Saturday, April 10, 2010
Control Where They Can Find It
In the news, blogland and social media, there's been much discussion about bullying, in school or otherwise. Today I was reading through Teaching Tolerance's Facebook page and they asked teachers if they thought "today's bullying tactics are "hard for some adults to spot", as claims in this USA Today article suggest. Teachers responded, and what I was most struck by was the very lack of tolerance (or even kindness and respect, let alone understanding) on that particular fb page. Comments about how kids are crueler, nastier and more physically aggressive, and sneaky. Or there was this gem, Try observing a group of teenagers (unsupervised by any adults/parents) in a shopping mall! The language and attire are unacceptable! But of course, this is always someone else's child, right? And tellingly, With all the emphasis on NCLB and tests, there is little to no time for character education. This is not an excuse, just an explanation. The rest of the comments reflected much the same sentiments, that teachers alone can not prevent bullying, that parents are equally responsible and that so much bullying doesn't happen on school grounds, so why blame school?
However, there was one comment that stood out and it was this:
I have seen far too much bullying and controlling behavior among adults in the workplace directed at other adults to think that children have much of a chance until society as a whole takes a stand against abuse in all its forms, and against controlling and manipulative behavior that does others emotional harm. Few adults admit that they are bullies (they rather call themselves "tough" or "assertive" or "good leaders") and that is part of the problem - denial is too easy.
The person who made that observation points out what too many are ignoring or being downright obtuse about, and that's society's role, and the role adults play with regards to bullying. Even the USA Today article ends with
If it's not low self-esteem, what causes the new bullying? "That's the $64,000 question," she says. "There are a lot of ideas":
•Less play time in kindergarten and pre-school. In the past, children spent much of their time in programs playing with, and learning to get along with, other children. Now they spend much more time on academics and tests.
•More electronic communication. If you can ask someone out and break up with them via text or instant messaging, you don't have to develop the social skills necessary for face-to-face encounters. This produces socially maladroit kids who are fodder for bullies.
•TV and movies with the wrong message. A study by one of Englander's graduate students found that kids' entertainment programs so full of situations in which teenage meanness is rewarded that the project's parameters had to be adjusted.
•Parental ignorance. This takes two forms: obliviousness to what their kids do online — in a survey of Bridgewater State students, half said their parents never supervised their online activity in high school — and a denial about bullying.
Wow. That's it? That's all they've got? There seems to be a disconnect between understanding what bullying is and why it occurs. And given many of the responses on the Teaching Tolerance question, I see why. No one is addressing the issue of control and who has it and who lacks it. So here we have a system of compulsory education, based on the factory model, where both parents and children are stripped of civil liberties the moment their child enters school or even school property, we insist that children are separated from their families by age five and increasingly this begins earlier and earlier once pre-school is factored in. Children are forced to associate with one age group and a few authoritarian adults in a system they have little to no control over and in which their autonomy has been stripped, they are graded, reprimanded, tracked, told what to learn and how to learn it and if they don't comply, they are labeled problem students. In this adultcentrist culture, children's time is not their own, decisions about the function of school are made without them, they are told what to wear, what books to read, what they can say and even think. And yet, we are surprised at the predominance of bullying in young people (as if it is exclusive to them) and we point fingers at one another, failing to see that the system of education, within our adherence to our own factory model 9 to 5 life, is the catalyst for bullying. No longer is there interdependence among children and adults, there's just dependants and authorities. Bullying is about asserting control when a person feels a lack of control. And since school reinforces this lack of control, we have bullying, from children and adults alike.
Even the classroom art speaks to the control, the sheer adultcentrism (even kyriarchy) that holds power over young people.
Note the ropes to illustrate staying in one's seat. Nice.
Good examples of power over bodies and minds, commonplace in the classroom.
And this, the child appearing rather dragged along (force) by an adult (adultcentrism) to illustrate, ironically, an anti-bullying message.
Yes, bullying needs to be addressed, absolutely. But let's start where it takes hold and festers before we point fingers inappropriately or put blame where it doesn't belong. Let's shine a bright light on cultural constructs that set children up for seeking control over their lives when they feel they have none. And finally, let's have honest discussions about our adult roles in bullying. Let's think hard about the language we are using and signals we are sending our children, and let's take responsibility for it.