Monday, May 3, 2010

Recent Bullying In the News

Neil Swidey wrote a piece for the Boston Globe Magazine this weekend about stopping bullies, and examined varying viewpoints on effective/ineffective bullying prevention programs. I've always like Swidey's pieces, and he certainly brings up some valid points about bullying prevention in schools. Swidey focuses on the role of bystanders in bullying situations, something we talk about in sixth grade health. The curriculum we use for bullying prevention is a familiar one, Aggressors, Victims, and Bystanders. This is a research based curriculum used in schools all over the country. Numerous government organizations sing its praises, and it gets high marks from independent reviewers. Due to adding more to our curriculum, we don't get to cover all of the lessons in AVB, so we combine them when we can in order to get as much out as possible.

To be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of AVB. Don't get me wrong, it has its good parts. In my opinion, the best part about AVB is their focus on the three roles people play in any given bullying situation: the aggressor (bully), victim, and bystander. I tend to try to emphasize the role of a bystander, and their ability to either positively or negatively influence a bullying situation. This, combined with strategies students can use to prevent issues from happening, is great information for students to know.

While the material and content in any curriculum might stay the same over time, I feel the way AVB is presented is outdated. For this trimester, I'll most likely try to reproduce the handouts to make them more appealing to this age group while still maintaining the integrity of the curriculum objectives. I'm surprised the publishers of AVB, Teenage Health Teaching Modules, haven't updated the curriculum at all. Talking about portable CD players and rollerblades doesn't really stick with the kids in my classroom.

I do think, as Swidey mentions in his article, that most anti-bullying programs (AVB being one) make standing up to a bully seem "Overly simplistic." If teachers present information to students that seems to be unrealistic, then they're going to zone out. As teachers, we need to engage in conversations with students, understand their beliefs/perceptions/influences, and then go from there. Some students of mine really do believe that anything can be talked out if both sides are willing to do so. Others hear that and laugh, literally. This may be one reason this statement can be so shocking: "None of the current anti-bullying programs, despite their fanfare, have been successful in reducing actual bullying among American students in a meaningful way." Determining why this happens is beyond the scope of this post, and the theories behind what is effective or ineffective are as numerous as there are people. Maybe, right now, someone is figuring that answer out.

The bigger news story around here is Governor Deval Patrick signing an anti-bullying bill into Massachusetts law. With it comes the requirement for all schools to provide "age appropriate instruction on bullying prevention," as well as professional development relating to bullying for all staff. I briefly discussed this change with my principal today, and will likely discuss it with our curriculum director at our meeting later this week. It will be interesting to see the changes that schools across the commonwealth make as a result of this bill! Check back for later posts as we develop a plan to meet the needs of this new law.

As always, please feel free to e-mail me with questions, comments, or concerns.

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