What’s Up with All the Bullying?!

I have started my 2010-2011 teaching season in public schools now that the fall sessions of my university honors course and two adult classes in poetry have been completed. I am working for these first two weeks with middle school students, ten different classes, five per week, and the skill sets for each class vary. This means multiple approaches to language, literacy, reading poems, writing poems, inference, and all the other elements I find ways to include in my conversations with these young minds.
Over the summer, I worked with my colleague and dear friend, Quraysh Ali Lansana, on our book for teachers and teaching artists, Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy, and Social Justice in Classroom and Community (scheduled for release in February 2011 by Teachers and Writers Collaborative). In one of our essays, I addressed a clique of 9th grade young women who managed to disrupt their class day after day, not just while I was visiting but throughout the school year.
One of our peer reviewers asked at that time if we were going to touch on the current issues of bullying among young people, since the essay did not speak directly to that point. I did not directly witness these young women acting as bullies but I did see them as reluctant learners who were much more concerned with their own images and interests than educating themselves or allowing others to learn in the classroom environment; for this reason, I did not want to add that element to the essay.
There is a lot of business being generated these days surrounding bullying. This seems to be the big push in schools and the media, supported with key news stories of bullying incidents, many of which focus on sexual preference and gender issues. Tragic as these cases are, bullying is nothing new. In society, we may recognize more ways to act as bullies, especially in the realm of social networking, where there have been a number of cases that have led to desperation and suicides. It is awful.
In my early teens, instead of Facebook and You Tube, we had slam books. Notebooks with students’ names on different pages would be circulated among classmates, who would anonymously state how they felt about those named. With the lack of accountability for one’s words, it was possible to say horrid things about another. Then, if the student who was “slammed” got the book, that person was faced with all that malice of thought. It was extremely hurtful and often ran under the radar of teachers and administration.
In junior high school, the punches that I experienced daily for weeks as I passed a certain student in the hall between classes also ran under the radar until I stood up for myself and challenged her with the fact that I was not going to retaliate because I help no grudge against her. I said I did not understand why she was trying to get me to fight or why she had singled me out but I was not going to react. If she felt she had to continue hitting me, so be it, but I was not going to raise my hand in return. She stopped. I don’t know why. Maybe I was just that strong. She then became a friend in the hallways and class rows, protecting me from other bullies. We lost touch as we moved into high school.
The business of bullying includes books being written, dramatic performances being created and staged in schools, discussions on National Public Radio and in professional development in-services. Many artists who work in schools are totally focusing on this element. Teachers are being guided to include this element of character development into their core curricula. Administrators are struggling to intervene, as are guidance counselors and social workers.

But I contend that bullying is modeled everywhere in our society yet we punish our children and youth for mirroring it in their actions. Our elected officials bully each other on the floors of the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as in state legislative bodies. This year’s election cycle was nothing but bullying. It was offensive and expensive. More than $3 billion were spent on television ads alone in November elections, obscene amounts of money that could have been spent on so many deficit concerns in this economy.

We witness bullying among the pundits on both sides of the political spectrum to the point of insult to our intelligence. And the bullies are very well paid. Most of us are struggling to keep up and there are radio and television opinion makers being paid $22 – $50 million a year to shoot their mouths off.

We see bullying among adults in sports. We witness it in industry. We see it among nations and we see it among gangs in American neighborhoods, driving communities to huddle in their homes while thugs roam with guns. Then we see the NRA bully our legislators and our Supreme Court into turning a blind eye to justice and reason.

We are witnessing hypocrisy and holding our young people responsible for behaviors that are inundating our culture and experience every day. It must stop and children will not stop being bullies if adults are bullying them to “do as I say, not as I do.”

Thanks again for following my blog. I appreciate your consideration of my words and thoughts.

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