Get Serious, People
I learned today that Rep. Sally Kern (R – The Dark Place That Made Nathaniel Hawthorne Tremble) and I have something in common. We both think that policy discussions about bullying are sometimes a cover for something else. For me, HB 1422 (Education Open Transfer) is more about appeasing the school choice crowd, since it would allow students to transfer without a shred of evidence that either bullying has occurred or that the school failed to resolve it. For Kern, the bogeyman is … well, it’s gays. With her, it’s pretty much always gays (except last week when it was Turkish infiltrators).
Today as the House Education Committee was discussing a cyber-bullying bill, Kern threw in the concern that that the bill might only protect only certain groups. She offered an amendment to make sure that parents have the opportunity to learn about anti-bullying programs because of the concern that students might be taught to accept all people, no matter what their actions are.
First, schools already do this. They give parents access to all curriculum. They don’t sneak in programs and then keep parents from reviewing the materials. Second – and more importantly – bullying occurs for precisely the reason Kern is saying: because somebody doesn’t accept you as you are. Too tall. Too short. Too fat. Too skinny. Smart. Dumb. Glasses. Preppy. Cowboy. Poor. Rich. You’re a different religion (or none at all). Acts out in class (or doesn’t). Gay (or perceived as such). Parents are divorced. Parents are out of work. You’re a different race. You’re not [insert race here] enough. Born with a disability. New kid in town.
By the way, this isn’t limited to school; I’ve seen it in the workplace as well.
The fact is that students are bullied either because of the group with which they identify or the one with which they are perceived to identify. It’s a real problem that often leads students to bad decisions. Drugs. Dropping out of school. Vandalism. Self-mutilation. Teenage sex. Suicide. Making the cycle worse, the bad decisions can lead to further bullying. Or turn the abused into an abuser.
During the same meeting, Rep. Doug Cox (R – Suburban Joplin) was busy trying to attach an amendment to every bill the committee heard that would ban districts from disallowing corporal punishment. He wants to take local control to the extreme and make it the teacher’s decision.
Bad idea, Doug. You want to attach a spanking rider to an anti-bullying bill?
Many districts have taken corporal punishment out of policy because their communities requested they do so. Many educators have come to learn that it is not an effective deterrent to bad behavior. Others have been burned by litigation, in spite of acting within the framework of policy and obtaining prior parental consent. In some districts where corporal punishment remains policy, principals simply choose other methods of discipline.
And that was not all. Rep. John Enns (R – Who Has Actually Taught School) wants to forbid schools from having a “No Zeros” policy. Having been in education for a number of years, I’m not sure if he’s referring to policies requiring teachers to work with students who fail to turn in assignments or policies that set a minimum score (usually 50) that can be recorded in the grade book. In either case, he says that such policies are killing teacher morale.
My experience has been different. If it is the first situation, then isn’t this what we’re working for in the first place? Wouldn’t we rather know what a student has learned and can do than punish non-compliance? Yes, it would be great if every student completed work on time. However, when they don’t, should we write them off? Isn’t the goal to find out where we can get students to in the end, rather than the middle? If it’s the second situation, I’ve seen teachers actually beg their principals for such practices. Recognizing that the devastating effect of a zero on one assignment outweighs a grade of A earned on five, these policies are set to provide perspective – if not balance – to the grading scale.
In all three of these examples, we need to think about things that make kids feel powerless, hopeless, and defeated. Even when they wound themselves, it is not our place to be ready with a bucket of salt. It is our place to help them feel in control, hopeful, and accomplished. Every student we see may not make choices we like. That doesn’t matter. Care anyway.
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