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Slate takes on the bullies. It also takes on the trolls.
August 11, 2009 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Slate gives you effective strategies for taking on bullies. It's a good article. More interesting, though, is the sidebar, aimed at an altogether different kind of bully.

The article links to a sidebar piece where the author anticipates what a forum troll might say, and offers a handy, sarcastic template for doing so. Comedy gold!

'Now, go for the big finish that pulls together all the threads: "That's the obvious and perfect method for dealing with the problem that every single person in the universe employed with complete satisfaction until people like you came along and ruined everything."'
posted by Cool Papa Bell (124 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. That sidebar seemed... bitter.
posted by hifiparasol at 12:52 PM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Having occasionally dipped into The Fray, the sidebar also seems pretty spot-on. Much of that being generalizable to a lot of comment sections on news/editorial sources, of course.
posted by cortex at 12:58 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. That sidebar seemed... bitter.

That's a load of horse-hooey. You've obviously never had to write a sidebar for a major website. It's keyboard "experts" like you who are ruining Metafilter for the rest of us.
posted by dersins at 12:59 PM on August 11, 2009 [45 favorites]


Sidebar link: Sometimes a metaphor or analogy is so drawn out, so deadpan sarcastic, that it's ridiculously difficult to parse. I wish there was a button that would just make it literal. Like when people obfuscate shit..."I don't not like it." My brain frazzles and seeks out the 'make literal' option, resulting in "I like it." Then I'd be like, "....OOOHHH! Yah, me too."

As it is, I don't know what the hell that sidebar is trying to say, pragmatically or otherwise. I think we may agree, but I'm just not sure!
posted by iamkimiam at 1:00 PM on August 11, 2009


I also get the feeling (re: hope) that the sidebar and the bully article were written by two different people, who didn't compare notes before they published.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:02 PM on August 11, 2009


I guess it shouldn't surprise me, but what kind of right winger reads Slate, even for the purposes of trolling?

It's like this loser I knew in college, who claimed he only looked at web porn in order to submit it to the companies that ran web-filtering products. Just doing his little bit of community service to keep kids safe from the horrors of porn. Sure, whatever you say, pal.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:04 PM on August 11, 2009


Horseapples.

Look, I'm a regular guy. I have no problem trying to overthink most if not all everyday situations. But if these weinerdog poet wannabe New Englanders seriously think that sidebar is an accurate description of internet trollery or, much less, any kind of deterrent to the santantic 12 year olds that make up most of their souless readership from posting their anti-american pukespray then you better have another thing coming.

Everyone with half a brain knows that internet trolls are the perfect product of thousands of years of evolution in which male primates use tools (such a sarcasm) to subjugate the more unfit members of their species. Just last week after I caused all the participants in an overly sincere Reddit thread to cry by pretending to be a dyspeptic Cambodian war orphan and they discovered that I made the whole thing up, they thanked me for ridding them of their ridiculous sentimental credulity and I made out with a supermodel. The only way to deal with trolls is to give them anything they want instantly, which has worked for hundreds of years and made youtube the most popular site on the internet while Slate is just that magazine everyone thinks went out of business back in the 90s but they actually are thinking of Salon.

In conclusion, this website, along with the entire modern world, is a festering stomach wound full of hiveminded liberal maggot whores and clumps of semi-literate hoi polloi cancer blobs that should be eradicated from space by the mechanized skeletons of Thomas Paine, HL Menken, and Captain Kangaroo. Thank you and fuck off.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:05 PM on August 11, 2009 [26 favorites]


I like horse feathers.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:10 PM on August 11, 2009


Horse hockey!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:14 PM on August 11, 2009


"Be careful not to blame the child for being bullied. As obvious as this sounds, both parents and peers are likely to treat the victim as if she brought the bullying upon herself."

This is very true, it only took one teacher to assign blame to me this one time for me to shut up about being bullied for years. This was also the third school where I had been bullied. I had started blaming myself and being told I was at fault was all it took to shove me over into full self-loathing.

Thankfully I got out of that.

Being bullied is hideous. This needs to be taken more seriously by society. I'm lucky that in Iceland it is so that I did have a lot of support during the years I was bullied in school (10-15, roughly).
posted by Kattullus at 1:20 PM on August 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


Oh, and there's another sidebar that has a lot of good links.
posted by Kattullus at 1:22 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some readers will now be eager to share stirring success stories that prove standing up to a bully really does work—either personal experiences or friend-of-a-friend urban legends or wholly imaginary elegies for a lost golden age of American pluck that is even now receding into the romantic mists of time.

OK, here's a friend-of-a-friend one: A friend of mine went to school in Orlando with a kid that was a frequent target of bullies.

One day, a group of them happened to gather and chased after this kid to beat him down, gang-style. What did the kid do?

He whipped it out and starting jerking off at the them.

Bullies ran and he didn't have much physical trouble with them after that. American pluck!
posted by ignignokt at 1:28 PM on August 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


When I was bullied (junior high), my parents went to the principal. She said (direct quote):

"Maybe Wendy brings it on herself."

My name is Whitney.

So y'know what, Sister Miriam Nugent? Fuck you. Even though you're probably in your eighties now, I hope you Google yourself, find this link, and read it. You were a horrible old bag and should never have been allowed to be a grade school principal.

that felt good.
posted by Lucinda at 1:30 PM on August 11, 2009 [63 favorites]


I'm not sure the best way to deal with schoolyard bullies, and thankfully I won't ever have to again, but on the Internet, trolls are easily disarmed once their Achilles' heel is located and shared. It's like a kung fu movie where the bad guy can be taken down by tickling his left earlobe.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:30 PM on August 11, 2009


The Fray's music is certainly vanilla and tepid, but I don't know that they've ever been that snarky. Dude clearly hasn't listened to them enough.
posted by jbickers at 1:31 PM on August 11, 2009


Yeah, the sidebar has that whole Mike Masnick thing going for it. You know, "I'll just bet someone will disagree with me, and if I just point out that they will, rather than bolstering my own arguments with nuance and fact, I'll win!"

The sad fact is that the sidebar is needed. The article misses some critical bits:

First, the bully targeting effect:
Bullies tend to choose victims who are socially withdrawn, seem anxious or fearful, are nervous in new situations, or have some physical characteristic that might make them more vulnerable.
I can excuse the last of the third, but if your child is anxious, fearful, and nervous in new situations, and have crossed the line from "shy" into "socially withdrawn," how about getting some help for the kid? I'm an introvert, and have a healthy respect for the width of the spectrum in human outgoingness, but a fearful child would set off some bells for me as something that could use some work.

Yes, bullies pick on those kids who are less likely to strike back (as per the adage, "bullies don't want to fight you, they just want you to stand there while they humiliate you"). Absolutely, they have a nose for it. I'd take it as a suggestion that I work very hard to enable my child to become the kind of kid who does not draw that kind of fire.

Your child grows up, becomes an adult, and surprise!, the bullies do not go away. They can move into management, instead. And you don't get to have your mom or dad call your place of business to set up meetings to put an end to it (well, I suppose you could ... *imagines mirthfully*).

Second, these program is something I've seen pushed around before, and it always fails: bullying awareness? Like parents and teachers just forgot childhood. "explicit policy"? "Rewriting classroom rules to convey clearly that bullying is not tolerated." Yes, rules of course stop bullies.

"Using buttons, posters, and mailings to keep all involved and to keep the message salient." He's kidding, right? Maybe we can have announcements over the intercom after "Teenage Suicide - Don't Do It" is done playing.

The author drives by and waves at a solution with the suggestion that the kid "minimize exposure in unsupervised places" — no kidding, really? Who didn't figure that out right quick? But, unless you want to stay in for recess, the burden is placed back on the kid, who inevitably has to scurry home, and so forth.

If the average seven year old can play "spot the thug" within five minutes of hitting the playground in a new school, I submit that many teachers are willfully blind. The biggest mistake the administration makes in schools is leaving kids alone so they can have their charming Lord of the Flies moments, then, as the teacher or whichever responsible adult returns, promptly put everyone within reach into the Trouble Bin. Children don't have to be hovered over, but keeping them within eyesight, especially when you know there's a Problem Kid in the mix, does not sound like a horrible idea.

The whole piece reads like it was written by a human resources policy writer who has little direct contact with employees, but a great dread of lawyers and conflict.
posted by adipocere at 1:32 PM on August 11, 2009 [19 favorites]


I guess it shouldn't surprise me, but what kind of right winger reads Slate, even for the purposes of trolling?

Hitchens IS a right winger, but I get the impression the only people who read him are left wingers who are looking for someone to get pissed off at.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:33 PM on August 11, 2009


I think that sidebar is awesome .
posted by kldickson at 1:36 PM on August 11, 2009


That sidebar describes at least one MeFite so well it's almost scary. I won't mention which one since he's probably changing the sights on a pistol after hand-milling some rocket parts down on the farm.
posted by OmieWise at 1:39 PM on August 11, 2009


An interesting article, and some intriguing suggestions. I'd caution people against assuming that teachers are "willfully blind", however. Bullies are incredibly devious little creatures, and are often exceptionally respectful and good-natured around adults. Also, even with the best will in the world, it's impossible to supervise every single moment of a typical school day. It's tough to know how to really eliminate bullying--maybe it's a fundamental part of human nature and the pack dynamic.
posted by Go Banana at 1:39 PM on August 11, 2009


adipocere raises an interesting point, and leads me to wonder: are there cycles of bullying? You get bullied as a kid, then, when you're a grown-up, you go to work and get bullied again. Or maybe you swear you won't be bullied again and you become the bully. I also find the assertion that the bullies start out popular and wind up marginalized to be an interesting one.

Does it work the same in an office setting? Do office bullies start out popular and become progressively marginalized, or is their bullying rewarded? Are the coping mechanisms of the schoolyard transferable to the office in any way? What would "ignoring" a workplace bully look like? What is the boardroom equivalent of standing up to a bully?

If adults can be said to add a layer or two of sophistication to their activities, I'd be very interested in reading or knowing more about what that could look like when applied to bullying.

(yes, I'm a comparative scholar, how did you know?) :)
posted by LN at 1:48 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never known a case of bullying that wasn't solved by getting a blackbelt in some martial arts.

The martial arts doesn't really help, but in the 10 years it takes to get the black belt, your kid will probably be in another school.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:54 PM on August 11, 2009 [16 favorites]


The reason adults give such stupid advice about bullying is that for them, it works. If someone tries to bully me in my office, I can just shut the door. Yes, there are plenty of problems with workplace bullying, but the dynamics are different, in part because the workplace bully is trying to intimidate you into screwing up in front of your supervisors. Thus, "ignore them" and "don't let it get to you" is a perfectly reasonable piece of advice for an adult.

At least, that's what I'm trying to believe. I would hate to think that the act of becoming a parent turns you stupid, though that's also a possibility.

That Slate article was nigh-worthless though. It amounted to: "you can't really do anything about bullies. You just need to go to a school where they have lots of public service announcements and the teachers take it seriously."
posted by deanc at 1:59 PM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm not suggesting all teachers are willfully blind. I'm suggesting that, out of so many adults (a handful of teachers, perhaps some aides, a nurse or two, some administrators) who interact with a given child, at least one out of the lot would probably be perceptive enough to figure out that something is up. I think it is highly unlikely that every single one of them was flawlessly deceived, year in and year out.

I cannot count how many situations where I saw kids and adults in a room together when bullying was going on, and was just amazed that the adult in question did nothing. A great example is an algebra class held in a room where they kept the thirty-odd copies of The Red Badge of Courage and whatnot when not in use. The trouble kids would pluck the books off the shelves and throw them at the target kids as the teacher wrote on the blackboard. It's very easy to turn around and see where the books have landed and where the books are missing from the shelves.

Nothing happened, the entire year.

In one instance in this school (and not in that class), the bullies kept after this one kid for quite some time. The administration did nothing. This ended up in some Dead Kids. Okay, only two dead kids. Hey, they're like guppies, you expect a few not to make it!

Suggesting that teachers supervise every single moment of the day? Nah.

Not leaving eight or nine kids in a little gym room alone for about forty minutes so one of them can get rolled up in some gym mats and jumped on until his ribs crack almost bruiselessly, then decide that if one of the kids gets in trouble, they all have to? Yeah.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.
posted by adipocere at 2:02 PM on August 11, 2009


This is easy. If Kid A pushes, punches or otherwise initiates contact with Kid B, that's assault.

I can't just go down the street looking for weirdos with funny hair or strange clothes and start beating them down. So why are the rules different for adults? If anything, the way our society is always thinking of the children, you'd think the penalties would be harsher if the victim was a child.

Go to police. File report. Get a restraining order. Done.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:03 PM on August 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


So, say I found this article on Slate. How do I access the sidebar from the article page/pages? I can't figure it out! It's well hid, or else I'm a little bit slow.
posted by Mister_A at 2:05 PM on August 11, 2009


Excellent article; I hope my grandsons never get bullied, but if they do, at least I'll have some practical suggestions.
posted by languagehat at 2:08 PM on August 11, 2009


"I'd take it as a suggestion that I work very hard to enable my child to become the kind of kid who does not draw that kind of fire."

Well, except you're allowing bullying to go on - except for your kid. I'd cede that some of the specifics seem pollyanna, but for the most part the goal is to encourage ownership of the school community by students and others and acceptance of one's responsibility for others.
Kids should learn that they have a responsibility to not allow predators to go unchecked. That it's bad for everyone everywhere even if they themselves are not the targets.

"Some readers will now be eager to share stirring success stories that prove standing up to a bully really does work..."
Y'know, the irony is that it does and it doesn't. On the one hand one might well use force effectively to stop a bully from targeting you. On the other - that doesn't stop bullying. And it doesn't take into account the disparity in physical traits so many kids have.
But hell - it's utterly failed in my case. For the most part I started getting bullied as a kid and, having the temper I do, I fought back. Didn't do much. And then, as I grew up taking martial arts and learning from my uncles I became a better fighter. All this meant was I fought more and more people either in groups or in series or on the way home, whatever.
I dunno, somehow I thought I was making headway.
Didn't really hit home until I beat on one guy at a party (I've related this story elsewhere so I'll skip it for sake of brevity) and suddenly I'm the bad guy and still getting shit from people.

Bullying is in small part about violence, but it is most certainly about context and about power differentials. The mistake is in thinking it can be solved by violence. It can't. At best it just moves the problem on away from your kid. The environment still exists. So it's a straw solution for a situation requiring an oar.
Beyond that - the tacit assumption in employing violence is that might does indeed make right. I didn't realize that until I was older, but fighting only meant I was buying into that power game and that it would be fought by other means - as mentioned in the piece, gossip, social exclusion, verbal harassment, etc. Indeed - some girls start making fun of my clothes I'm supposed to belt them? And again - this excludes focus on the bully him/her self and the reasons that kid may be bullying, as mentioned less parent supervision and modeling of aggression at home.

It's simply not enough to punch the kid in the nose and consider the problem solved. It's not going to stop a bully growing up and, say, doing a lawn job or other vandalism and perhaps graduating to more significant crime. Why wait until the problem is a problem enough for law enforcement to address it?
Hell, we already do enough of this b.s. with health care - ignore diet and exercise and other health sustaining activities until we have heart attacks or what not and get pills or surgery and consider the problem solved and go back to sitting on our ass.
Might sound square, but we do all need to be on board to address these problems and kids should learn that and be empowered to do that so it's not Lord of the Flies out there.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:16 PM on August 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


The article sort of brushes up against the solution, and I think he mentions it, but it doesn't get that much ink. The only thing that works is if other kids stand up to the bully on behalf of the victim. Bullies are performing for the approval of bystanders. If they get scorn instead, they stop. This has been demonstrated. These anti-bullying programs are aimed at kids who are neither the bullies nor the bullied, because they're the only ones who can decide whether bullying is ok or not. Convince enough of them to speak out when they see bullying happen, and it ends or is at least hugely reduced. Basically, bullies who would be bullies even if there was no one to see how cool they are are sociopaths, and those are few and far between. The rest of them will stop if bullying is generally looked upon as akin to picking your nose and eating it.

That's really why bullying is so difficult to control. It can only be controlled by those who are not directly involved, and have the least personal stake in doing anything about it. And isn't that an interesting point, when looked at in the wider context of human social relations?
posted by rusty at 2:16 PM on August 11, 2009 [23 favorites]


I think there are different kinds of bullies. Some kids look for crowd approval by picking on weaker kids; their goal is laughter at the victim's expense. The really sadistic ones want the fear on the face of the victim; they're predators, and much more dangerous.
posted by msalt at 2:21 PM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


An article on bullying that seems to insist that the only bullies and bullied are children?

I was forced out of my workplace by workplace bullying. (Actually mobbing, but they're related.)

Until we, as a society, start to acknowledge that there is something terribly broken within our employment sphere which not only allows workplace bullies to thrive but rewards them for their horrible psychotic behavior, we are likely to continue to find that "business" is a poison upon our culture, rather than an aid and boon.
posted by hippybear at 2:22 PM on August 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's very easy to turn around and see where the books have landed and where the books are missing from the shelves.

Nothing happened, the entire year.


Tacit approval. That's blood in the water.

Look, you're going to have bullying-types in every school. I say bullying-type, because you're not going to necessarily have active bullies. That depends on the willingness of teachers to step in, and that relies in part on the willingness of the administration to stand up to parents, and that relies a whole lot on the particular school board in play. Because this is all wrapped up together in a nice little package, the best you can do for your kid if you find out that he or she is in a school where bullying is -- policy or no -- defacto tolerated, is get them the hell out of there. Another school assembly, another poster, another policy -- these aren't going to do anything if there is no support for teachers to step in (and teachers willing, of course, to do so).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:23 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Belatedly, Horse Armor!
posted by Naberius at 2:23 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess it shouldn't surprise me, but what kind of right winger reads Slate, even for the purposes of trolling?

I dunno what you really think about Slate, but Glenn Reynolds -- Instapundit -- got his start on The Fray. Also, kausfiles is probably the exemplar of spouting right-wing frames while claiming to be vaguely left-wing.
posted by dhartung at 2:24 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


You also need a policy that doesn't painfully, actively discourage whistleblowing. Of course, this is a society-wide problem, and not restricted to schools, but it's a problem when tattling, or ratting, or whatever term you use, is considered as bad as -- or worse than -- the crime.
posted by jeather at 2:33 PM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


That sidebar describes at least one MeFite so well it's almost scary. I won't mention which one since he's probably changing the sights on a pistol after hand-milling some rocket parts down on the farm.

I'm sorry, I can't hear you. Rocket fuel is toxic, so I have to wear a gas mask, and the sound can get muffled...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:33 PM on August 11, 2009


any kind of deterrent to the santantic 12 year olds that make up most of their soulless readership

Wait, are our kids listening to Santana? Because we should put a stop to that.
posted by el_lupino at 2:38 PM on August 11, 2009


If Kid A pushes, punches or otherwise initiates contact with Kid B, that's assault.

Battery -- assault is the threat of force/violence.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 2:49 PM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


"... and have the least personal stake in doing anything about it. And isn't that an interesting point, when looked at in the wider context of human social relations?"

Yep. And the interesting bit (I think) is that humans DO get involved if asked. Very involved in fact.
There was a study a bit ago - forgot where I picked this up but I remember it being valid - where they left some belongings unattended at various locations. The place I remember was at the beach. So they'd experiment by leaving some stuff near some bystanders, they'd walk away, and then someone else would come and pretend to steal. They compared this to cases where the folks walking away would say something like "Could you watch my stuff for a minute please?" or some such, and having the same situation with someone else coming over and pretending to swipe something.

There was, as I remember, a big difference between asking someone and not asking someone to watch your stuff in that the folks asked to watch would become much more involved in protecting the items.
I think too often folks conflate authority with power rather than responsibility.
Buddy of mine is one of the baddest mothers I've ever seen. He's about 5'8, 110 lbs soaking wet, never been in a fight in his life. But I've seen him assert fairness very successfully in a number of situations where I might have been at a loss and would have wound up having to rely on aggression.
I think people have to take empathy and social environment more seriously and personally.
Much like looking after someone's stuff on the beach for them. You don't have to physically fight off the thief or anything to have an impact. But too often we think - or we're conned in to thinking - that because we don't have the juice we don't have the right to get involved. Or we tell ourselves because we feel powerless that it's not our responsibility.
But that's that whole "when they came for the Jews I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew" thing. You're kidding yourself if you allow that disparity. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Like fire, it'll spread. (And I'll wryly note that women were told to shout 'fire' rather than 'rape' or 'help' and the comment that makes on human social relations).
posted by Smedleyman at 2:50 PM on August 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


...That sidebar describes at least one MeFite so well...

one?
posted by valentinepig at 2:55 PM on August 11, 2009


For starters, how about folks teaching their kids to be resiliant and how to handle themselves? When I was a kids, we got into fights. It was called socialization. It was not something to be avoided, it was just part of growing up.

Spending time with your child and teaching them how to handle themselves properly is the best prevention. And while I do not want to blame the victim, I do want to blame the parent who raises a bully magnent and does not teach them survival skills and coping mechanisms.
posted by valentinepig at 3:10 PM on August 11, 2009


Lófaszt, nehogy már!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:23 PM on August 11, 2009


Horse armor.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:27 PM on August 11, 2009


For starters, how about folks teaching their kids to be resiliant and how to handle themselves? When I was a kids, we got into fights. It was called socialization. It was not something to be avoided, it was just part of growing up.

You should read more about bullies on Metafilter.

horse feathers part deux
posted by zoomorphic at 3:32 PM on August 11, 2009


Dammit, this is what I wanted to link to.
posted by zoomorphic at 3:33 PM on August 11, 2009


One problem with the It-Takes-A-Village model of anti-bullying control, is that it is built on the presumption that weak kids are inherently good kids, when, in my personal experience, weak kids are not morally superior to bigger kids, simply because of being puny. In fact, kids that can't or won't duke it out, are often lying little manipulators, who often cry "Wolf!" when there is no actual bullying happening to them, simply to get adults to sanction or punish bigger kids that they themselves can't or won't engage, but don't like. Adults are often no better at outing these little weasels, than they often are at stopping actual bullying, and from what I've seen, are always more reluctant to punish the lying little sacks as harshly as they would physical bullies, even when the adults do discover the little creeps are the demon-spawn they actually are.

That's a bad, bad authority feedback loop for a physically large kid to get caught in, and it's not discussed, at all, in that garbage Slate article. It generally ends with the larger kid figuring that if he is going to be punished as a bully, he might as well get some real blood on his knuckles. And, voila, where there was no bully in the first place, a simpering, whiney, attention-seeking little snot produces a real live beat down artist, sometimes after only a few interactions.

Crap article. Worse sidebar.
posted by paulsc at 3:34 PM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


For starters, how about folks teaching their kids to be resiliant and how to handle themselves? When I was a kids, we got into fights. It was called socialization. It was not something to be avoided, it was just part of growing up.

Spending time with your child and teaching them how to handle themselves properly is the best prevention. And while I do not want to blame the victim, I do want to blame the parent who raises a bully magnent and does not teach them survival skills and coping mechanisms.


And when I was a kid, we walked both ways to school up hill in the snow and ice!
posted by Caduceus at 3:35 PM on August 11, 2009


Jesus fuck, paulsc. If I ever have children, please stay the hell away from them. Thanks in advance.
posted by dersins at 3:42 PM on August 11, 2009 [17 favorites]


I have a theory that Astro Zombie might be correct about martial arts training. I really wish I had had some martial arts training when I was young. Not to beat the crap out of the bad guy like Caine in Kung Fu would have (although the thought is appealing to the primitive brain), but rather to have simply developed a better sense of poise and center, and some less awkward body language.
posted by ovvl at 3:49 PM on August 11, 2009


Man, that mobbing FPP is both fascinating and horrifying. I'm glad you linked it, hippybear. I totally missed it the first time around.
posted by Caduceus at 3:51 PM on August 11, 2009


It generally ends with the larger kid figuring that if he is going to be punished as a bully, he might as well get some real blood on his knuckles.
Pity the poor big kid who just has no choice but to beat up smaller children.
posted by jeather at 3:52 PM on August 11, 2009


One problem with the It-Takes-A-Village model of anti-bullying control, is that it is built on the presumption that weak kids are inherently good kids

I'm gonna go ahead and presume that kids not picking on other kids are either good, or scared, or well-socialized. It doesn't really matter, actually, so long as they aren't victimizing other kids. But the bully-with-a-heart-of-gold is a new one for me, so do go on.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:52 PM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


voila, where there was no bully in the first place, a simpering, whiney, attention-seeking little snot produces a real live beat down artist, sometimes after only a few interactions.

Yeah, um, the sci-fi/fantasy FPP is a little down the page. I think you meant to post that there?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:53 PM on August 11, 2009


Well, this is worth posting again:


Fed up with the bullying, Hansen [the school principal] scoured the Internet for information and spoke with school officials across the state to come up with an innovative plan.

He started by conducting a "bully survey." Every student in the school was asked to write down the names of the bullies. Reading through the surveys, Hansen noticed the same eight names kept popping up.

Instead of outing the bullies, Hansen used the surveys to identify the problem kids and meet with them individually. During the meetings, he worked on solving their problems individually, which often stemmed from trouble at home.

He also got the bullies involved in extracurricular activities as a reward for good behavior.

"We knew it wasn't going to be effective to bully the bullies, so we used it as a teaching moment," Hansen said.

posted by magstheaxe at 3:55 PM on August 11, 2009 [14 favorites]


Given that I was the target for bullying from grades 1 through 12, including a freshman bullying me when I was a senior (she knew I couldn't punch her because I was 18 and thanks to my sister's relentlessly inappropriate behavior I was marked a top candidate for juvie) this points out that everything is useless...but still doesn't tell you what you can do.
posted by medea42 at 4:00 PM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is very true, it only took one teacher to assign blame to me this one time for me to shut up about being bullied for years.

Ahh, at my high school it was described as "character building."

That said, these things can misfire. I have a mildly autistic nephew who is also a big kid. Generally very gnetle and pleasant, but there are a few kids who are always up for a game of "tease the retard" until he loses it, whereupon most teachers immediately blame the big kid who's autistic. Because he's obviously the problem, right?
posted by rodgerd at 4:01 PM on August 11, 2009


When the Participatory Panopticon comes this will be less of an issue, for then there will be no hidden places to bully in, no hidden acts of bullying (or anything else), and all things seen and done by someone who is contributing real-time recording to the Panopticon Archive, including the victim and/or the bully themselves, will be seen by all. And this, as Facebook and Flickr and Twitter have shown us, will become OK. It will do Interesting Things to actual social behavior and to discussion and description of social behavior whether the intentions of the speakers are truthful, diplomatic, blunt, cynical or hostile.

On the other hand, the non-participatory Panopticon Singularity will have the same effect, but with added Orwell's Boot, and would constitute a universal act of ultimate bullying perpetrated by all humanity upon each other, so let's not be too complacent about it.

But as an intermediate position, turning a school into a panopticon with video recording and RFID position-tracking, and permitting teachers and parents to access the video and person-tracking database is so doable that it's not even unlikely. Incidentally this gives access quite a lot of students, I for one would certainly allow my kid to see the school video database if I could see it myself, and any parent with a bright and motivated enough kid (or a kid with a friend who is) could unknowingly have their access hacked. Better to assume the kids themselves have access; best of all to grant it to them.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:06 PM on August 11, 2009


I had never though to paulsc as a troll until today.
posted by hippybear at 4:11 PM on August 11, 2009


One interesting thing I think a lot of articles miss out on is that they posit a world where there are bullies, bullied, and not-bullies, and never the twain shall they meet.

Whilst these categories certainly exist, I think it ignores the somewhat more plastic nature of harrassment, where it is quite possible for the one child (or adult) to be more than one category - perhaps more than one category at the very same time.

Now, I'm not saying there's a huge understated problem here - if we just tackled the sadistic arseholes that make life a living hell for so many of us, that would be a bonza start. However, I think doing so can often ignore the broader trends or undercurrents (such as what Adipocere mentions), that enable bullying behaviour from each and every one of us - however innocently, unwittingly etc.

I have no doubt that, whilst very much the victim in both high school and primary school (the joys of having a teacher parent), I dealt my own particular form of misery to other children, thoughtlessly, needlessly, gratuitously. I regret it very much, though only a few incidents stand out in my memory.
posted by smoke at 4:14 PM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Man, that mobbing FPP is both fascinating and horrifying.

You think it's horrifying to read? You should look at the diary I was keeping for the months I was living the experience. I'd say "you should try going through it", but I would NEVER EVER wish my experiences on anyone. I am still suffering from it to this day.

(The bitch who started the whole thing took it upon herself to make certain that none of the calls for references to my former employer ever got to the manager in charge, and by the time I figured out she was performing this horrid cock-block on me, the New Economy took effect and all the jobs went away.)
posted by hippybear at 4:15 PM on August 11, 2009


I had never though to paulsc as a troll until today.

Nor should you, that's PTSD talking, not trolling. No prizes for guess which of the characters in his story is him.

FWIW paulsc, the emotional bullying by the little nasty child and the physical bullying by the big nasty child are all "bullying" and it's the general consensus that it all should be made to cease. You bring up a good point though which the article did not address in any detail and hasn't been covered much in our discussion, namely the tendency of bullying to induce victims who otherwise would not, to become bullies themselves. Whether they become physical bullies, emotional bullies or both is a question of their own capacities; a victim of either could become either in turn, or both. Every kid is bigger than some other kid. Every kid is smarter and more manipulative than some other kid.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:28 PM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


smoke if we just tackled the sadistic arseholes that make life a living hell for so many of us, that would be a bonza start. [...] I dealt my own particular form of misery to other children, thoughtlessly, needlessly, gratuitously.

That's the thing ... it's a natural human tendency to make life a living hell for others. Why? Cracking down on individuals after individual incidents is all very well, and needs to be done, but to address the problem we must also identify its causes. (The same applies to crime.)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:34 PM on August 11, 2009


this points out that everything is useless...but still doesn't tell you what you can do.

I don't see that as much of a drawback, if it's making valid points (which I think it mostly is). Not every problem has a good solution. I'd vastly prefer acknowledging tough reality than throwing together some feel-good solution that does nothing. Way before there was "security theatre" at airports we had it at schools. Lots of show.

That being said, the article does make suggestions, and #1-3 are practical and mostly available to everybody (the "don't hand a solution down" is particularly worth noting, because it's easy to do, usually ignores some practical reality of the kid, and ends up simply teaching the kid that they shouldn't talk to you about this stuff anymore). #4 depends on the system you find yourself interacting with, but then, you can't find out if the system can be engaged if you don't try. Unfortunately, it's also the only real solution pointed to. Minimizing unsupervised time is ok. So is putting bars on your windows at home. Neither is any way to live if you don't have to.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:38 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Start with a homespun heading that positions you as an authentic sensible sort who's had it to up to hear with these pencil-neck intellectuals and their wrongheaded notions: "Horse puckey" will do the trick, or "Horse feathers."

Radar says Col. Potter wants to see you in his office, pronto!

The article was actually interesting; as a parent I am dreading the times when my daughter will come to us in tears over mistreatment at the hands of her peers. Mrs. TedW and I were talking about this earlier, in fact. Since our daughter is only 4 it is not a problem yet, but it is definitely on our radar.
posted by TedW at 4:39 PM on August 11, 2009


I know it's not a comment, but can we sidebar the sidebar? It would be deliciously meta.
posted by litleozy at 4:55 PM on August 11, 2009


litleozy: "65I know it's not a comment, but can we sidebar the sidebar? It would be deliciously meta."

We should sidebar my comment instead. Metametametametaaaaaaaa
posted by iamkimiam at 4:58 PM on August 11, 2009


I'd take it as a suggestion that I work very hard to enable my child to become the kind of kid who does not draw that kind of fire.

Well, kids started bullying me because I was really smart and a high achiever who got lots of teacher attention. I wasn't a teacher's pet sort of kid, school and learning just really excited and motivated me.

Do you thus teach your kid to hide his or her intelligence then? Or might this notion of yours need some work?
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:59 PM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Horse Douvers! <gives CPB a wedgie>
posted by not_on_display at 5:15 PM on August 11, 2009


I dealt with it by being entirely unpredictable.... a coiled spring that would kick you in the nuts and head straight for the teeth unexpectedly. Even though small, my land mine personality helped me a bit. I'd not recommend it, but in retrospect, even though I got bullied a few times, reputation had an effect. (Unfortunately, this is an artifact of early emotional training that is hard to purge from my adult personality, you assholes!)

Also, once a guy was bullying a super weak handicapped student and I stepped in and stood between him. I was in the 8th grade and I took some heat for it, but I agree, the intercession of even one person put a stop to it. Another time, I talked a friend out of bringing a gun to school to deal with a stolen girlfriend issue. He had access and opportunity to do it, but he responded to reason and the implicit peer disapproval and stern discouragement.

FWIW, I had a big mouth, a mediocre to bad home life, and a chip on my shoulder. I should have been a bully, perhaps, but mostly, I just underperformed.
posted by FauxScot at 5:16 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


best of all to grant [panopticon archive access] to [students].

Your most mortifying high school moments, on youtube forever.
posted by anthill at 5:19 PM on August 11, 2009


"Nor should you, that's PTSD talking, not trolling. No prizes for guess which of the characters in his story is him."
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:28 PM on August 11

Bzzt. No prize for you, either, aeschenkarnos. I was never bullied, nor was I a bully. My kids weren't bullied, either, nor did they bully anybody, although they were big in high school (6'2" and 6'4" as sophmores, and an inch or two taller by the time they were high school seniors). But I've seen the behavior I described above in Golden Gloves, Pee Wee football, Scouts, camp activities, and schools, a number of times.

Emotional manipulation of adults isn't, strictly, bullying on the part of manipulative kids. There doesn't actually have to be much, if any, interaction between a manipulator, and the manipulator's target, for manipulated adults to come down hard on a kid whose main identifier is physical size/strength. You can try to call it bullying-by-proxy and stretch some of the anti-bullying methodologies mentioned by Slate to cover it thusly, but, really, because authority in schools and similar situations must ultimately rest with adults, once adults are recruited by manipulators into believing that something has happened that hasn't, you've got a far different situation than bullying, altogether. The power dynamic that then comes down with mis-applied authority isn't subtle, or quickly forgotten, and it's not as a result of any punishments that may be meted out, it is because of the fundamental injustice of being punished for something that you simply didn't do.

It's analogous, in some ways, to the travesty of justice that occurred in the Fells Acres case, or the Salem witch trials, if not so horrendous in scale, or outcome to the accused. It happens more easily, when we assume that the truth of any matter will come out based on the word of children.

I also think that the quote posted by magstheaxe not only ignores the dynamic of adult recruitment by manipulators, it actually describes a process of mis-application of authority that sometimes results, as a "teaching opportunity." Gah. Even young children, falsely accused, know they're being hosed when subjected to a "teaching opportunity" that didn't come about because of anything real. But you'll play hell getting a school principal, a Scoutmaster, a coach, or any other supervising adult, who has made a mistaken call on bad evidence, to back down, particularly when so many believe that corrections should come as soon as possible, once an allegation is made.

Were it that adults were always wise and thorough in their investigations, and perfectly even handed in resolving problems. They're not. They're human. Furthermore, "fact sets" assembled from the mouths of babes have too often been dangerous bullshit, not a basis for action. And, finally, too often, adult's own perceptual filters cause as much trouble, as those possibly well intentioned people are trying to solve, in the first place.
posted by paulsc at 5:21 PM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I like where this article is going. But they understate the efficacy of punching bullies in the face, in general. They're certainly right about it not being an effective one-time thing, and they're certainly right (as are commenters upthread) about bullies going for victims who won't. To incorporate their suggestions as helpful criticism, though, it works when you consistently stand up for yourself AND for other people AND when you keep pounding away at the bully week after week.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:43 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


His explanation for why "urging your child to stand up to a bully is not an effective strategy" is very weak. He takes two paragraphs just to say that it rarely happens, and provides no evidence for whether it works when it does.
posted by designbot at 5:52 PM on August 11, 2009


...kids that can't or won't duke it out, are often lying little manipulators...

Furthermore, "fact sets" assembled from the mouths of babes have too often been dangerous bullshit, not a basis for action.

If we assume that the testimony of kids is not merely unreliable but actively manipulative (and, in the case of weak kids, often so), where does that leave us? What happens when bullies pummel other kids (manipulative weaklings or not) when no adults are around?
posted by mhum at 5:59 PM on August 11, 2009


"...it works when you consistently stand up for yourself AND for other people AND when you keep pounding away at the bully week after week."
Pretty much why I got into fights from day one. I'd see bullies pick on some bucktoothed kid who'd wet his pants or some smart kid who answered questions and it'd make me furious. Dunno why. I've just hated seeing people being picked on for pretty much my whole life. And really, for me, the action was the upside. The downside was being befriended by the kid who wet his pants. Although often they had some cool video games at home. Always liked the smart guys though, usually because they didn't talk about the same things as everyone else over and over and over.
But the bullies never went away. Even if I pounded them into S'ingTFU Because, seems to me, the problem wasn't a trait inherent in them.

"Metametametametaaaaaaaa"
Mushroom! Mushroom!
posted by Smedleyman at 6:02 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


All I wanted when I was a kid, riding the school bus, was to be left alone to read my book. But apparently I had a big red target on my back. I was bullied relentlessly during upper elementary and jr high...I believed in nonviolence, which my parents scoffed at, so I got no support from anywhere.

From anywhere.

I truly cannot understand why these kids can't be charged with assault in the legal system. If someone tried to treat me as an adult the way these bullied kids are treated, someone would be going to the gray bar motel posthaste. And the worst part is, kids pretty much are stuck at school with their tormentors. We adults can get away, or call law enforcement, or otherwise escape the hell that is bullying. Kids can't.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:04 PM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


And really, for me, the action was the upside.

Totally agree there.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:10 PM on August 11, 2009


I always thought that bullies outgrew their need to pick on small children when they began their careers as policemen.
posted by digsrus at 6:56 PM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


In fact, kids that can't or won't duke it out, are often lying little manipulators

What an awful statement. Not denying that on the rare occasion this might be the case, but to condemn bullied kids as "often" being liars and trying to manipulate facts and authority figures in their favor is a stupid notion.

So if, as you claim, these children are "manipulators", who exactly are they manipulating? For one, as this article and many anecdotes show, a lot of teachers and parents are blind to bullying that is going on, or they refuse to do anything for various reasons ("kids need to develop a thicker skin", "boys will be boys", "it's a good lesson", fearing lawsuits, etc).

Personally, I never fought back because I was taught early on that there are consequences to one's actions. I grew up to be a pacifist. YMMV.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:03 PM on August 11, 2009


paulsc, I can't say I ever saw a bunch of kids gang up on someone to manipulate the school staff into wrongly disciplining him as a bully.
posted by deanc at 7:07 PM on August 11, 2009


Two things in the article that were a bit glossed over.
1) The effective anti-bullying programs are aimed at getting the bystanders (natch) to say 'Don't be an arsehole." when they see someone being bullied. It states over 50% of incidents stop with that sort of intervention from peers.
2) It states standing up to the bully fails because that advice typically comes after a pattern has emerged. It doesn't mention what happens if the target stands up from the outset. Being assertive, even to the point of physical defense, is certainly something parents have influence over as they raise children.
posted by bystander at 7:13 PM on August 11, 2009


His explanation for why "urging your child to stand up to a bully is not an effective strategy" is very weak. He takes two paragraphs just to say that it rarely happens, and provides no evidence for whether it works when it does.

It's because he got the motivation wrong. Standing up to a bully works sometimes, but it's not because "the bully is really just a coward" or because standing up for yourself will win the bully's respect. The object of getting into a fight with a bully isn't to win, or to get him to respect you, or to reveal your bully as a coward. To successfully fight a bully, you don't even have to win. You just have to make him hurt bad enough that he won't fight you again.

There was a kid in my grade school who was getting picked on constantly, mostly by one or two bullies. The victim was a big kid (not overweight, but tall and burly for his age), but gentle and intellectual, on top of which he was really straitlaced, the kind of kid who wears a tie to school and carries a briefcase, sort of eight going on 48. One day, one of the bullies had jumped on his back and was trying to pull him down, and he just snapped and jammed two fingers into the bully's eye sockets, "Three Stooges" style. From what I remember of the incident, the bully had to go to the hospital, but quit picking on the kid after that.

I should point out that this is exactly the sort of anecdotal evidence that the author of the Salon piece was talking about, and that violence is hardly a long-term solution (the bullies I'm thinking of didn't mend their ways, but simply moved on to new victims). However, in the schoolyard as in the prison yard, a sudden and unexpected outburst of violence is sometimes enough to get people to stop viewing you as a target. Me, I was pretty much always too worried about the consequences, or else my boiling point was higher; I don't really know, but sometimes I think that if I'd really lashed out and hurt somebody badly enough, the consequences would've been shorter and easier to deal with than just putting up with being victimized for year after year.
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:15 PM on August 11, 2009


On non-preview I see the two points I mentioned are getting more air.
posted by bystander at 7:19 PM on August 11, 2009


The effective anti-bullying programs are aimed at getting the bystanders (natch) to say 'Don't be an arsehole." when they see someone being bullied. It states over 50% of incidents stop with that sort of intervention from peers.

And the other 50% or so end with the person who intervened marking himself as the new target of choice. It's a lot easier to tell other people to "intervene" when you're not taking a 50/50 chance of becoming the new victim, and volunteering yourself as the Christ figure to ritually take on the wedgies, swirlies, insults, and beatings of the world is hardly an enviable position to put yourself in even you're going to Catholic school.
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:20 PM on August 11, 2009


I appreciated this article. Up until now, my strategy with bullies has always been to divert their attention when it was focused on me. Draw less fire than someone else and they forget about you. As a teacher, I did my best to stop this, but I know I missed some. However, the one case that I was concerned about and saw what looked like regular bullying, I had the target repeatedly tell me that he was hanging out with his friends and that this was all in good fun. What do you do then?
posted by Hactar at 7:20 PM on August 11, 2009


What do you do then?

If it's physical, you stop it, regardless of the victim's protestations. If it's not physical, there isn't much you can do.
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:26 PM on August 11, 2009


Serial bullying is another name for the behavior of people with antisocial personality disorder. A combination of genetics, trauma, smothering, spoiling, abuse, neglect, deprivation or bad parenting start the disorder in motion in the first 2 years of a child's life. That is an excellent reason for the parenting of very young children to be recognized as not only having a lifelong impact on the child's entire life but on all the people that human being comes in contact with the rest of their life.

The disorder is basically gelled by age 6. The next 9 years, until age 15, it is usually called conduct disorder. Age 6 to 15 can determine the extent of the disorder, the criminality, the violence the rage quotient. The disorder may be masked with charisma and charm. By age 21 the disorder is usually all pervasive, rigid and a life sentence. There is 2% of those with this disorder whose symptoms may diminish with time. substance or drug addiction, which is common with those with ASPD increases the symptoms.

Physical violence is not necessary to be considered bullying. A person can be coercive, destructive, hurtful, abusive in any number of ways: through gossip, slander, conniving, deceit, scapegoating, reckless disregard for the safety of others.

As destructive social behavior diminishes, patients tend to develop hypochondriacal and depressive disorders.

School bullying
.

Tim Field's BullyOnline is an exceptionally useful and informative resource.

Yes, it does take a village to deal with the problem. But an important first step is having a name for it, talking about the problem, and for that alone I think this is a socially useful article.
posted by nickyskye at 7:57 PM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I knew what I know now back in my childhood years I probably would done some things differently.

1) Be completely passive in all non-bullying circumstances, be nice to teachers, and get good grades so when a bully tries to pick on me the teachers are going to correctly assume he started it (I did this anyway)
2) Not speak bad about any other person, even the bullies
3) Fight the bullies. No technique required. If someone comes up and wants to try and pick on me go into the standard kick the guy in the nuts, headbutt him in the nose and not stop kicking him in the stomach until the teacher comes to pull me off the other guy.
4) When #3 gets me the rep of a crazy motherfucker who shouldn't be touched, join in a fight on the side of the underdog when a bully tries to beat him up

My high school days probably would have been a lot different. Suspensions and high school discipline records don't follow you to college in this country and there's no such thing as a permanent record.

Maybe I'll try to imbue my cousins and nephews with a sense of what's right and wrong.
posted by Talez at 8:11 PM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I moved to a new school at the beginning of 7th grade. I was small and wore glasses and was from a much smaller town and had an accent and was generally weird and I was bullied from almost from my first day of school. My parents told me to stand up to him (there was a posse but it had a ringleader), and teachers etc said I had to have proof that he had done anything bad to me before they would take action (how do you prove that someone slammed your locker shut on you?) and he pretty much made my life a living hell. I hated going to school every single day. One day we were cleaning out our lockers or something, and the bully didn't just slam my locker shut, he grabbed me and threw me to the ground in the hallway in front of all the other kids and slammed the locker shut. Some of them stepped forward and said that wasn't cool and what did he think he was doing. I vividly remember how confused he looked, even though I didn't understand it at the time. He had probably never failed to get approval from his peers with that kind of behavior (it helped that as I recall they were pretty girls). He backed off after that.

I never quite connected those things until now, but I hereby state my support of anti-bullying programs in schools, which always sounded pointless and stupid to me before, if that's what they're encouraging. Good on 'em.
posted by smartyboots at 8:40 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


"If we assume that the testimony of kids is not merely unreliable but actively manipulative (and, in the case of weak kids, often so), where does that leave us? What happens when bullies pummel other kids (manipulative weaklings or not) when no adults are around?"
posted by mhum at 8:59 PM on August 11

It leaves us, as parents, educators, and youth workers of all kinds, with the responsibility to teach a respect for law, and for due process, without trying to be the law. It leaves us to reject any "process" that begins with the distribution of "anonymous surveys" and ends with arbitrarily divined "teaching opportunities," in favor of supporting a system of jurisprudence that provides the protections of true due process, such as the right of persons accused to face their accusers, to be judged on evidence specific to a particular infraction, and to appeal any judgment of fact to a higher authority, whose interest is in maintaining fairness of process. It leaves us to share responsibility for the discipline of serious offenders with the juvenile courts and the actual police, and to make them a part of the process of school governance, in cases that warrant their intervention. It leaves us to teach courage, and the critical need for citizen involvement in law enforcement and criminal prosecution, to kids who may continue to have to stick up for themselves all their adult lives, on the streets and in our courts, too. It leaves us with the hard job of explaining to our children that the world will not always be easy, or fair, and that justice is a hard job, for everybody concerned, but one that is essential for a healthy society, and that demands their continuing involvement as citizens. It leaves us to not duck jury summons, or fail to pay our parking tickets, or to jump to conclusions about criminal cases mentioned in the newspapers, when our actions are going to be patterns for our children's future behavior.

What happens to children in places where no supervising adult is around, is what is going to happen in the world when no police or other social system is "around." Think Somalia, the Congo, Myanmar, or the Baltimore corners depicted in "The Wire," etc. Accordingly, we should do our best to see that our kids are properly supervised, and protected from their own worst impulses and those of their peers, as much as from suspect adults, until they have had the opportunity to learn to comport themselves and to respect the rights of others as citizens of our larger society. If that means security guards, video surveillance cameras, metal detectors, fences, and staggered class release schedules in our schools, fine by me, as long as we don't think that technological measures are ever a substitute for our teachings and expectations as parents and educators that children develop and conform to moral standards expected of citizens of a modern republic, or democracy.

In the long run, schools overstep due process when they overstep their boundaries as institutions of education, to the detriment of fulfilling their prime mission for the majority of children as places of academic instruction. And that mission will not be easily picked up at home, or in any other social institution, any more than parenting will not be well done by school officials, or that religious instruction will not be best delivered in swimming pools. I admire home schooling parents, who try so hard to be all things to their children, but I think that even they would agree that for most families, that is never going to be a practical route. So, as long as we are going to be sending the majority of children out into the world at a young age for education, we should be designing that educational system as part and parcel of a larger society, that is sometimes rough and tumble, but that strives, mightily, to be fair and safe for all.

It is for all these reasons that I disagree, strongly, with the basic premises of that Slate article, and that I repeat: Crap article. Crap sidebar.
posted by paulsc at 9:54 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


"... What an awful statement. Not denying that on the rare occasion this might be the case, but to condemn bullied kids as "often" being liars and trying to manipulate facts and authority figures in their favor is a stupid notion.

So if, as you claim, these children are "manipulators", who exactly are they manipulating? ..."

posted by cmgonzalez at 10:03 PM on August 11

On the underlying question of the rarity of lying by children occasioned by my use of the word "often," do you realize that virtually all socially normally developing children are lying by age 2? Whatever their motivations, no normal child reaches school age without being a practiced fibber. They practice at home on their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, family friends, playmates, pets, and even imaginary friends of their own making, until we send them to school, where they go right on lying every day. Like most of us.

A fair percentage get good enough at it, by 6 or 7, that they begin to shape adult behavior to their own purposes, at least occasionally, by outright prevarication, or, more commonly, by selective editing of situations to suit their purpose. More common in children from acrimoniously divorced parents in shared custody arrangements, possibly, but I've seen that behavior in the kids of church deacons, as early as in first grade settings. By high school, most kids have tried hiding smoking, some drug use, sex, or simply ditching class, according to their own admissions in various studies, and I would say that a low double digit percentage of all high school students routinely try to manipulate adults to their own purposes. Some psychologists even assert that such behavior is a normal feature of adolescence, as kids seek to carve out their own values, particularly in conflict with parental expectations.

At school, successful child manipulators seek out sympathetic adults like heat seeking missiles target hot jet engines. Those can be primary adult figures in the child's daily contact, like teachers and administrators, but can also be ancillary personnel, like nurses, counselors, security personnel, and even janitors, bus drivers and cafeteria workers, who see the child less, and may be less familiar with the child's mannerisms or propensity to lie. Even in schools which are generally "hands off" in terms of inter-student discipline, a manipulative kid can get a target kid in trouble, by enlisting the sympathy of ancillary personnel, to the point those adults "take up" or support, without proper fact checking, the later allegations of manipulators.

Once a physically large student gets commented on, even a few times, informally, as "mean," or "belligerent" or "tough" by personnel sympathetic to a manipulator, to other teachers and staff, it doesn't take much more for the manipulator to stage circumstances where the physically larger student is in a practically indefensible position. The big students often first sense that, when they are "corrected" for no real reason, or when the "point" of some class discussions about overbearing historical or literary figures, are made on their heads, before the whole class.

The schools I've seen that best control this, generally have some fairly stringent due process procedures in place, up to the point of a formal student honor code and honor courts that hear behavioral charges as well as academic violations, and that co-operate fully with police and juvenile authorities, as well as with parents. But those have all been private academies or military school settings. The only public school settings where I've personally seen that kind of thing operate, have been very small rural school districts in Kansas, Nebraska and upstate New York, but I hope there are many others of which I have no direct knowledge.

Where I have seen such ethics lived, both the schools and their students have been much better for it.
posted by paulsc at 11:32 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


One hallmark of a bully is a sophisticated ability to pick victims who won't put up a fight.

No evidence for this statement is actually given in the article. Maybe bullies try picking on every one and find out that it is easier to stick to the ones that don't stand up for themselves.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:36 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I admit that highschool was hell for me exactly for this reason. I was socially awkward and always sort of a hanger on to whatever clique was 'cool'. I put myself in a situation to get bullied. I was the one who would claim, that we were just messing around.

I think social skills are more important than martial arts, although body confidence cannot be over-rated and often they go hand in hand. But social skills are what finally ended it, I ended up with friends who were willing and able to stand up for me and the bullying ended.

But the article is looking at this from an institutional standpoint. That means changing the basic social mores of what is acceptable behavior. With our governments and schools past record with PSA's and programs such as DARE, I don't think it would be all that effective.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:40 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


No prizes for guess which of the characters in his story is him.

He's the lying little weasely manipulator, I'd bet my life on it.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:07 AM on August 12, 2009


I should get a prize.
posted by OmieWise at 6:18 AM on August 12, 2009


And the other 50% or so end with the person who intervened marking himself as the new target of choice. It's a lot easier to tell other people to "intervene" when you're not taking a 50/50 chance of becoming the new victim

The point of the education campaigns in the schools is so that if one kid says "Dude, knock it off" to a bully, they'd get a chorus of another half-dozen kids going "Yeah, man, don't be such an arsehole, just kick the footy" (or whatever the kids are doing these days). That's what works.
posted by harriet vane at 6:26 AM on August 12, 2009


I liked this article; thanks for posting it.

The recommendations at the end seem a bit overly-optimistic and thrown in just to provide A Solution, but it did a good job of debunking the common approaches. And there's definintely something to the "it takes a village" bystander argument - I'm just not sure that motivational posters is the way to change that dynamic. Seems more like it involves re-defining "cool".
posted by lunit at 7:12 AM on August 12, 2009


Lucinda, I have one too. In grade three. I was being bullied, and my mom went to talk to the teacher about it. Said teacher told my mom I was too 'thin skinned' and that the bullying would be good for me.

Yeah.
posted by sandraregina at 8:39 AM on August 12, 2009


I read an interesting book a few years ago which I wish I could find again because I think of it fairly often. It talked about how people take on roles within systems, specifically talking about how the group dynamics of a school setting push kids into "bully" and "victim" roles (among others). One thing this suggests to me is that efforts to end bullying will almost always fail if they remain embedded in a system that creates bullies. Of course, then you get into some kind of pie-in-the-sky "we should change the whole way we educate and raise children because the system we have is irredeemably broken," which I don't think we have time for right now what with trying to do the same thing with health care.

In the meantime, this is one of the (many) reasons we homeschool. I was neither a bully nor bullied as a child, beyond some normal teasing in late elementary school, but being in that system meant witnessing some horrible things done to the "scapegoat" kids--perpetrated by students, sometimes encouraged by teachers, sometimes perpetrated by teachers for their own reasons which seemed to me to include wanting to ingratiate themselves with the more popular kids. I hated being present for it, feeling complicit and powerless. And, of course, there's always the threat for marginal kids that you could be the next victim.

People treat school like the weather, as if it's a natural phenomenon that can't be escaped. But it can. There was that recent thread about a kid who was driven to suicide, and it was very school-blaming. But what kind of parent keeps sending a kid to a place where he is being tormented like that? If the costs are too high, it is possible to step out of the system.
posted by not that girl at 9:00 AM on August 12, 2009


So, the argument has been put forth that the weakling children are lying to the adults about being beaten up in order to game the situation in their favor?

What kind of mindset is that? "Oh, I'm sorry officer. I didn't actually rape her, she is lying to you to game the situation." "Oh, I'm sorry, your Honor, I didn't actually knife the guy, he self-inflicted that wound in order to game the situation."

Having already admitted that he himself was never involved with bullying as a kid, and then going on to purport that he has seen the lying and manipulation on behalf of the weaker kids in order to take advantage of the strong kids, and then saying that "whatever goes on when the grown-ups are not watching is not what I'm talking about"...

I guess I would hope that, were I one of his children, that any and all possible sexual molestation would take place in front of him so it can be verifiable. Because if the grown-up didn't see it happening, and the child goes to tell him about it, then the child must be lying to game the situation?

Sorry, this really is a crap argument to me. It is two steps more awful than blaming the victim. It's accusing the victim of creating a false victimhood in order to gain power. I don't think there are many children of any age who do this, because I simply do not see many adults who do this. Any who do are likely as psychopathic as the abusive bullies themselves.
posted by hippybear at 9:42 AM on August 12, 2009


Bullies are often more confident, fearless, and socially astute than we tend to assume (the old notion of a bully as a cowardly cretin with low self-esteem seems to be inaccurate)

It was interesting to see this long-held myth debunked right away in the article. This did always seem more like wish-fulfillment rather than supportable fact. Kind of like the assumption that the high school quarterback and head cheerleader inevitably end up fat, ugly and marginally employed after high school.
posted by The Gooch at 9:45 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I second Mister_A's query. How in the world do you access those Sidebar pages from the main article. I cannot for the life of me find the link although the OP said that the article links to the Sidebar. Help? Could be useful for further insight into Slate articles. Thanks ahead.
posted by intelligentless at 10:07 AM on August 12, 2009


I found it. It's just in the main body of the article. I was here visualizing a special popout sidebar. -_-
posted by intelligentless at 10:08 AM on August 12, 2009


Sorry, this really is a crap argument to me. It is two steps more awful than blaming the victim. It's accusing the victim of creating a false victimhood in order to gain power. I don't think there are many children of any age who do this, because I simply do not see many adults who do this. Any who do are likely as psychopathic as the abusive bullies themselves.

I fully agree with your whole assessment. I wondered if maybe there might be some explanation that validated that strange, awful assertion, but nope. It is much worse than outright blaming the victim.

Another anecdote of mine involves some bullying that got so bad and frequent at a new school that the teachers and aides I went to began to actually think this about me. They actually started accusing me of lying and withholding stars and other little behavior/attendance/field trip bonuses that I had earned.

It was extremely demoralizing. Not only to be trapped in a situation where kids are hitting you (I was also stabbed in the head with a pencil), stealing from you, and insulting you on a regular basis, but to have the people who are supposed to keep you safe not only completely turning their backs, but worse.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:21 AM on August 12, 2009


I've seen bullying in action. I've been the target of workplace bullying/mobbing. That Slate article has many useful key points. In my experience, bullies pick on those perceived to be weak, and those who are different, much as chickens will literally henpeck (peck to death) a newcomer, wounded bird, or an unlucky outcast. I appreciate the article because it debunks closely held beliefs. Schools are often ineffective in addressing bullying, and I've seen parents enable it, if not outright encourage it.

When I've stood my ground w/ a bully, esp. when I have solid backing, it's made a world of difference. Bullying seems atavistic, bullies seem unevolved.
posted by theora55 at 11:47 AM on August 12, 2009


So, the argument has been put forth that the weakling children are lying to the adults about being beaten up in order to game the situation in their favor?

What kind of mindset is that? "Oh, I'm sorry officer. I didn't actually rape her, she is lying to you to game the situation." "Oh, I'm sorry, your Honor, I didn't actually knife the guy, he self-inflicted that wound in order to game the situation."


These all seem like pretty plausible situations, I personally, have seen the false molestation charges used as weapon before. As for manipulating adults in order to get someone in trouble. It is pretty typical for a younger sibling to use this on their older brothers.

As for, Paulsc you can't 100% guarantee that your kids have never bullied, that is the same hubris as my kid will never do drugs. With your attitudes and downright insults to the puny, little, little, manipulating weasels would be the last one to hear about it. Since when is talking about your problems with an responsible adult educated in child psychology "being hosed".

Funny you should mention perceptual filters...about that splinter in my eye.....
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:04 PM on August 12, 2009


As for, Paulsc you can't 100% guarantee that your kids have never bullied

Exactly part of my point. How awful to immediately make the leap that a child is lying when they tell you something horrible is happening to them, rather than believe them.
posted by hippybear at 12:16 PM on August 12, 2009


"What happens to children in places where no supervising adult is around, is what is going to happen in the world when no police or other social system is "around." Think Somalia, the Congo, Myanmar, or the Baltimore corners depicted in "The Wire," etc."

Been to Somalia. Matter of fact my argument was that it was a situation requiring war among the people rather than relief. Sounds pretty harsh when you've got plenty to not hand a starving man a sandwich, but you need the conceptual architecture in place first. The hell of it is, the relief bit worked (by 93 there wasn't going to be massive widespread carnage because of starvation), but no one had taught them self-reliance.
Indeed, as late as '06 the transitional federal government started stomping on muslim organizations (the Islamic Courts Union specifically) in order to get the attention of the U.S., maybe get some funding for fighting "terrorism", etc.
So they learned nothing more than how to please authority or power or whatnot. They gained no more than information. They did not build self-sustaining social structures or learn how to self-initiate. Power still comes from the barrel of a gun, not mutual reliance. So, although authority was exerted and people were fed, we failed.

Point being - this had the same practical upshot with as solution:

"Accordingly, we should do our best to see that our kids are properly supervised, and protected from their own worst impulses and those of their peers, as much as from suspect adults, until they have had the opportunity to learn to comport themselves and to respect the rights of others as citizens of our larger society."

Kids would not learn how to be responsible for their fellow students, but rather learn only to obey 'authority.' And what if authority is wrong? I have plenty to say on the topic of Somalia, and there is a lot of room for criticism of the U.S. (and U.N.) action there and of U.S. foreign policy in general.
Oh, I might not agree with all of it, but that's an entirely different perspective than the flatheads who say the U.S. can't be wrong.
So too - teachers can't be wrong? Principals can't be wrong?
Authority is derived only from recognition of mutual responsibility as such it is derived by the consent of the governed, or in this case, by defacto consent of the student through their parents - if, as it is in this case, they are not enlightened, that they are not capable of their own guidance - and arguments can be made concerning the people of Somalia as to whether this is true or not, but it is most certainly true in the case of children - then the solution is not to deprive them of power and self-determination but to educate them.

Methods and practical solutions vary in an expanse as wide and complex as foreign policy. But in the case of children at school it is fairly simple - they are at school, they are there to learn. There is no future "opportunity" at which they will suddenly discover how to respect the rights of others and how to be a contributing member of society - the opportunity is at school.

That is where this must occur. And childhood is the best time to do the work to learn it. And it is work, because it is not something that can be given or bestowed - whether by technological measures, security guards or the teachings and expectations of parents and educators - it must be taken and reconciled internally and schools must provide the opportunities in which to do that.
Because the process of the taking is empowerment in itself.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:26 PM on August 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Of course, then you get into some kind of pie-in-the-sky "we should change the whole way we educate and raise children because the system we have is irredeemably broken," which I don't think we have time for right now what with trying to do the same thing with health care.

In the meantime, this is one of the (many) reasons why we homeschool.


So rather than volunteer at your kids' schools to help be a solution to the bullying problem there, communicating with the educators and the other parents, you have created a safe haven at home. Which, incidentally, limits your children's social interaction with other kids and cocoons your children in a protective bubble.

What happens when, one day, you aren't there to protect them? When they grow up and start having to deal with petty politics in the office or workplace, are you going to rescue them again? I think EattheWeek's point about self-reliance is an important one.

I understand the inclination to protect your kids. I don't want to attack you personally, and of course as you say you have other reasons for home schooling, but our schools *would* be better if parents like you, who care about these issues, took the time to work within the schools instead of giving up on the system entirely.
posted by misha at 2:03 PM on August 12, 2009


That article just pissed me off. How useless. Like the administration even cares if your kid is picked on? Puh-leeze. It pretty much is saying "suck it up, nothing is going to help you short of an act of God." Which is what it would take to get The Village to help your kid not get beat to crap every day.

I will give one lone example. The one time I went to the principal about it (I had a math class where the teacher was going to retire at the end of the year and it was a 45-minute free-for-all every damn day because teacher didn't give a shit), they were all, "We understand, but we've got no way whatsoever to motivate Mr. Retiree to actually do anything besides warm his chair here."

You wanna know how to not get picked on? Switch schools or be homeschooled or turn 18. As far as I know, those are the only routes out.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:04 PM on August 12, 2009


I will give one lone example. The one time I went to the principal about it (I had a math class where the teacher was going to retire at the end of the year and it was a 45-minute free-for-all every damn day because teacher didn't give a shit), they were all, "We understand, but we've got no way whatsoever to motivate Mr. Retiree to actually do anything besides warm his chair here."

You wanna know how to not get picked on? Switch schools or be homeschooled or turn 18. As far as I know, those are the only routes out.


I'm so sorry this happened to you. No kid deserves this.

I'm sure you realize, though, that one anecdotal case, no matter how personally painful for you the situation was, does not make you an expert on every school, every district, every administration, nor even every bully.
posted by misha at 2:18 PM on August 12, 2009


Why doesn't anybody think of the childrens? Wow, spirited debate. It seems that paulsc is somewhat of a pariah here and that there are several folks here have never gotten over being bullied.

There is no way to construct a world where bullying doesn’t happen – so developing coping mechanisms is the key. It's tough when you realize that life is not all sunshine and lollipops. As I put above, which was not noticed by the person who rebuffed me, resilience is the key. Learn to handle the horse manure and sour apples. What seems tougher to you, running away and crying about a situation or taking one on the jaw for the principle of it? I can tell you what leaves a bigger scar and what the authors of the article are making money from - it's the emotional scarring and personality dysfunction that comes from not confronting the situation, whether you're a parent, an adult being bullied, or a child being bullied. Taking one on the chin, in my experience, is much a much better way to get through it, even though it does, at first, present as the more difficult alternative. But that's what growth is all about.

The folks who sit and ruminate are neither helpful nor healthy. That's where plotting revenge takes root, in the fermentation of the victim's mindset. It's an unhealthy environment and unless it is counteracted, it can spiral out of control and result in some of the more heinous actions we like to point and hoot at and blame society for.

Some physics and metaphysics here, folks - First of all, for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. If you don't teach your children to react appropriately, they may react inappropriately. And, in my book, it's OK for a child to get into a physical fight with another child. Otherwise, how else are they going to get it out of their system? Let's hope it doesn't involve guns, because increasingly, it seems to.

Secondly, it's mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter. Water off a duck's back. Like a fart in a mitten, them bullies. If you teach your children to handle bullies and get over it quickly, life's littler stresses will be that much easier. And you’ll be judged a good parent of a mentally balanced child. Otherwise, you risk medication and therapy.

I wish my ‘otherwises’ were slippery slopes, but they are not just plausible, they are likely.

As for the emotional blackmailer bullies, they need to be called to the carpet as well. We can cover that topic a little later. My five cents have expired. The ducktur is oot.
posted by valentinepig at 5:04 PM on August 12, 2009


I don't think it's adults not noticing so much as not noticing because they are going along with the "power structure." This shows up all the time in consulting-type work - a team goes into a situation and the leadership says we have a pretty good group thanks to this guy and this woman but there are some problems or we need you to fill in these gaps or whatever. And then you get in there and it's overwhelmingly obvious that this guy and this woman are horrible toxic bullies and the work that does get done is done in spite of, not because of, them and leadership just won't be able to see it.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:05 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"As for, Paulsc you can't 100% guarantee that your kids have never bullied..."
posted by psycho-alchemy at 3:04 PM on August 12

My 6'3" older son was president of his senior class at the top Catholic prep school in their home state, and was, to my surprise, a football player and a debate team member. If he was going to have a difference of opinion with anybody, believe me, it was going to be verbal. Between his school work, his extracurricular activities, and his after school jobs, he didn't have much time for being a bully, and he was just bigger than anyone with a bad attitude generally wanted to tackle. His younger brother, a 6'4" senior, was 2 years behind his brother at the same school, and earned his black belt in karate as a junior. He got fascinated with Zen Buddhism and meditative practice through his dojo, and for all intents and purposes, was a practicing Buddhist by age 14, much to his Catholic Mother's chagrin. Again, not a kid likely to get picked on, or needing to get much respect by picking on weaker others. And as the fourth generation of my wife's family attending that school, they were always under faculty and administration attention, much more, sometimes, than they wanted to be.

Let's say I am human, and must take the human exception for surety. So you're technically right, I'm only 99.999% sure my kids were never bullies, and were never themselves bullied. In my experience, it isn't hard to see if a kid of any age is genuinely frightened of another, or if they are routinely bullying others, and none of those signs never appeared, according to their mother, their custodial parent, who is a trained and licensed MSW social worker, and who still works for Catholic Charities in adoptions.

Not that my kids were angels, by any means. They cut classes, they smoked a joint here and there, and they drank when it wasn't legal. They got speeding tickets, and were not always perfect gentlemen to their aunts and cousin. We caught them, more than once, in lies, and they took punishment that was warranted, and weren't happy about it. They were sloppy housekeepers, and indifferent dressers. And they liked bad music, way too much. They probably had sex before either their mother or I thinks they did, but they are both responsible fathers to our grandchildren. I don't doubt that they "put one over" on us, as parents, more than once. But it doesn't fly, with their school records, friends, family, and community, that they would have been able to successfully conceal a pattern of physical abuse, in either direction, for any significant portion of their school years.

But I don't think my arguments in this thread fail on .001% surety of faith with my children. But, you're entitled to your opinion.
posted by paulsc at 8:13 PM on August 12, 2009


Secondly, it's mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter. Water off a duck's back. Like a fart in a mitten, them bullies. If you teach your children to handle bullies and get over it quickly, life's littler stresses will be that much easier.
How many times do you need to be told that this is at best worthless and at worst harmful advice to give to a child?
posted by deanc at 8:32 AM on August 13, 2009


So rather than volunteer at your kids' schools to help be a solution to the bullying problem there, communicating with the educators and the other parents, you have created a safe haven at home. Which, incidentally, limits your children's social interaction with other kids and cocoons your children in a protective bubble.

What happens when, one day, you aren't there to protect them? When they grow up and start having to deal with petty politics in the office or workplace, are you going to rescue them again? I think EattheWeek's point about self-reliance is an important one.


LOL. It cracks me up when people who don't know anything about homeschooling assume something like, "we live in a little bubble in our home." Our kids have extensive social interactions with people of all ages, every week. They, and other homeschooled kids we know, have real-world interactions rather than interactions only within the artificial environment of the school, and they have real responsibilities--for instance, some teenage homeschoolers I know teach classes in the community, to adults and children, not just within the homeschooling community. They have real interactions with real people in actual real setting all the time. "Protective bubble" my ass. *wipes a tear*

I don't protect my children; I get them out there living in the world even though my oldest is only 8. I don't rescue them from uncomfortable situations, although I do provide support--and unlike in the school environment, I can actually be effective, and if we find ourselves interacting with people who cannot be worked with or reasoned with, we have other options. School is the only place in our (American) culture where people have so little power to effect change or care for themselves. Even in college, students have more freedom to choose faculty, to choose their peer group, to drop a class that really isn't working--and while I do have experience working it out with challenging co-workers, or putting up with some workplace stresses because the payoff was bigger than the trouble, I've also left jobs because the workplace was so dysfunctional. Kids being put in school against their will don't have that freedom, and when they--or their parents--do try to get help, well, the stories in this thread suggest how well that can go.

Schools are unnatural environments in which people, especially children, are unusually powerless. They are not like anything else we have, expect possibly prisons, and so do little or nothing to prepare kids for "the real world." I homeschool in part because I don't see any reason why my kids shouldn't be in the real world from the beginning, doing meaningful work according to their own abilities and lights, rather than jumping through stupid hoops, being at risk of damage and abuse, and having their time wasted

I don't owe anything to the public school system, although I was a member of the NEA for 13 or 14 years. as a teacher at a public institution. I don't need to be in there "working on it" (though, for your information, as a freelance writer I do in fact work in the area of school improvement and school accreditation, so "homeschooling" and "being involved in school improvement" are not mutually exclusive).

Besides, if I were going to do more hands-on work in schools (and I may very well) it wouldn't be in the schools my own kids would go to, out here in the suburbs where 34% of the kids in the school are identified as "gifted" and many of the parents are professionals and college professors. Those people can take care of themselves, and they have the resources to take care of their own kids. I'd head downtown where concrete help like volunteering in a classroom, providing school supplies, mentoring, tutoring, and so on could give teachers and students who are struggling with lack of materials, failing buildings, families in chaos.

I'd write more but I see that the bubble wrap has slipped off one of my children and I need to go tape it up--"No, honey, wait, don't go out the door--haven't I told you it's dangerous out there? Come back in here where mommy can keep an eye on you. Just let me finish tacking up this padding on the walls and I'll get you something nice and safe like jello or applesauce for lunch..."
posted by not that girl at 9:29 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


LOL. It cracks me up when people who don't know anything about homeschooling assume something like, "we live in a little bubble in our home." Our kids have extensive social interactions with people of all ages, every week. They, and other homeschooled kids we know, have real-world interactions rather than interactions only within the artificial environment of the school

It cracks me up when people who homeschool make assumptions about those who do not, as well. When it comes to assumptions, where are you getting your idea that kids who associate in school do not have real-world interactions in addition to within the school environment?

I don't owe anything to the public school system, although I was a member of the NEA for 13 or 14 years. as a teacher at a public institution. I don't need to be in there "working on it" (though, for your information, as a freelance writer I do in fact work in the area of school improvement and school accreditation, so "homeschooling" and "being involved in school improvement" are not mutually exclusive).


So you taught for 13 or 14 years at a public institution, and yet you won't send your kids to one? And you complain that if your kids went to school, they'd be jumping through stupid hoops, being at risk of damage and abuse, and having their time wasted? What the hell kind of teacher were you, with that kind of attitude? Or did you just not care until you had kids yourself? You sound hypocritical with this argument.

Oh, and yeah, I'm a freelance writer, too, and involved with school improvement. But see, I actually visit the schools that need improving and interact with the kids in those schools. I kinda think that's important.

I don't protect my children; I get them out there living in the world even though my oldest is only 8.

Wow, you're a real hero. Where did your oldest live from ages 1-7, Narnia?


I'd head downtown where concrete help like volunteering in a classroom, providing school supplies, mentoring, tutoring, and so on could give teachers and students who are struggling with lack of materials, failing buildings, families in chaos.


You might want to actually get out and do this, then. I have, and it does make a difference.
posted by misha at 12:05 PM on August 13, 2009


You might want to actually get out and do this, then. I have, and it does make a difference.

Yeah...my partner and are have been talking about what's possible for us. Right now I do have three young children of my own who are home full-time, so it's hard to take on daytime responsibilities that aren't kid-friendly. Last year an organization here gave away hundreds of backpacks loaded with school supplies to low-income kids at the start of the school year, and I'm looking into working with them, or at least contributing, this year.
posted by not that girl at 5:28 PM on August 13, 2009


Misha, I have both homeschooled and had my kids in public school.

So you taught for 13 or 14 years at a public institution, and yet you won't send your kids to one?

Sounds like cause and effect to me. I know plenty of teachers who won't send their own kids to a public school. And as for me, mine started out in public school, where I did indeed volunteer-and the things I saw didn't make me NOT want to homeschool, let's just say.

But this thread is not about types of schooling, this thread is about bullying. And the larger points that not that girl made still stand-kids in a public school have no power, very little ability to affect change in negative circumstances, and not a single adult I know would put up with one tenth of the crap a child has to put up with in a typical school system for one single freaking day. Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of "learned helplessness"...well for many bullied children (and I was one of them) you do indeed learn that your options are terribly limited, that there is little or nothing you can do to change what is going on and that all you can do is simply suffer. That's not the kind of lessons anyone should be learning, much less children.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:18 PM on August 13, 2009


How situations that lead to feeling's of learned helplessness correlate with bullying would be a good research paper.

I have a feeling that the institutional setting, the child/teacher ratios and the sheer overcrowding have a bit to do with this.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:31 AM on August 14, 2009


"How situations that lead to feeling's of learned helplessness correlate with bullying would be a good research paper."

I think many school environments promote it. It's exactly what should be eliminated.
Something I saw a bit ago reminded me of something I saw a while back. You get people who are trainers - and this is true of anyone in authority but it's a hallmark of an autocratic or dogmatic systems of teaching - and say the student does something wrong or fouls up. In this case, say, the student doesn't respond properly and does something that gets them shot, stabbed, or otherwise gravely injured. There were (and still are) trainers who would say "You're dead. That's it." or some such and end the scenario.
Always stuck me as odd. Because, having been gravely injured, it doesn't just end. I mean someone shoots you, you failed, and what, you're supposed to roll over and die?
Anyway, forgot where I read it, but just reminded me off all that.
How people need to be trained when they fight, whether for combat, self-defense or whatever, is exactly the same way they need to be taught for non-practice professions and/or abstract concepts.
If a teacher asks "What's 2+2?" and a student says "5" or something - the choice there is either to say "Wrong" or to discover how the student came to that decision and give them the tools to properly figure it out.
So too - if a students is "shot" or "stabbed" what I've always done is handicap them and make them continue. Ok, your arm is gone. Let's tie that up. Ok, now what?
Because giving up is absolutely not an option. And I don't allow them to accept that they're "dead" or some such. Back in the day it might have been said that a samurai can still perform at least one action even though their head was chopped off.
Today - the emphasis is on the instructor and his ego.
Me, I'm proud if one of my students beats me. It means I've succeeded. And, far from the cliche' of "I'm stronger than you now!" I've found that it only gains me even more respect. And in part because it's a two way street. They know that they may have beaten me, but they can never surpass me because, at best, they can only kill me.
So too, they internalize this. They become unbeatable. They cannot be defeated, only killed.

And yet, socially, that's what many schools - and I mean public learning but I've seen it in martial arts in sports as well as combatives and hell, in military warfare schools - instill. That authority is final, that they have to take it because blah blah blah is "in charge," and, perhaps charitably, that belief comes from wanting them to learn/survive/overcome/etc. and so it's altruistic - but that's not empowering them.
Bullying is one facet of that.
In fact it's inevitable, to my mind, in that environment (as I've seen it myself amongst men who get their first real muscles and their first sense of true confidence in their abilities). I'll wait for the research paper since that's anecdotal - but again, I've seen it first hand.

Arbitrary - or even seemingly arbitrary - authority always gives rise to independent sources of it. Because hey, I'm strong, why then shouldn't I exert my will?

And on the other side the victims are shown that authority must be maintained - that is - perhaps the bully's right to bully is lesser, but that's only because his power is less, not because - in practice albeit not in express policy - the power he's using is wrong.
So they despair or become resigned to their position and perhaps harbor anger (justly) for years which may explode (unjustly, as we've seen in Columbine, et.al) or simply smolder and there's a ruefulness there of ever finding a method of applying legitimate pressure to a just outcome.
And indeed, options may be limited when it comes to that. That is not a reason to fail though, or be inactive or focus on one's own position. Dispair is not a solution, nor is indifference which in this case is its own punishment.
And it doesn't take a lot of brains to think up methods to seek redress and fix the system. Simply refuse to cooperate with humiliating acts whether they're from a bully or from the school system. Stand on dignity - no matter what fear tells you.

I think a lot of parents miss that. And don't support their kids that way. If, in the case of the asst. principal who strip searched that young girl - for what? aspirin? - if that was my kid, my daughter, she would know that both her parents would support her refusal to be humiliated in such a manner (to the point that her father could possibly come to the school and put a bullet in the asst. principal). Same thing with bullying, same thing with everything else - Non serviam.

Not to say that doesn't come with consequences and hardships. And not to say that people won't disagree with your method, but it's your life and that's where the final responsibility lay.
And God damn if people don't want kids to know that whether they're protecting them or making them little clones of themselves or just wanting them to sit still and shut up and be orderly.
But we don't deal with order. We deal with people. So we have to make opportunities to have those people fulfill their potential.
I get a student who performs a combination perfectly - well, that's not life though. And it's not what's going to happen in the street or in the field or on some oil platform or whatever. The goal isn't to replicate the method, but to internalize responsibility for one's surroundings.

As far as that goes that'd be the supremacy in subduing the enemy without fighting as the pinnacle of skill that Sun Tzu (and Bruce Lee if you've seen Enter the Dragon - although he gets it wrong) talks about. As a bystander involving oneself in someone being bullied, you seize the control of the environment. As a fighter, fighting a bully oneself or intimidating him into not fighting, this is not winning, this is merely protecting oneself.
Not enough. Because the enemy remains. And the enemy is endless, really. Especially if you're on the defensive. One might fight, even kill, one bully or a hundred, but the real enemy is bullying.
To prevail against that, one needs to destroy the enemy's strategy, so - use the environment against him.
A lot of the mistakes being made here are focusing on the various tools we ourselves have or on the strengths the bullies have. Both perspectives must be combined.*
When I do that - and perhaps some folks have another take - the solution I see is, as the article alludes too - albeit poorly - bystander participation in eradicating bullying (as better outlined by some above).

*"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." - Sun Tzu
posted by Smedleyman at 1:59 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


When it comes to assumptions, where are you getting your idea that kids who associate in school do not have real-world interactions in addition to within the school environment?

I don't assume that at all, and don't think I said that. I just pointed out that my kids, and most homeschooled kids I know, are not as socially isolated as people often seem to think.

So you taught for 13 or 14 years at a public institution, and yet you won't send your kids to one? And you complain that if your kids went to school, they'd be jumping through stupid hoops, being at risk of damage and abuse, and having their time wasted? What the hell kind of teacher were you, with that kind of attitude? Or did you just not care until you had kids yourself? You sound hypocritical with this argument.

I was a member of the National Education Association as a faculty member at a community college, not a high school. Even so, the requirements of the department in which I taught left me very little leeway when it came to not burdening my students with busywork that had no demonstrable effect on learning outcomes, for instance. I would argue that a teacher in a public school could be a great teacher--and I've known some--and still not have the freedom or power to free her students from pointless busywork, to teach creatively, or to protect students--even if she were trying her best--from bullying etc. In a broken system, it can be hard for good people to effect change.

Certainly you're familiar with the phenomenon of public school teachers who send their children to private schools. I know a couple of homeschooling families in which one of the parents in a public school teacher. Some people think that's hypocrisy, but you could also argue that it's insiders recognizing the brokkenness of the system.

Wow, you're a real hero. Where did your oldest live from ages 1-7, Narnia?

Yes. We enjoyed our years in Narnia, but eventually came back to the real world because we wanted to work to effect change from the inside.
posted by not that girl at 2:25 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


"but to internalize responsibility for one's surroundings. "

I should add, in combat, mastery of one's surroundings, including one's own, and the opponents, body and movement, etc., since it's this which is contested. Method varies.
And typically, the 'secret' of the masters, high level black belts, jazz musicians, is that once you've learned and mastered the form, you can transgress, however you wish, against it.

And really, hell, you should, otherwise you're a robot, stuck in refinement rather than adaptation and dynamic extension.
Tangent, sorta - walked past a buddy of mine's dojo the other day. Saw this adult mid-level belt, must've been 45-ish, sitting rigidly at a sort of martial attention on a chair in his gi... I really wonder what it is they're teaching these guys. Like if you're taking a jazz saxophone class - 'look guy, you have to grow a goatee and wear these dark glasses and beret. Snap your fingers a lot. Yeah, that's it. Now you're learning how to play the sax.'
- but it seems to me that's what a lot of schools are doing generally. I mean they're not there to learn what year George Washington did whatever - they're there to learn about life - whether through history or mathematics or English or whatever. The subject matter is just one facet and one method of apprehension. Every moment in school is a teachable moment. Or should be.
There shouldn't be this artifice that school is somehow outside life. Hell, I don't know how anyone can learn anything but in situ. I've heard about various kinds of "zanshin" training. Always got a kick out of it. One of my uncles is a longitme martial artist, when I was growing up he'd show up at our house and jump me. Or he'd come out of nowhere and try and hit me on my way to school.
It wasn't until years later I read the story of the guy who trained with the swordmaster and did nothing but cook and clean for him for a long time until one day the swordmaster came out of nowhere and belted him with a bokken.
Me, I thought that's how you were supposed to learn. It never really struck me that it was treated as a thing apart. Certainly you had places set aside for certain kinds of practice - but it was part of life.
This too, I think has to be unity with the void (as Mushashi puts it) unselfconscious execution - I mean, we are toilet trained, there are myriad acts we perform and many of them socially ingrained (covering our mouths when we sneeze or cough - hell, even saying "bless you" on top of that to someone else) - lots of conventions that transcend the subject/object distinction effortlessly.
I see no reason why bystander involvement could not become an action of the same order.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:34 PM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Start with a homespun heading that positions you as an authentic sensible sort who's had it to up to hear with these pencil-neck intellectuals and their wrongheaded notions

"It's tough when you realize that life is not all sunshine and lollipops....Secondly, it's mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter. Water off a duck's back. Like a fart in a mitten, them bullies. "

Heh. Although now I can't figure out if valentinepig was serious (as I initially thought) or what.
posted by luftmensch at 3:35 PM on August 18, 2009


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