Bullying is Epidemic!

From CBC News

Earlier this month, I read a news article which I found quite disturbing, although this story not entirely surprising considering the current climate we live in. On October 7, a 14-year-old student, while his mother was with him, was fatally stabbed outside a Hamilton, Ontario, Canada High School. According to CBC News, four  teens were arrested; a 16-year-old male and a female, an 18-year-old male and a 14-year-old male, all charged with first-degree murder. Sadly, this is not the first teen killed by bullies, and then there is the problem of bullied teens committing suicide.

Global News says the family of the teen victim alleges that bullying was a persistent problem in the boy’s life and that the school never addressed the concerns. Canada News says, all five of those investigated are current or former students of the Hamilton high school. The victim’s mother claims the school and board knew about her son’s bullying, but little was done to stop it. “For a month, we’ve been trying to get this dealt with,” she said in tears. Both the school board and Hamilton police have confirmed they were notified of bullying incidents. Investigators were initially hesitant to comment on whether or not bullying and the attack were directly connected.

The Global News article, Experts say zero-tolerance policies aimed at stopping bullying aren’t working, quotes Carol Todd, an educator with a Vancouver-area school board, and whose 15-year-old daughter took her own life in response to violent bullying, said:

“We talk about bullying and we talk about how we can combat it, how can we end it. Are we doing enough to talk about the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect? Are we teaching our young people how to be respectful to other people and what to do?”

Ms. Todd is right. I’ve worked in the school system for 35 years, and I have never seen a curriculum that focuses on the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect. I taught Religious Studies in the Catholic School system, but even in the Religious Studies curriculum there was very little focus on those aspects, at least at the high school level. As Todd says,  curriculum focuses on preparing students for university and not on teaching young people about healthy human interaction.

Todd went on to say a common approach involves anti-bullying advocates making a one-time appearance in schools and delivering a lecture to students. She says, “In the school system, when you bring in an anti-bullying advocate now, kids are turning off their ears,” she said. “They’re tired of the conversation. We have to figure out different ways.” That has been my experience. Students listen to a speaker, then forget about it. I have observed little change in their attitudes or behaviour after a talk.

Debra Pepler, a psychology professor who’s done extensive research on aggression in children says,

“Schools are measured on how well they teach literacy and numeracy and science but … social emotional development should be included and it should start in…kindergarten.”

from http://www.dailymail.co.uk

She said the “zero tolerance” approach popular among many school boards involving punitive strategies do nothing to address the root causes of bullying and wind up reinforcing the kinds of behaviour they’re meant to eliminate.

I have to agree with Ms. Pepler. Every school I have taught in has had a “zero tolerance” policy regarding bullying, yet bullying was a big problem in every school I worked in. These policies are great, but virtually impossible to enforce. In my experience, bullying occurs subtly, occurring in locations teachers are rarely in—such as washrooms—or carried out discretely as to not be noticed by teachers. “Zero tolerance” policy is great, but it doesn’t work!

What is the answer then? In my opinion, there needs to be more focus on teaching students about healthy human interactions. Psych Central’s article, Bullying: A Problem That Starts and Ends at Home, says

Research shows that a harsh or negative parenting style is more likely to produce children who are bullies and victims of bullying than an emotionally warm environment with clear rules and supervision. Negative parenting includes obvious offenses like abuse and neglect, but also subtler forms of negative role modeling such as name-calling, threatening, manipulating and persistent teasing. Children learn from the way they’re treated, as well as the way their parents treat each other and the way their parents talk about other people.

Home is where empathy is learned or not learned, and school is where the lessons learned at home get played out. If relationships at home are based on fear and intimidation, children are more likely to use the same tactics with their peers. School bullies and victims are significantly more likely to report being physically hurt by a family member or witnessing violence at home than children who had not been bullied. Kids who are involved in bullying are also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and are at higher risk for depression and suicide.

Bullying is a learned behaviour, mostly learned at home, and therefore bullying can be unlearned. The ideal solution is to educate parents on bullying, but that is easier said than done. If empathy is not learned at home, then we as educators have a duty to teach it. The reality is, bullies are hurting people who need to be taught that taking their hurt out on other people is unacceptable.

STOP A BULLY  is a registered national charity in Canada, and has an anti-bullying program. Their website shows a study done by the University of British Columbia, based on 490 students (half female, half male) in Grades 8-10 in a British Columbia city in 1999, that reveals
64% of kids had been bullied at school, and that 64% of students considered bullying a normal part of school life. What I found particularly disturbing is that 61-80% said bullies are often popular and enjoy high status among their peers. I have personally seen this to be true. Regarding the ‘on-line’ world, 1 in 5 Canadian Teens have witnessed online Bullying, so it is clearly a huge problem in our world, and teen bullies typically become adult bullies. There is no shortage of bullies in governments and in our work environments. It is time to do something to address the bullying problem our world has.

Dan Pearce,  American author and blogger, says “People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” How true that is!

Should People be Wary of being a Good Samaritan?

A commentary on helping others.

Since mid-July, Canadians, along with the world, have been shocked and frightened because of a nationwide manhunt for 19 year old Kam McLeod,  and 18 year old Bryer Schmegelsky, both from Port Alberni, British Columbia (B.C.).  The pair allegedly left on a trip to look for work in the Yukon. Initially, they were treated as missing persons after not checking in with relatives for several days, but as the days progressed, the men became suspects in the shooting deaths of a tourist couple in northern B.C.—Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and American Chynna Deese, 24—who were found at the side of the Alaska Highway early in the morning on July 15. Then the two teens were charged with second-degree murder of a man whose body was found days later in B.C. The manhunt ended when the fugitive’s bodies were found in northern Manitoba. (see Bodies found in northern Manitoba)

Schmegelsky’s father informed the press that he fears his son, who had a troubled upbringing, is on a “suicide mission.” McLeod’s father described his son as “a kind, considerate, and caring young man” who has “always been concerned about other people’s feelings.”

I, like most Canadians, could not comprehend how two teens could carry out such a despicable act. I, like most people, wondered what went on in the head of these two young people. Did they give up hope because of these chaotic times?

On the front page of one of our local papers was a headline, Good Samaritan unknowingly helps fugitives. The story was published in many papers, including the National Post, and is  titled, My big heart could have got me killed. The story is about a man who realized later that he had a potentially dangerous encounter when he unwittingly towed the SUV used by the fugitives out of the mud. At the time, the pair were considered missing, and not suspects or fugitives.

This story got me wondering: Should people be wary of being a good Samaritan? In case you are not familiar with the Christian scriptures, a ‘good Samaritan’ comes from the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in the Gospel of Luke.

The parable, summarized by Wikipedia, goes like this. It is about a Jewish traveler who is beaten, stripped of clothing, and left half dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler. Samaritans and Jews despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured man. The full version of this parable can be read in Luke 10:25-37 of the Christian scriptures.

Ironically, last week my wife and I encountered a good Samaritan while we were camping at a campsite 20 minutes from our home. It was the first time we used our newly purchased trailer. As typical, the first time you use something new, you encounter glitches. Let me elaborate.

We were having problems figuring out how to use the furnace thermostat. Whenever the furnace came on, cold air blew out the ceiling vents. We could not figure out how to make the air blow out the floor heating vents only. While out walking one morning, my wife noticed a trailer the same make as ours, so she went and talked to the occupant, asking her if she knew how to operate the thermostat. The trailer was older than ours, so the heating system was different. She was unable to help, but she did say her husband was very handy, and would help when he got home from work.

We felt it was not important enough to bother him with our furnace issue, but about 9:15 pm that evening, all our lights went out. Now, I am the first to admit that I am not mechanically minded, so I had no idea what to do. We called our son, who also owns an RV, but he couldn’t really help without being with us. Not knowing what to do, in desperation, we went to the campsite that my wife went to earlier. This time her husband was home, and he did not hesitate to help us. He came to our trailer with his tools and determined that we had two burned out fuses. We never determined what caused them to burn out, but he replaced them with fuses he brought and thankfully, our lights worked again.

We offered to pay him for the fuses, but he declined. We offered to buy him a case of beer, but he refused that too. He told us to ‘pay it forward’. I do not know what we would have done if this ‘Good Samaritan’ hadn’t rescued us. My wife and I are so grateful that someone was able to solve our problem.

That brings us back to the question: Should people be wary of being a ‘Good Samaritan’? The man who helped us certainly wasn’t. He didn’t hesitate to. Yes, anytime you help a complete stranger, there is a risk, since you never know if he or she is someone intent on hurting you, or taking advantage of you, but those people are few and far between, in my opinion. Most people are good people.

Canadian writer, Charles de Lint, says,

“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I can’t change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.”

Even though we live during a time in history where racist, anti-immigrant, homophobic, misogynist, and white Supremist rhetoric is rampant, I believe that we all must look after one another. I want to live in the same kind of world that Charles de Lint wants. After all, helping one person might not change the whole world, but it could change the world for one person. Perhaps this video says it best.

The world is truly a better place when people care; when people come first!