Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

A commentary on weight bullying

It never ceases to amaze me the excuses bullies give for bullying (#bullying #antibullying). Back in March, I (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) wrote a post titled, Really? Bullied for Loving Books, about a boy who was bullied for loving books. Well, I recently came across a story about 15-year-old Lizzy Howell from Milford, Delaware, who posted herself dancing on Instagram which resulted in the video going viral. In the 10-second clip, Lizzy is spinning on her toes, practicing a classical ballet move called fouetté turns. What caught my attention was the dancer was bullied because she did not have a typical dancer’s body.

The Huffpost’s article, This Teen Dancer Went Viral For Her Body Image, says:

Fouetté turns take a great deal of skill and years of practice to master. But it was not only her impressive execution that resonated with the public ― it was her size. Lizzy is overweight.

Here is the video I saw of her story. Lizzy speaks about her bullying experience.

Why would a bully target a victim because of their weight. I have to admit, I too have judged—not bullied—overweight people. Why? In a CNN article, Obese kids more vulnerable to bullies, it says:

“Children pick up behaviors from adults, so we always have to keep in mind how we’re modeling respect for others around multiple issues, including weight…Imagine how many signals kids get about weight just by hearing conversations by adults or seeing advertisements on TV. The messages are everywhere in terms of trying to control weight and be a different size than you are right now.”

I don’t remember my parents being judgmental about overweight people. I had relatives who were overweight, so I can’t imagine they would. However, I know this to be true, and I’ve said it in other posts before. I do believe society as a whole is to blame. The research supports this.

2017 study of females between the ages of 18 and 25 showed that greater Instagram use was linked to increased self-actualization and body image concerns, especially among those who frequently viewed fitspiration images. Those are images intended to inspire people to become physically fit through rigorous exercise and diet, usually with the goal of attaining an attractive body.

In another 2017 study, it determined that school-age girls are three times more likely than boys to consider their bodies “too fat,” and that adolescents who were cyberbullied were nearly twice as likely to refer to themselves as “too fat” as opposed to those who were not cyberbullied.

In still another 2017 study , exposure to thin-ideal media images was related to a significant increase in body dissatisfaction among young adult indigenous women.

YMCA research in 2018 found that more than half (55%) of children say they had been bullied about the way they looked. For 54% of those victims, the bullying had started by the age of 10. Researchers surveyed 1,006 young  people aged 11 to 16 across the United Kingdom (UK) and carried out focus groups in 12 different UK locations. It found that of those who had experienced appearance-based mocking, 60% had tried to change the way they looked, 53% said they became anxious, 29%  said they became depressed, and 24% said they had reduced the amount they ate. Body-shaming  is criticizing self or others because of some aspect of physical appearance.  Bullying centred on weight sometimes is referred to as “weight teasing,” but I will call it weight bullying. Weight bullying is a huge problem.

National surveys carried out in 2017 found among overweight middle-school aged children that 30% of girls and 24% of boys experienced daily bullying because of their size. These numbers doubled for overweight high school students, with 63% of girls and 58% of boys experiencing some form of bullying due to their weight and size (source: Eating Disorder Hope).

There are many reasons for being overweight. Healthy behaviours such as a healthy diet and regular physical activity verses unhealthy behaviours is a big one. People tend to base decisions about lifestyle on their community resources. For example, if stores in your community carry a lot of processed foods, that encourages overeating. Some people experience strong food cravings or addiction, especially when it comes to sugar-sweetened, high-fat junk foods which stimulate the reward centres in the brain. Plus, junk food producers are very aggressive marketers. In some areas, finding fresh, whole foods may be difficult or expensive, leaving people no choice but to buy unhealthy junk foods. Researchers believe that excessive sugar intake may be one of the main causes of obesity. Genetic factors influence how people respond to a high calorie intake or changes in the environment. High insulin levels and insulin resistance are linked to the development of obesity. Diseases, such as Cushing’s disease, can lead to a person becoming overweight or obese. Medications, such as antidepressants and steroids, can cause weight gain.  So I ask: Is it fair to bully people because they’re judged as being overweight, when we know nothing of their circumstances? As the American Indigenous Proverb says, Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”

Some advertisers, such as Unilever who make Dove products are attempting to change attitudes about body image. In Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty, It says:

We want to redefine beauty standards and help everyone experience beauty and body image positively. We care about the future generation: helping girls build positive self-esteem through the Dove Self-Esteem Project, ensuring the world they enter is removed of toxic beauty standards.

Bustle’s article, 9 Body Positive Social Media Campaigns That Are Changing How We Perceive Beauty Both In And Outside The Fashion World, lists other companies with similar campaigns. At least some companies show compassion. All advertisers and media people need to take on this philosophy, and then maybe the weight bullying will decrease or even stop. After all, as the idiom says, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

In the The Huffpost’s article I mentioned earlier, it says, “Like all teens, she [Lizzy Howell] hates being misunderstood.” In the article, Lizzy is quoted saying, “You don’t know me, you don’t know anything about me…You just saw a video of me dancing and you are making all these assumptions about my life.” Well said Lizzy!

Bullying Takes Many Forms

A commentary on the forms of bullying

I (#blog, #blogger, #YA, #authors, #somseason) stumbled upon an article, Bullying can happen in many different forms, which made me reflect on my life. The article says that most people accept physical bullying (punching, pushing) as bullying (#antibullying, #bullying), but that other forms of bullying are not as wildly accepted as bullying. In my recent post, Why do Things Have to be Complicated? I suggested that we make the definition for bullying simple, suggesting;  “If someone feels unsafe or threatened by another, then they are being bullied.”  Now I think I should expand that definition to read: “If someone feels unsafe, threatened, rejected, or inferior because of another, then they are being bullied.” The article lists some kinds of bullying as:

  1. Verbal (name-calling)
  2. Physical (punching, pushing)
  3. Social (leaving someone out of a game or group on purpose)
  4. Extortion (stealing someone’s money or toys)
  5. Cyberbullying (using computers, the Internet, mobile phones, etc. to bully others)

The article says all forms of bullying are harmful, but argues verbal bullying, which includes name-calling, is the most common type of bullying. I would have to agree. Never have I had a school yard supervision without some little person running up to me saying, “____called me a ____” You fill in the blanks. Social bullying was also a common occurrence as little ones often came up to me while on supervision saying, “____won’t play with me.”

This article provides an interesting fact (although it gives no reference as to where the fact came from). The article claims, “bullying happens to someone in Canada every seven minutes on the playground.” For the author talks for my book, A Shattered New Start, I use a PREVNet statistic, which is a Canadian authority on bullying research, who say, “75% of people say they have been affected by bullying.” I suspect that number is even higher. The point is, bullying is epidemic.

Another fact the article mentions is; “Other kids are watching 85% of the time when one kid bullies another kid. Adults, like teachers or parents, hardly ever see a bully being mean to someone else.” This is true. Kids are always watching whether you are aware of it or not. For my author talks, I use some stats provided by the Canadian Red Cross, who say; “Over half of bullied children do not report being bullied to a teacher,” and “71% of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems; but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene.” The latter stat is concerning.  The truth is, kids perceive teachers as ‘not caring’ or ‘turning a blind eye.” From my experience of a 35-year veteran retired teacher, I don’t believe that is true. It is more likely teachers don’t see the bullying happening. We only hear about it after the incident.

In my last post, I Want to Know, I solicited bullying stories, and I am still doing that. I offered a free promo code to the first 15 people who sent me their bullying story, and in return they could download a digital version of my book, A Shattered New Start, from the  iTunes bookstore. My email is: authorkjsom@gmail.com. The codes are valid until June 1st, so you need to hurry. Since I am asking to hear other people’s bullying stories, it is only fair that I share more of mine, so here goes.

Have I ever been the recipient of verbal bullying?  You bet, even as a teacher. I have been told to, pardon my language, “fuck off,” a few times as a teacher.  Probably the time that stands out most was during my second or third year as a ‘rookie teacher.’  I received in the mail—it was snail mail in those days—a hand written letter from a student, or maybe a group of students, telling me to quit teaching. The author(s) of the letter called me some unkind names. As an insecure ‘rookie teacher,’ that was a blow to the self-esteem. I felt unsafe, threatened, and rejected because of this letter. What might these kids do next, and in fact, my vehicle was “keyed” (scratched by a key) or vandalized around that time, so for all I know it was the same kids.

That letter bothered me for a long time, but I accepted it was kids being kids. As the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says,

Adolescents differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions. Teenagers occasionally behave in an impulsive, irrational, or dangerous way…[they] don’t think things through or fully consider the consequences of their actions.” That doesn’t make the bullying okay, but it makes it understandable.

A home-schooling friend of ours, who recently read my book, A Shattered New Start, told me that it never occurred to her that a teacher might feel frightened by a student. I have on many occasions. My daughter, who is also a teacher, told me she has as well, and she teaches kindergarteners and grade ones. Students can be intimidating.

Have I ever been the recipient of physical bullying?  You bet. I remember in elementary school—don’t remember what grade I was in—my brother and I were walking home from school. We lived in a small town, so we had to walk to and from school. One of the town bullies was harassing my brother and I, calling us names, etc. What I remember most is the bully taking snow and rubbing it into our faces. My brother and I were scared as the bully was bigger than either of us. It was a humiliating and upsetting experience. We definitely felt unsafe and threatened by this bully.

Have I ever been the recipient of social bullying? You bet, as a non-athletic person. All throughout school, in gym class, I was always one of the last kids to be picked for a team. You remember those times because you feel unwanted and rejected. I felt inferior thinking I was not good enough to play on a team.

Have I ever bullied? I am sad to say, yes.  As a teacher, I once strapped a student. In the early part of my career, corporal punishment was the norm.  I hated it. Inflicting pain on a student felt awful.  The belief was, if you inflicted physical punishment on a kid, it would be a deterrent; ensuring they would never commit the infraction again. It seldom worked though.    I only ever did it once because it was such an unpleasant experience. There was nothing about being a bully—in my case, carrying out corporal punishment—that felt good.

So, there you have it; some more of my experiences with bullying. Please, please send me some of your bullying experiences, and don’t leave out your feelings. If you are kind enough to share your bullying experience, you’ll receive a free promo code to download a digital version of my book, A Shattered New Start, from the iTunes bookstore, but hurry, as the codes expire June 1st.

Email me at: authorkjsom@gmail.com.

Why do Things Have to be Complicated?

A commentary about what bullying is.

Adam Davies is a former member of Nova Scotia’s Chignecto-Central Regional School Board who writes commentaries. His editorial: Is the word bullying misunderstood? published in the Halifax, Nova Scotia’s (NS) Chronicle Herald asks the question: Is the word bullying maligned, misunderstood or meaningless? This is a valid question. If you google the definition of bullying on the Internet, you get 184 million hits. That is a lot of definitions, and they do vary greatly. Two people can witness the same incident, and one might say it was bullying (#antibullying, #bullying) and the other it was not. Why? Because each has a different definition of bullying.

Mr. Davies says;

Many of us know a textbook definition of the word, such as this from the provincial school code of conduct: ‘Bullying means behaviour, typically repeated, that is intended to cause or should be known to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, exclusion, distress or other harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property, and can be direct or indirect, and includes assisting or encouraging the behaviour in any way.’

However, he argues that definitions leave gaps. For example, Mr. Davies argues some bullying is dismissed as teasing or horseplay. “Clearly, bullying only means what we want it to mean,” he says. In his editorial, Mr. Davies refers to an incident that occurred in a NS High School. A CTV News report, Several students suspended after alleged assault at Cape Breton high school, describes the incident that Mr. Davies is referring to. It also has an edited video of the disturbing incident, which was a violent incident at the NS high school that was circulated on social media. It shows a grade 9 student being attacked by another student who literally throws the grade nine student across the locker room. The attacked student was hurt in the incident.

The author of the editorial argues that many news reports described the incident as an alleged assault but there were others who described it as bullying. Yahoo News’s headline, Assault caught on video at Cape Breton high school, calls it an assault, while the Halifax Chronicle Herald’s headline, Bullying incident in Coxheath shines light on complex issue, calls it bullying. So, the question is: Was it bullying or was it an assault? It’s both. An assault is a physical attack, and that clearly happened in the NS incident.

Before COVID-19, I (#blog, #blogger, #YA, #authors, #somseason) gave author talks for my book, A Shattered New Start. In that talk, I used a definition for bullying from Bullying Reporting and Prevention (BRIM), a company that develops Anti-Bullying Software. Their definition is designed for children, which is why I used it, and it says, “Bullying is when you keep picking on someone because you think you’re cooler, smarter, stronger or better than them.” Writing a post about the definition of bullying has made me realize even that definition is lacking. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) define bullying “as when there is an imbalance of power; where someone purposely and repeatedly says or does hurtful things to someone else.” Many definitions of bullying say to be bullying, it must happen more than once. The news reports fail to report whether the NS boy was repeatedly assaulted either physically (using your body or objects to cause harm), verbally (using words to hurt someone), or socially (using your friends and relationships to hurt someone). Based on my experience with school bullying, and using definitions like Oxford’s definition, “seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable,” which makes no reference to repetition, the NS youth was definitely bullied.

Mr. Davies sites a 2019 research study on student well-being and experiences at school which was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Their report, based on survey data from more than 54,000 students in Grades 4 to 12, did not use the terms bullying or bullying behaviour. Instead, students were asked if they felt unsafe or threatened at school within the past month. According to the survey, 19% of students felt unsafe or threatened at school, with 35% for students with physical disabilities, and 36% for those who identified as LGBTQ. The survey revealed that students were most worried about gossip, pranks and being left out by their friends and peers. Most disturbing to me was 61% of students surveyed reported feeling physically threatened and about half of those surveyed were concerned about cyber threats, including online gossip, hurtful messages and the spread of inappropriate photos.

The survey on student well-being and experiences at school reveals a lot of other things about school life, but the fact that 19%, or approximately one in five students, feel unsafe at school is alarming.

The Canadian Red Cross has a simple definition of bullying. It says, “bullying is a form of aggression where there is a power imbalance; the person doing the bullying has power over the person being victimized.” That is a good definition because it is simple, yet it encapsulates what bullying is. Perhaps there is an even a simpler definition of bullying? Maybe bullying should be defined as when a person is made to feel threatened or unsafe by another person. It’s simple, yet says what bullying is all about.

Bullying typically is defined by three elements: aggression, a power differential, and repetition. I have a problem with the repetition part. If a person feels threatened or unsafe, because of another person, even one time, then in my view, bullying has occurred. Under no circumstances should a person ever feel threatened or unsafe because of another individual. Many will argue that bullying is complex and you can’t define it as I just did, but perhaps that is the problem. Maybe we humans want to make everything more complicated than it has to be. To me it is simple. If a student, or anyone for that matter, feels unsafe or threatened by another, they are being bullied.

Names Should Never Hurt

A commentary on how one’s name can make you a target

Most of us like our names and believe others do as well, but that is not always the case. CNN’s article, Tom Hanks writes to bullied 8-year-old named Corona, is a story about Corona DeVries, an 8 year old from Queensland, Australia, who told reporters that he had recently been called “coronavirus” at school. He told them, “Coronavirus — they kept on saying that, and I get really mad.” The 8-year-old wrote to Tom Hanks, a well-known American actor, and his wife Rita Wilson, wishing them well and saying, “I heard on the news you and your wife have caught the coronavirus. Are you ok?”

What is special about this news story is Mr. Hanks wrote the young boy back, addressing his letter, “Friend Corona.” The actor expressed gratitude for the 8-year-old’s concern about his and his wife’s health. In the letter, Mr. Hanks says, “Thank you for being such a good friend — friends make their friends feel good when they are down.” The Oscar winner, who collects typewriters, sent the 8-year-old a typewriter saying, “use it to write me back.” At the bottom of his letter, Hanks added the handwritten postscript “You got a friend in me!” — the name of the “Toy Story” theme song.

The likelihood of this young man being bullied because of the name Corona would be close to zero under normal circumstances, but because the world is presently experiencing a viral pandemic with a virus called Coronavirus, he was targeted. I was touched by this story because of the kindness shown by Tom Hanks. Even more, just when I (#blog, #blogger, #YA, #authors, #somseason) think I’ve heard it all, I hear about another ridiculous reason for bullying. It is not this 8-year old’s fault that this virus is called coronavirus. It shows how insensitive bullies are.

Bullying  (#antibullying, #bullying) a boy, because his name is Corona, is outlandish, just as outlandish as people relating Corona beer with the virus.  CBS News put out a story in early March titled, Survey finds 38% of beer-drinking Americans say they won’t order a Corona. It says 38% of American beer drinkers surveyed said they wouldn’t buy Corona “under any circumstances” at the moment. Among regular Corona drinkers, only 4% said they would now refrain. Refraining from drinking a beer that has been around for years because its name is the same name as a virus is ridiculous.

Getting bullied because of your name is nothing new. It has been happening forever. I too, was harassed because of my name. All throughout elementary and junior high school, I was made fun of because my last name was Sommer. I was called summer sausage, which is a sausage that has been dry-cured, smoked, and hardened. I grew up eating summer sausage as it was one of my dad’s favourites. I hated being called summer sausage, and at the time, I didn’t think of it as bullying. The kids that called me that thought it was funny, and they laughed a lot calling us summer sausage. The reality is,  my siblings, cousins, and I  didn’t like being called that, and that makes it bullying.

ABC News did a story, Boy who changed his name from Trump, about Joshua, who lives in Clayton, Delaware, who began using his father’s last name, rather than his mother’s, due to the relentless bullying he experienced after Donald Trump began campaigning in the 2016 presidential election. Joshua’s mother, Megan Trump, no relation to the president, said that other kids would curse at her son, calling him stupid and an idiot. He hated his last name and felt sad all the time. Since the bullying got so bad, the school district agreed to change Joshua’s name in the school system when he began Middle School. I feel for this 11-year-old. It is not his fault he had the same last name as the current resident of the U.S. White House; a man who makes it easy for others to ridicule him when the U.S. leader makes statements such as, covid-19 patients might be cured by treating them with injections of disinfectant and applications of ultraviolet light.

A 2011 Daily News’ story, Lea Michele: I had to change my last name because I was bullied in school,  is a story about “Glee” actress, Lea Michele, who ditched her surname after being bullied in school. Sarfati, is her real surname, but the actress said. “I don’t use it a lot because I got ‘Lea So-fatty,’ ‘Lea So-farty’ at school.” She said, “When I was little and I went on my first audition they were like, ‘And may we have your name,’ and I was like Lea Michele. And I’ve been Lea Michele ever since.’ ”

Bullying of any kind is serious, even bullying because of a person’s name. When it is relentless and malicious, it can lead to suicide. Wikipedia lists 16-year-old, Sladjana Vidovic (1992–2008) from Mentor, Ohio, as someone who hung herself in October 2008 by jumping from a window with a sheet around her neck. She and her family were from Croatia. Because of her accent and her name, other students called her names like “Slutty Jana” and “Slut-Jana-Vagina.”

As I’ve said in my post, Really? Bullied for Loving Books, there is a very simple solution to bullying, and that is following the Golden Rule which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  However, it is not that simple as hurting people feel better when they take their pain out on others, so the bully’s pain needs to be healed first. As the adage says, “Healed People Heal People.” A bully is a hurting person, so the first step is to acknowledge that. The next step to help them heal. That might be as simple as listening to their story of pain, since many bullies feel unheard. Some may require professional help, so recommending a healer might be a way to help.  Most importantly, show kindness, compassion and love, all which heal. So, instead of condemning those who bully—even though that is our first instinct—try having compassion for them, but make it clear that their bullying is unacceptable.

The Ugly Reality of Bullying

A commentary on the damage bullying causes.

As I become known as an anti-bullying advocate, people send me articles and videos that they think may interest me. This week a friend sent me this video clip posted by a mother.  The video is of her son crying after he was targeted at school because he has Achondroplasia, a genetic disorder. Be warned, the mother uses course language and the video is upsetting to watch; at least for me it was. Here is the video.

For those unfamiliar with Achondroplasia, it is a genetic disorder that results in dwarfism. In those with the condition, the arms and legs are short, while the torso, or trunk, is typically of normal length. Those affected have an average adult height of around 4 ft (131 cm). Other features include an enlarged head and prominent forehead. The disorder typically does not affect intelligence.

In a Huffpost article about the video called, Mum Shares Heartbreaking Video Of 9-Year-Old Son Traumatized By Bullying, Quaden’s mother describes the relentless bullying experienced by her son every day. The family, who are Aboriginal Australian, live in Queensland, Australia. The mother says in the video :

“I’ve just picked my son up from school, witnessed a bullying episode, rang the principal, and I want people to know – parents, educators, teachers – this is the effect that bullying has…Every single… day, something happens. Another episode, another bullying, another taunt, another name-calling…Can you please educate your children, your families, your friends?  This is what bullying does.”

Her son repeatedly cries out that he wants to end his life in the video. 

Here is a NBC news clip about the video.

The good news is Quaden and his mother have been flooded with support after live-streaming the heartbreaking video of her nine-year-old son’s misery because of bullying. In fact, one celebrity with dwarfism started a Go Fund Me page to send Quaden to Disneyland, and the page has raised over $300 000. That goes to show the number of wonderful people on our planet (see Australian boy in bullying video receives global support).

What shocks me is this a story that needs to be heard,  yet people question and even attempt to discredit the story. Some on the Internet questioned Quaden’s age. Why,  I don’t know. Some claimed the mother of Quaden was financially benefiting from the video. The most noteworthy was the story was twisted into a conspiracy theory that Quaden was an 18-year-old scammer (see Conspiracy Theory). Why the negativity?

In my author talks, I define bullying as “when you keep picking on someone because you think you’re cooler, smarter, stronger or better than them.” These bullies—hurting people who are taking their pain out on Quaden—see him as physically different from them, so I can only speculate that they feel entitled to harass him. They are obviously insensitive, uncaring individuals  who fail to understand how hurtful their bullying is. When bullying causes someone to contemplate suicide, it is heartbreaking.

The fact is, we are all members of the human race and therefore deserve to be treated accordingly. It reminds me of Act 3, scene 1 of the Shakespearean play, Merchant of Venice, where Shylock, a Jew, confronts two Christians. Shylock says:

“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, actions, passions…warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die…”

Every human being has feelings, needs, and desires. We all want to be happy, feel loved and respected. We are the same physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Size, shape, and colour does not matter.  Why are people so intolerant of differences? I don’t get it. Talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres says:

“We focus so much on our differences, and that is creating, I think, a lot of chaos and negativity and bullying in the world. And I think if everybody focused on what we all have in common – which is – we all want to be happy.”

She is right! As she says, “…if everybody focused on what we all have in common – which is – we all want to be happy” then bullying would decline; maybe even stop. I’ve said in  previous posts, there is a very simple solution to bullying, and that is following the Golden Rule which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Every major World Religion and philosophy promotes this rule. If only people would start following it.

These Statistics are Shocking!

A commentary on bullying statistics

EducationCorner.com has some disturbing statistics on what students today have to deal with. It reports:

90% of students in grades 4-8 report have been harassed or bullied.

28% of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying.

20% of students in grades 9-12 experience bullying. (stopbullying.gov)

Over 160,000 kids refuse to go to school each day for fear of being bullied. (Nation Education Association)

6% of students report having witnessed bullying in their school, and over 71% say bullying is a problem.

Over 10% of students who drop out of school do so due to being bullied repeatedly.

Nearly 75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying.

The Daily Mail article, Secret Service study… reports that

“most [75% according to statistics above] students who committed deadly school attacks over the past decade were badly bullied, had a history of disciplinary trouble and their behaviour concerned others but was never reported, according to a U.S. Secret Service study.”

Canadian Red Cross says

Over half of bullied children do not report being bullied to a teacher

71 % of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems, but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene.

Over 71% of  young people say bullying is a problem, and they are right. These statistics prove it. I find these statistics alarming, especially as a retired educator. I spent my entire career dealing with school bullies. I’ve always tried to address bullying problems when they arose—which was often. When I read that 71 % of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems, but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene, I am astounded. Is this a perception problem, or are many teachers all talk? Just because some teachers say they intervene, doesn’t mean they do, and what is that intervention? Is it a “tongue lashing,” some form of punitive action, or forcing the bully to apologize? I’ve tried all these methods and none of them curb bullying.

During much of my teaching years, I considered bullies to be “bad” kids who needed a good dose of discipline, which  meant punishing them punitively with detentions, expulsions, and even corporal punishment. Yes, corporal punishment was used when I first began teaching. Typically, the aim of punitive approaches is either to punish the offender or satisfy feelings of revenge. Now I look at the problem of bullying differently.

American author, Joel Osteen says,

“Keep in mind, hurting people often hurt other people as a result of their own pain. If somebody is rude and inconsiderate, you can almost be certain that they have some unresolved issues inside. They have some major problems, anger, resentment, or some heartache they are trying to cope with or overcome.”

 Joel Osteen is right! Bullies are really hurting people who take their pain out on others. As the adage says, “hurting people hurt people.” I am convinced that when we start addressing the hurts of people who bully, we will begin to heal the hearts of these bullies. One less hurting person is one less bully!

My book, “A Shattered New Start,” is written with this mindset and shows the human side of bullies. It is a story about a bully, Ryan, and his victim, Jonathan. Here is a teaser.

Young People Who Inspire Me (Part One)

A commentary on impressive young people.

Often, my commentaries are about something negative happening in the world, and there are no shortage of those stories. The other day I was watching CTV News and they reported on 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, arriving in New York City to attend a conference on global warming. A while back, I saw a video of this young lady’s speech to the U.N, and she inspired me then.

Now, I’ve spent a career working with young people, and I’ve taught many who inspired me to be a better person. I’ve also taught many who were troubled and not so inspiring. Today’s youth are often portrayed as “bad news” by much of the media and it seems to be the ‘bad ones’ who make the headlines. On August 28, CBC ran this headline; Verdict in October for youth accused of shooting German tourist west of Calgary. In July the country was consumed with this story: How 3 killings in B.C. turned into the cross-Canada pursuit of 2 teenagers. There are no shortage of stories about “bad youth.” It made me wonder about the “good youth?” It seems the youth who are making a difference in our world are seldom recognized, so this post is dedicated to the “youth who inspire me.” Allow me to introduce some of them.

First, I’ll start with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. I first heard about Greta when I saw a video of her U.N. speech when she was 15 years old. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

This is Greta’s story according to Wikipedia. Thunberg says she first heard about climate change in 2011, when she was 8 years old, and could not understand why so little was being done about it. Three years later she became depressed and stopped talking.

In 2018, at the age of 15, Thunberg took time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament holding up a sign calling for bold climate action. Her “school strike for the climate” began attracting media attention and other students then engaged in similar protests in their own communities. Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and she has inspired student strikes that took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were at least two coordinated multi-city protests involving over one million students each. I can’t help but admire these students who are standing up for the planet. Why wouldn’t they, since they are the ones who will inherit the mess my, and previous generations, left for them.

This teen is a much needed “mover and a shaker” on an issue our political leaders are ‘dragging their feet’ on. Why is climate change being touted as ‘not a big deal’ by many political leaders? Because of money, because making changes affects the economy, and likely the biggest reason, to maintain the lifestyle of the wealthily. The United Nations has said that “climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment.” Thank God for Greta Thunberg because she is motivating our youth to speak out, and take action; Greta has given young people a voice. I applaud this young lady!

CBC News has a story, Climate activist Greta Thunberg lands in New York harbour after Atlantic voyage, The 16-year-old landed in New York after crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a zero-emissions sailboat to attend a conference on global warming. She is set to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. The teenager refused to fly to New York to avoid a plane’s fossil-fuel emissions. This is a 16-year-old with integrity; a person who lives by what she preaches.

Global News reported a few days later that People’s Party of Canada Leader (a leader of a new political party in Canada) Maxime Bernier attempted to discredit Greta Thunberg by calling her “mentally unstable.” Mr. Bernier is one of those political leaders who thinks Climate Change is being exaggerated. Essentially, he is a Climate Change denier.

From CNN

CNN has a story entitled, A 7-year-old wants to build a wall to highlight kindness around the world. The article explains that when 7-year-old Áine Peterson saw images of child migrants being detained at the US-Mexico border, she had to speak out about injustices in the world. The article says, “While some politicians see a divisive wall as a solution to the immigration crisis, Áine, who calls herself ‘the Kind Crusader,’ envisions a wall to bring people together. All the art work she is asking for has to be revolved around kindness, like giving shelter to those in need.” Aine says in a video promoting her campaign, “I want to put together a kindness wall, with art from people all around the world.”

Now I have taught 7-year-olds, and in my experience, this is no ordinary 7-year-old. No 7-year-old that I have worked with has a sense of injustice like Aine does. This is one special kid who deserves to be listened to. She is one to watch and is one who will have an impact on this world.

Another impressive young lady is Malala Yousafzai. She is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She is known for her human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school.

Here is her story according to Wikipedia. In early 2009, when she was 11, Malala wrote a blog detailing her life during the Taliban occupation of Swat Valley in Pakistan. She rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television. On October 9, 2012, after taking an exam, Malala Yousafzai and two other girls were shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism. The 15-year-old was hit in the head with a bullet and remained unconscious in critical condition. The attempt on her life sparked an international outpouring of support for her.

Following her recovery, Malala became a prominent activist for the right to education, especially for girls. She founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization. She was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, and then aged 17, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. In 2017, she was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship and became the youngest person to address the Canadian House of Commons of Canada.

This young lady is making a difference in this world. She comes from a part of the world where females were, and maybe still are, denied a basic human right of education. Article 26, of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, it says; “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” Malala is fighting for a basic human right. Sadly, we still live in world where the sexes are not equal and basic human rights are denied to some people. Those of the female gender are not treated equally to males. As Plato once allegedly said, “If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.”

I applaud this young lady for her work to achieve equality between the genders. As Ban Ki-moon, the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, “Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility.” Malala deserves to be recognized for her important work.

These are three young people who I admire for their bravery and passion. I will introduce others in my next post.

Was I One Those Teachers Who Smothered Creativity, or Indoctrinated Children?

A commentary on our education system.

Several months ago, a news article came across one of my news feeds titled, We are born creative geniuses and the education system dumbs us down, according to NASA scientists. My immediate reaction was: No way was I a part of a system that “dumbs down” kids. I made them smarter. The truth was, this headline disturbed me, and when I first saw it, I ignored it and never bothered to read it, thinking I’ll read it some time later. Well, later is here, and I read the article. Here is the jest of the article.

Scientists gave a test that looks at the ability to come up with new, different, and innovative ideas to 1,600 children between the ages of 4 and 5. What they found was that 98 percent of children fell into the genius category of imagination?  The scientists were so astonished that they decided to make it a longer study and tested the children again five years later when they were ten years old. The result? Only 30 % of the children fell in the genius category of imagination. When the test was given at the age 15, the figure had dropped to 12%. Curious about adults, they tested them as well. Shockingly, only 2% of adults are still in contact with their creative genius after years of schooling.

The results were replicated more than a million times, implying that the school system robs us of our creative genius. That is especially disturbing to me because that means I played a part in it. I was a school teacher for 35 years. I had to ask myself: Did I really “dumb down” kids? I refused to believe it, but these results suggest otherwise. This bothered me, so I set out to prove otherwise.

The Huffpost’s article, How Schools Are Killing Creativity, says this about schools.

You were bullied, made fun of, and you had this teacher that told you to stop dreaming and live in reality. So what did you learn at school? You learned to stop questioning the world, to go with the flow, and that there’s only one right answer to each question. The “whys” you have always wanted to ask are never on the test, and they are omitted from the curriculum.

I had to admit, there is a lot of truth in that. I taught in a system that gave standardized tests which counted 50% of the student’s final mark. My focus as a teacher was preparing students for the government test, so I’ll be honest, all creativity went out the window. We didn’t have time to create and look at a diversity of viewpoints. We taught only what we had to in order to  prepare students for the test.

Benjamin Greene, founder of Britain’s biggest brewery says, “The biggest atrocity of all is to indoctrinate our children into a system that does not value their creative expression, nor encourage their unique abilities.”  I would have to agree, and sadly, I had to admit I may have contributed to it.

During my research, I came across numerous articles suggesting that our school systems indoctrinate children. This was even more disturbing to me, as in my mind, there was no way I was a part of a system that indoctrinated kids. I was preparing them for life and the “real world.”  Was I naive?

Most dictionaries define indoctrination as, “The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” American Journalist and author, Peter Hitchens said, “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?” Do our education systems teach children what to think? Having been in the education business, I would have to say yes.

Curriculum presents a point of view, and even though we as teachers try to teach kids to think critically, they are reluctant to do so. Students resist thinking critically, unless forced to, and with standardized tests, they didn’t have to for most part. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion said, “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” I must agree. I believe we as an educational system have failed to teach our students how to think for themselves, or at least do it well. Instead we teach them “facts” to learn for a test.

American astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “When Students cheat on exams it’s because our School System values grades more than Students value learning.”  Therein lies the flaw with the education system. There were thousands of times during my career when students would say to me, “Just tell me what I need to know for the test.”

American journalist, H.L. Mencken said, “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.”  Are we teaching kids to be submissive? If we are, I am troubled!

I taught in the Catholic School System, and so I had to ask: Do Catholic schools indoctrinate? Catholic Answers’ article, In Defense of Indoctrination, does not hesitate to admit that Catholic schools indoctrinate, for it states:

…indoctrination itself is not wrong, because children have to be taught something in order to grow up to be functional members of society. The question is, what should they be taught? This means that Catholics and other Christians should have the right teach their children about God and his moral law without being unfairly labeled as practitioners of “indoctrination.”

Maclean’s article, Why are schools brainwashing our children? maintains that education systems in the Western world are “brainwashing” young children to be social activists, saying,

Increasingly, faculties of education in Canada and much of the Western world are preparing their student teachers to weave social justice throughout the primary school curriculum…as well as into a range of cross-curricular activities, events, and projects. The idea is to encourage kids to become critical analysts of contemporary issues, empathetic defenders of human rights and gatekeepers of the beleaguered Earth.

Is that a bad thing? Depends who you ask.  An article by The Federalist, says,

Many people have long suspected that governments sometimes attempt to indoctrinate their people to increase the government’s own power and influence. Unfortunately, ambitious governments will not stop at merely controlling what their people can do; they must control their minds.

The article goes on to say,

Few people seem to have a clear definition of indoctrination, and thus call anything they dislike indoctrination (e.g., “Leftists professors are indoctrinating their students,” “Those fundamentalist Christians are indoctrinating their kids,” or “Facebook is indoctrinating its users.”).

What is the solution to indoctrination then?  This same article states:

The only real solution to indoctrination, then, is good teachers. Good teachers (which include parents, mentors, and other knowledgeable adults) train students in methods of thought while supplying the stuff of thought. They teach a person to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.

I tried to be one of those teachers, and it’s true! Most of the articles related to indoctrination and the education system are critical of the system’s use of a LGBQT Inclusive Curriculum, or promotion of a liberal agenda, or a conservative one, or a sex-education curriculum that they believed promoted promiscuity, and on and on. All maintained that the school system is indoctrinating children. According to the definition of indoctrination, they are. The reality is, you cannot remove viewpoints from school systems, as every curriculum designer, and every teacher has their point of view.  Is that Good? Depends on your perspective.

As far as I am concerned, if teachers are ‘indoctrinating’ kids to stand up for human rights and to protect the planet, then I am proud that I was one of those teachers. I say bravo to the teachers who do so. If our educational systems are stifling creativity and teaching kids to be submissive, then shame on them. As The Federalist article says, teachers must be allowed to teach their students “to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.”