By Annie Fox
I got in trouble the other day. Someone was offended by something I wrote. It’s rarely my intention to offend anyone, but it happens.
It started with my response to “This is What It Really Feels Like to Be Bullied” by 14-year-old Anna Koppelman. In case you don’t take a detour and read Anna’s description of her life as a “total loser with no friends,” here’s the gist: This girl’s school experience “since the first day of kindergarten” has been one of ongoing cruelty, harassment, and abuse. She ends her sad essay with simple declarative statements: “I want school to be a safe place. I want to be treated like I am somebody worth something, I don’t understand why I am not allowed to have that.”
I was sickened by what this girl has had to endure. And pissed. So I shared Anna’s article on my Facebook forum Cruel’s Not Cool with this introduction: We all know cruel’s not cool. Unfortunately, in many schools, like the one Anna Koppelman attends, cruelty is permitted… and therefore… promoted day in and day out. Why are we not doing a better job teaching kids to be good people?
That’s when the trouble started. I got a comment from a teacher who seemed to feel I was unfairly blaming teachers for the bullying that goes on between students. She wrote how she personally “does not tolerate bullying” in her classroom. She went on to say that “teachers and administrators are not solely responsible for stopping [bullying]” and there needs to be “a focus on parents teaching their children to be kind.”
I like to think I am a half-way decent communicator. When something I’ve said or written is misinterpreted, well, it’s hard for me to let it go. So I gave it another shot and posted this:
First let me sincerely thank you for being a teacher. Your students are very fortunate to have you as a positive influence in their lives. I have no doubt you are exactly that and much more. Let me also say I agree with you 100 percent. Bullying prevention begins at home. Absolutely. So does the teaching of respect and compassion and social courage.
I do a lot of parent education and am always very clear with the parents in my workshops that their prime objective is to raise young adults of good character. I even wrote a parenting book called Teaching Kids to Be Good People. So, yeah. I expect a lot from parents. Character development is in their job description. It’s in the job description of teachers too.
I visit lots of schools in my work and I know a majority of teachers and school administrators make it a top priority, every single day, to create a school culture of respect and inclusion. I have seen students thrive in those schools, academically as well as in the area of personal and social responsibility. I also know that even in the most accepting schools, students have moments in which their distressing emotions (jealousy, anger, fear, etc.) push them to do and say hurtful things to other students. I agree with your statement that teachers and administrators are not solely responsible for bullying prevention. Teachers cannot possibly monitor all students all the time. My comment about Anna Koppelman’s prolonged harassment came out of my frustration that the adults in charge of every school she has attended since kindergarten were, apparently, unable to control the disrespectful behavior of the students who were (and still are) targeting her. But I stand by my original premise: Any educator who sees or hears of student cruelty and does nothing to effectively discipline the offenders and educate them by providing ongoing Social Emotional Learning opportunities, is failing his or her students. Likewise, parents who are not actively helping their children develop a moral compass are failing their children.
It takes a village and we are all villagers.