Thursday, October 17, 2013
bullying: nothing will change if you can't discuss it
i've got bullying on the brain. a week or so ago, several parents in our community called a town meeting to raise awareness of bullying in our community. i saw a sign about it at the library, but it was the same day that i spent at the food co-creation event and i only got back to town as it was starting and i still hadn't fed my family yet at that point, so i didn't go, even tho' i was curious about it. earlier in the year, i worked on english subtitles for a danish program about bullying that was broadcast on DR1. while my own child doesn't have problems with it (either as bully or bullied, thank goodness) at school, i know it's a big issue in schools and frankly, in the workplace and other places among adults.
it turned out that very few people attended the meeting that evening. and the reason is a disturbing one. apparently teachers at the 0-6 school had taken down the signs about the meeting and spread the word that it had been canceled. and quite a lot of parents must have believed it, as only a handful came to a meeting where they were expecting to have more people there than were allowed by the fire code (that would have been 150+). why would teachers not want this important topic to be discussed, i wondered?
the issue moved to the pages of the local newspaper in the days that followed. the first article reported on the meeting - three parents of children who were bullied told their sad and harsh stories. the reporter expressed that it was too bad no one from the bully's side had shown up and that there was no debate on the topic, as had been planned, since it was only the bullied side that was present.
but that must have not been quite correct, as the next day, there was an interview with the principal of the 7-9th grade school, where she said she had attended the meeting and thought it was a shame that she was never given the chance to speak. the first article had indicated that there was no one else present who wanted to speak, so i wonder if she didn't even try to speak up that evening.
she confirmed that the posters had been taken down by teachers at the other school, but said that they would have to speak for their own actions, she wouldn't do so for them. she also indicated that the school acts immediately in cases of bullying, talking to both the children involved and their parents immediately. she gave a recent example of a student who had used a fellow student's gym bag as a toilet and was going to be replacing his bag. she did admit that teachers and school leadership could only do something about incidents which they knew about and that undoubtedly other things happened at school that were never reported and thus not acted upon. fair enough that the teachers cannot be everywhere at all times.
things were quiet for a couple of days and then the story of the worst bullying incident came out in the newspaper. the story had been told at the meeting that evening, but too few had heard it. it was a case of systematic bullying over two years, which resulted in the boy in question growing increasingly angry and violent himself and eventually he, as the bullied, was kicked out of school. he was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the bullying and spent several months away from school. he's now started in a new school, as it was impossible for him to return. a sad tale indeed.
only one side of the tale has been told, as the school claims to be under a confidentiality agreement not to discuss the case. all of the parents received a letter from the superintendent who is responsible for both local schools, on friday (the day after the article appeared). the tone of the letter is very defensive and, in my view, not at all willing to admit that there is an issue. he claims that they have been "hung out" and that not all of the stories are true and that it's quite difficult to have to just "sit back and take it," due to the confidentiality agreement. the letter tries only to shut down the discussion, not open up for an honest conversation that might lead to solutions and new thinking around ways of handling bullying.
then, on monday, a politician got involved and has asked the school for a written explanation of the events in the story of the boy who ended up with PTSD. the explanation will be handled on a political, municipal level by the division of children and young people. it will be interesting to see what comes of it.
i find it sad that it's such a sensitive issue that it seems to be impossible for the school to open up and talk about it. no one wants there to be bullying so bad that a child is chased out of school completely, but to not be able to discuss it is a tragedy. how can anyone learn from the experience and prevent the next one if it's surrounded by defensiveness and a lack of open, honest discussion?
in the program i worked with in the early spring, many of the teachers were also very closed and unwilling to discuss the topic, some of them actually resorted to bullying tactics themselves on the man who was making the program, ignoring him and not letting him join them for lunch when he asked. unless they are involved in the bullying themselves, i can't see why teachers wouldn't want to open up and look for solutions together with parents and the community as a whole?
it's a sad affair all around and i'm grateful that somehow or other it's not an issue that's affected our family or our child's love for school. a week or so ago, she was actually sick and insisted on going because she didn't want to miss out on what they'd be doing in class that week. so the school is doing something (and probably a whole lot of something) right, but they're not handling this bullying issue very well. not very well at all.