Guest column / An eyewitness view of school bullying
Updated 9:54 am, Tuesday, December 13, 2011
I perpetually strive to live by the cliched yet motivational saying, "Live life with no regrets." However, there is one particular instance that I experienced at Fairfield Ludlowe High School that rattles around in my mind every now and then.
Although a year has passed, I still feel an overwhelming sense of compunction for being a bystander when I witnessed an act of bullying in the hallway. I was walking to class when I noticed a loud, rambunctious group of boys pompously walking down the hallway as if they owned the school. It all happened in slow motion: the flick of the wrist, the clap of textbooks on the tile floor and the bewildered face of the victim.
In an attempt to impress the rest of the pack, one of the boys book-dropped an autistic, first-year student who was struggling to schlepp his heavy load of schoolbooks to the next class. I temporarily paused in my tracks; incredulous at the idea that someone in their right mind would sink so low as to bully an innocent, special needs boy.
The older boy let out a satisfied chuckle as he proceeded on his way, clueless to his cruelty. I had an overwhelming urge to grab him by the arm and castigate him for the embarrassment and hurt he caused the harmless boy, but I stayed put.
If I could go back in time, I would not hesitate to call him out. At the time of the crime, however, I was a bystander and just as guilty as the bully. With the introduction of the state's anti-bullying law, actions such as the ones I experienced should be addressed.
As much as we like to turn our heads to bullying, it is a serious problem in schools and should not be overlooked. The Florida-based "Stop Bully Show" estimated 160,000 children stay home from school every day due to bullying. School is supposed to be a safe, learning environment. With the establishment of a safe-climate committee in Fairfield schools, perhaps this will be achieved. No individual deserves to feel threatened by a school atmosphere, and the safe-climate committee should make sure nobody does.
According to an article in the New York Times, "research suggests that school bullying programs do more to influence the perceptions of the bullied than to change the bullying behaviors." Schools across Connecticut are guilty of focusing solely on bullying complaints rather than the issue of bullying on a broader scale. By concentrating on improving the school climate rather than developing an understanding of specific individuals, acts of bullying such as the one I witnessed at Ludlowe would not be tolerated by the student body.
On the other hand, the anti-bullying law has spurred debate, such as what makes an action bullying and whether the law stretches the schools' responsibilities too far. Danbury School Superintendent Deborah Low was quoted as saying, "You have to learn that getting your feelings hurt is just part of life sometimes"
It is challenging for the state to establish guidelines for what constitutes bullying because it sometimes is a judgment call. For example, not getting invited to someone's birthday party is not bullying. However, in a New York Times article, "How Do We Define Bullying," K.J. Dellantonia argues, "Kids know exactly what bullying is. If the adults around them handle it right, it will always be their definition that matters."
The Stop Bullying Now site helps adults to understand what defines bullying, by categorizing it as physical, verbal, or exclusionary.
At one time or another we have all had that gut feeling when an individual's behavior is hurtful to others -- as I did -- so victims and bystanders alike should report such incidents to the newly established safe-climate committees.
Another issue surrounding the committee is whether it extends the authority of school officials beyond their designated realm. Ridgefield school board member Richard Steinhart said, "It sounds like if a kid makes a crank phone call on a Saturday night, now it's our problem." There is a fuzzy line when it comes to what school authorities should consider their responsibility, and having to charge bullying outside a school environment can be both challenging and complicated.
Although the fuzziness in defining bullying and increased responsibility of school officials may be consequences of the anti-bullying law, the establishment of safe-climate committees will ultimately benefit Connecticut schools. It will assist in sustaining safe environments at school, and encourage bystanders to speak up and report bullying to further enhance the school atmosphere. Hopefully once the anti-bullying initiative is put into law, bullying will be alleviated, and ultimately eliminated in Connecticut schools.