are asked to borrow, indebt and tax ourselves to death have been created by the liberal policies and values now sold to us as the “solution?” 

    Liberal bullying programs remind me of their gun control fantasies. As soon as you take the ordinary weapons of human nature out of the hands of the decent people –in this case, the zero-tolerance attitude toward violence of any kind– the only one’s who’ll have them are the thugs.

    Alan Bloom’s great work, The Closing of the American Mind, showed how classical culture tried to shape natural human, and especially male, passions towards civilization but how modern feminism –which utterly dominates our educational system–tries to erase natural human passions –especially those of the male– in favor of a chimera. No wonder a thousand ills flow from that. 

  • USMaleSF

    An image came to mind. The liberal regime are like drug dealers who extort money from the neighborhood to fund rehab clinics.

  • Charles Martel

    Fighting back against bullies can have another good consequence: It encourages other kids to do the same.
    When I was in second grade, a new kid, Jimmy, came into class one day. He was a sweet boy, but for some reason all of us decided to chase him home after school and threaten him. At home that evening I told my mother that I knew what I—we—had done was wrong. What could I do to make it right? Even if I didn’t join in on the next episode of bullying Jimmy, how would that help?
    “Then go stand by him,” she said.
    “Huh? That means I’ll get picked on and hit, too. You don’t like me fighting.”
    “I don’t like you picking fights. But sometimes fights pick you. Two is better than one. Stand and fight.”
    So I did. The next day I walked home with Jimmy and stood shoulder to shoulder with him as our classmates surrounded us like a mob of screeching chimps. They were confused. Why had I traitored up? Anyway, Jimmy, inspired by the pleasant notion of not having to watch his back, gave a couple of his attackers some pretty good whacks. I didn’t do so bad myself. We fended off the mob.
    The next day, all of us walked Jimmy home. No attacks, no nasty words. Just a sauntering stream of chattering kids, Jimmy among them. The bullying had been blunted because I had a mother who was wise enough to know that her third son could either turn into a wimp for the sake of an unworkable principle—never fight!—or start on his way to a decent manhood by understanding that part of being a man is sometimes being one who stands and defends against big odds. Other people take heart when you do that.

  • Old Soldier

    Perhaps you’ve never looked at it this way, but my observation of my kids’ schools was that bullying was an effective tool of the administration in keeping the kiddies in order.  By keeping the kids occupied with their place in their own pecking order, the administration had much less work to do in keeping order.  If you’d like the parallel, consider that school known as “Army Basic Training.”  There is little to no bullying there, compared to the school yard  – but the level of effort to discipline the recruits (obviously for reasons having nothing to do with bullying) is much higher.
    Our experience was that the standard reply to a parent’s complaint about the kid being beat up was, and I quote, “Your son will just have to learn to get along better with the other boys.”  If you get bullied, you see, it’s your own fault.  You didn’t read the manual on bullying.

  • jj

    I am not au courant: is bullying actually on the rise, or is there simply more – and more breathless – reportage?  Unable to tell from here, I’m fairly removed from school days.  The fights I had were all with people who shared the same level in the pecking order, and they were because we were mad about something; no intimation of bullying.
    I also lived in a different universe, as a life-long preppie and resident of a closed community.  One of the things about that is that you can’t get away.  Meaning the bullies, or potential bullies, couldn’t get away.  They didn’t get to go home at night, they were trapped there with everybody else, so there was nothing to prevent a committee of annoyed upperclassmen from stopping by their rooms at 2 AM to engage in a little behavioral redirection.  In fact I became a dorm monitor in my junior year (a subaltern of the dormitory) and remember quite clearly being awakened one morning at about that hour by an unauthorized noise that turned out to be a small disciplinary committee engaged on precisely that mission.  The senior who ran the dorm joined me, and when they explained what they were going to do, his comment was something along the lines of: “well, don’t kill him,” as he turned and headed back to his room.  I headed back to mine.  (It’s amazing how often an officer’s duty consists of not looking at something – or maybe I was just a bad officer.)
    Anyway, that was a pretty much self-policing community.  The older guys kept an eye – a loose eye, admittedly; an 89% disinterested eye – on the younger ones.  Young males do have a (sometimes distant, but generally there) sense of fair play, and even a supply of sympathy – though it’s not huge and can be exhausted fairly quickly.  New kids, quite young and away from home for, often enough, the first time in their lives, were forgiven for crying themselves to sleep every night for the first ten days after arrival in the autumn; but after that they needed to begin to show signs of getting past it, and getting with the program.  The bullies were their peers.  I don’t remember – ever – an older kid bullying a younger one.  I can’t readily explain what happened to us – obviously it was somehow a function of where we were – but after you’d been there for a few months even if you’d been inclined to be a bully the inclination went away.  There were no bullies at all in the upper classes, juniors and seniors.  Some freshmen, a few sophomores, some of the middies (7th and 8th grades), but when discovered they got out of the habit pretty quick, one way or the other.
    I recall once crossing the quad with a good friend and classmate when we were seniors.  Tim was a fabulous athlete, hard as nails, a literate guy, and we remain in touch.  Anyway, we passed out of the quad and rounded a corner to find a kid giving another kid a hard time, and it looked like it had been going on for a while.  We didn’t even break stride, he just reached out, wadded up the aggressor’s shirt and jacket and propelled him backwards while he said, conversationally: “you know, I’ve heard this about you.  If I ever see it, or even hear about it again, I’m going to personally reorganize your face in several unusual and interesting ways.  Okay?”  The kid said okay, Tim said “go forth and sin no more,” dropped him, and that was that.  Schoolyard: meting out rough justice.
    The older ones watched out, loosely, for the younger ones.  I didn’t even know who most of them were.  (But – though I had no idea which one actually was young Flanagan, I knew things about him that his mother and father would never find out.)  I guess that’s very different than the more standard school experience.  I think it’s a function of the fact that we lived together, nobody got to go home to Mom.  Life had to be bearable where you were.  Sometimes we had to work to make that happen.
    I realize this doesn’t add much to the discussion – but you have taken me back a few years!      

  • Stevo

    Good points. I think the big problem is that modern schoolchildren are bonded with their classmates rather than with their families. Being ostracized, or bullied can seem like the end of the world literally when a child’s self worth is totally tied to his or her classmates approval. As parents rely on schools to cover more of traditionally parental duties, their influence on their kids declines. The tribe is much more important than the family, except of course that the tribe really doesn’t care if you live or die… Anyhow this article certainly got me thinking…

  • Mike Devx

    This problem would have been solved in 2009 if Obama had appointed a Bully Czar.

  • Ymarsakar

    The Left’s a death cult religion. Bullying is perhaps just a means to an end.

  • Gringo

    jj, interesting perspective.