Our school district is all about competition. Boys enter into tackle football leagues with full pads at age 9, already stratified into A string, etc. The high school is ranked among the top 100 in the nation, and the passion for sports and high-school football begins in preschool. It’s also a very wealthy district where children are, I think, in general expected to be able, competitive, often aggressive in winning, and not remotely odd, unusual, or quirky.
In other words, not a great place to be if you’re a nerdy or quirky or odd little person who, perhaps, has no interest in sports whatsoever. I know from personal experience that bullying, at least at our home school, is something like a game of whack-a-mole gone mad, in which the school’s admittedly limited efforts to address specific bullying problems do little to tamp down the sadism, which continues to thrive.
I link this power of bullying to thrive in our district to our district culture. Parents, even when they’re friends of parents whose children are bullied, dismiss the behavior as “boys will be boys” or “kids will be kids.” Either they’re not grasping the truth that bullying is, indeed, a sadistic and intentional persistent torturing of another person, or…and this would simply be an indictment…they genuinely think that sort of behavior is OK. It’s difficult to get across clearly the distinction between a one-off event involving two children and, say, a systematic targeting on a daily basis of one child by a group of cruel children.
In an uber-competitive environment like ours, the odd child out hasn’t got a chance. Many adults openly voice that the child simply needs to deal with it, that the child’s parents need to tutor the child to stand up for herself. The overall cultural feel here is one of “deal with it. That’s life.” It is, in fact, a fine example of a sort of social Darwinist free-for-all.
Meanwhile, across the city, there is another district that has an utterly different kind of culture. Football? Not among these elementary school-aged children. A lot of science, some serious nerdiness afoot. A school credo that is clearly stated for all to see that addresses bullying and that seems to have been absorbed into the very brickwork of the school. This school’s culture isn’t one of sheer competition or social Darwinism. It’s one of acceptance and teamwork. Not just because the words on the wall say so, but because the adults involved practice these principles. And based on parent reports from that school, bullying simply does not seem to be a problem.
As I become aware of bullying situations in my own district, I am not at all sure what parents can do. They can document. They can become loud and demanding–seems to be a requirement. They can self-ostracize by pulling their child from school or requiring that the bullies be called on what they’re doing, thus bringing down the disdain of other parents and school administration on their own heads. After all, if these parents of the bullied child can’t even demonstrate an ability to stand up for themselves, if they can’t root in their feet and just take the abuse, how can they ever expect their child to be able to do that?
In other words, it’s endemic here. And that leads me to my question for today: How can we effectively address bullying when this embrace of social Darwinism is etched into a culture’s psyche?
Frankly, I don’t think it’s possible.