Schools need to take real action against bullying

Published Mar 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm (Updated Mar 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm)

It was with great sadness that I read today about the death of Bailey O’Neill, a precious 12-year-old boy from Philadelphia, which occurred as the result of an attack by two bullies at his school. It’s time we look at the underlying cause of bullying, (which includes physical violence, verbal abuse, gossip and shunning) so that real, concrete steps can be taken to stop it.

Lately, we have seen the advent of “bullying prevention” programs. Here in Mt. Lebanon, we have the Olweus program. While the vision and lexicon of this program are sound, its value is unfortunately worthless. That is because there is no real action behind what is being put forth to the students. Imagine a car without gasoline – it might look good, but it will get you nowhere.

Case in point: I suggested that our middle school implement assigned, rotating seating in the cafeteria. Ah, yes, the cafeteria, a place where one can enjoy lunch and relax for a few minutes – wrong. That’s what should happen when kids go to lunch, but that’s not what happens in Mt. Lebanon. Socially speaking, our cafeteria is more violent than a war zone.

The reasoning for assigned, rotating seating in the lunchroom is sound: through it, one learns how to peacefully break bread with all types of people, not only those with whom one would choose to do so. It doesn’t mean one becomes great friends with each person they sit with, or even likes the person – it means they learn how to coexist, to look for the good and to simply get along. After all, isn’t the reason for public education supposed to be academics, followed by socialization? Throughout life, virtually every student will be part of the work force. One doesn’t chose the people one works with, yet they need to get along. So many important lessons can be learned from leveling the field in the lunchroom. Yet, it hasn’t been implemented, which leads one to wonder: why?

I will tell you why. The so-called “popular kids” (a frightening euphemism, if there ever was one – it’s more accurate to say “the aggressive students”) did not fall from the sky. They have parents. These aggressive parents are the impetus behind these children’s behavior. Aggressive parents are ever-present, jockeying, cajoling and encouraging unkind, self-aggrandizing behavior in their children, thereby creating aggressive students. If there ever was cause and justification for a school to involve itself in the moral education of its students, this is it – to give the aggressive students what they clearly aren’t getting at home: the lesson of compassion.

Instead, what does our school do? It placates, feeds and rewards the aggressive parents with something known as “Quiet Lunch.” Again, a dangerous euphemism. Quiet Lunch, or “You Can Send Your Bullied Children Here to Eat Lunch,” as I prefer to call it, is when your child is allowed to banish him or herself from the lunchroom because it is “too loud” (a euphemism for “full of aggressive students who will ensure your lunch break is stressful”).

The very existence of “Quiet Lunch” proves irrefutably that our District is failing dismally in their goal of eliminating bullying. Far from bullying prevention, we have bullying promotion. It’s time to stop caving to the aggressive parents. Principals, lead your schools. Do what is right from a logical, morally correct standpoint. Because if nothing changes, then nothing changes. It takes real action, and a shake up of the status quo, that you can bet will rattle aggressive parents who want the school day to include time for their aggressive students to further cement their exclusionary position.

There are children, right here in our township, who actually dread the thought of going to school tomorrow, because they know that certain peers will intentionally say and do things to make them feel unwanted and unworthy, in an empty effort to make themselves feel better about who they are. That sickening fact alone should bring innovative action. Instead, while the rhetoric has changed, the reality remains the same.

Mary Mills

Mt. Lebanon

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