Since October Is Bullying Prevention Month…

Since October Is Bullying Prevention Month I thought I share again his article I surely shared earlier this year:
Freedom from Bullying: How a School Can Be a Moral Community
Every school should be, first and foremost, a moral community.
Peter Gray, “Freedom to Learn” blog, June 8, 2010

“In the standard school, the principal, in demanding that the student [do/not do XYZ] would himself have been engaged in an act of bullying. He would have been using his superior power to inflict his will upon the student, who had no power in that setting. The only lesson that [the student] would likely have taken away is that “might makes right”–the lesson of a bullying environment.” (** see the footnote at the bottom of this post for reference to stats on bullying elementary school teachers)

So some say “Love is the Answer to Bullying” and others say “It Is The Adults Job To Prevent Bullying” and dang I think this all sounds great. But is it reality-based? Since we can’t control families and parenting, how do we get to “love”? The author of this blog says Jesus Christ/religion. But since we can’t will people to be religious, I vote for democracy. And really, we don’t need to love each other — a culture of respect should do the trick. Really, I think the answer is staring us in the face:

Democracy and total age-mixing are two very good prescriptions to bullying.

Quotes from the above article, referring to Sudbury Valley School:

“[In dealing with a serious situation affecting the school…] the entire community of people who were affected by the decision made the decision. It was made thoughtfully, morally, through established democratic procedures.”

On age-mixing…. Full-on age-mixing:
“The presence of little children, who are known to all, seems to bring out the nurturing qualities in older children, and the spirit of nurturance then transfers even to interactions among age-mates.” (Erik: Our son has attended SVS since he turned 4 and is right there in the mix with other kids up to age 18. The school is pre-K thru HS and there is no structural age separation, though the kids freely, on their own, obviously tend to clump a bit with kids who are roughly their own age, but not at all exclusively so.)

More on democracy:
“Serving on the JC [Judical Committee*], which everyone does from time to time, is itself an education in concern for others. On the JC students of all ages have the mature task of listening to and trying to understand both parties in a dispute.” (*JC is “Judicial Committee” at SVS and you can think of it as jury duty. You are assigned to serve for a month along with a half dozen or so other students and staff member which rotates every day, and JC meets to hear all cases filed for an hour or two each day.)

Bullying is a structural problem

Maybe there is more to it (I should read this book: The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to HighSchool–How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle) but I do think one solution to bullying is a dramatic shift in the structure of our schools. That’s clearly why Sudbury schools fair well in bullying — they are structured completely differently. It’s the same idea with other areas of our life. Want to know your neighbors better? Maybe the problem is partly that we are living on 1.5 acre suburban plots and drive around rather than bumping into each other as we walk from our car or mailbox to our apartment, condo, or cohousing home. Change the structure of our environment, change the social landscape as well. That is WAY WAY WAY easier to do than to hope/will our behaviors to change within an unchanged structure. Perhaps sociology has terms for all of this stuff which can explain it better than I am doing here. Anyway,let’s think out of the box!

So in our schools:
– Fully age-mixed instead of year by year or token age mixing. Watch what happens.
– Democracy. Really. Not just token student councils and choosing projects within set classes and curriculum.

Individual Rights, Political democracy, Equal opportunity

So sure, Sudbury schools are one example. (And I of course am biased that it is the ONLY current example of this in action, because it is the only type of school I am aware of that really does all of these things. But I am open to hearing otherwise!)

Anyway, Bullying Prevention Month. Dang.

(**) “Nearly half of elementary school teachers surveyed about bullying
in schools, admitted to bullying students, according to a study in
the May 2006 issue of The International Journal of Social Psychiatry.”
Press release: link
Abstract: link


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