Archive | December, 2012

Connecticut Shooting: The Teachers’ Agenda to Address Classroom Bullying is No Small Endeavor.

15 Dec

Families of victims mourn, the world grieves, and helpless bystanders weep, as another school killing is added to our growing list. We struggle to find words that might possibly contribute meaning, in a senseless, tragic situation.

I don’t know Jimmy Greene, musician, and his family, whose beautiful little girl, Ana, was killed, but I have had the privilege of hearing him on the saxophone, a transcendent musical experience delivered by a man of dignity, kindness, and giftedness. He lived here in Winnipeg, Canada, for a few years, and taught music to our son’s musically-gifted friend, Niall, at the University of Manitoba.

As chance would have it, we actually heard Jimmy play in New York, in a basement music venue called the Blue Smoke. Our family happened to be in New York where my husband’s Manitoban Y-Not? Anti-Poverty Program was being considered for a grant with a philanthropic organization supported in part by Deepak Chopra. Deepak had spoken in Winnipeg, Canada, and had suggested my husband apply. My husband, Brian MacKinnon, inner city retired English teacher/anti-poverty activist, works effectively to get inner city youth off the streets of Winnipeg with the gift of free YMCA-YWCA memberships. At the Downtown Y, kids can engage in healthy recreation in a safe environment that counters poverty, life on the streets, and gang violence. He’s sent over 12,000 kids to the Downtown Y over the past ten-and-a-half years with the help of Winnipeg philanthropists.

By chance, our son Arthur’s friend, Niall, was in New York at the same time and suggested that we meet up, and come with him to hear Jimmy Greene, the fantastic musician who was coming to Winnipeg to teach at the U of M music faculty, and who was to become Niall’s teacher. My husband, our three young adult kids and I, were transported by the music of Jimmy Greene and the other musicians, and the visit to Blue Smoke was a highlight of the trip.

Our daughters recall seeing Jimmy and his beautiful family in Assiniboine Park, when they rode their bikes over to the park to listen to Jimmy play the saxophone in a public performance. At the end of Niall’s graduation recital that we attended, at which he exhibited his amazing talent on the saxophone, he thanked Jimmy Greene, his great teacher who he said was moving on to teach in Connecticut. Our lives in Winnipeg were enriched by Jimmy Greene. Our sorrow joins the ocean of sorrow that surrounds Jimmy and his family and other families so tragically stricken.

In pockets around the world, individuals are increasingly joining together in earnest consideration of the questions of human bullying that ranges from the relatively innocent meanness of one child to another, to bullying that becomes entrenched and evermore serious, to the depths of human violence we have seen in the Connecticut shooting.

The teachers’ agenda to address classroom bullying is no small endeavor. To arrive at a real understanding of a bullying child, to attempt to reach such a child in order to transform his or her pain and lack of empathy, to reach bullying children while they are young and so much more open to change, must continue to be a priority. Teachers and students in classroom communities must valiantly attempt to take responsibility in comprehending the pain of each student in the bully, bullied, bystander scenario, including the isolated and ostracized kids whose home lives are troubled, whose minds are troubled, and who have the potential to become powder kegs of violence.

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Question: Why doesn’t the punitive approach to bullying work?

11 Dec

Another look at the article “New Focus on Bullying Tries to find Solutions: Provincial laws aim to curb problems in wake of suicides,” by James Keller in the Winnipeg Free Press, December 8, 2012, raises more important questions.

In addition to the issues in my prior blog entry, the article further shows that some Canadian provinces take “a punitive approach,” and that Alberta has “billed its anti-bullying legislation the toughest in the country,” even while “current research suggests restorative approaches seek to teach children the impact of bullying work better than policies that focus on punishments such as suspensions and expulsions…”

Teachers know that when a child is suspended or expelled, they might well go home to bullying and undereducated parents, who will angrily bully and punish the bullying child further, or the child might go home to absent parents and violent video games, or they might re-inscribe bullying behavior with bullying friends.

The punitive approach temporarily takes the problem child, the bully, out of the school and puts the onus back on the parents—where ideally the responsibility for the child belongs—but teachers everywhere know that is where a problem lies. The parents may well be ill-equipped to deal with their bullying child because they are ill-equipped to deal with compassionate, knowledgeable, and involved parenting. Even well-meaning parents are prone to denial when it comes to negative behavior on the part of children, because they believe the behavior reflects badly on them—which it might or might not. Everyone has been involved in the bullying scenario at one time or another, but it takes courage for a parent to admit that his or her child needs extra help in the empathy department.

I invite opinions on the question: Why doesn’t the punitive approach to bullying work?

We are at a critical juncture in which new consciousness strategies need to be found! I hope that some teachers will try my Beech Nut of Big Water Beach Novel Study and Anti-Bullying Guide which helps children to internalize new understandings of the bullying scenario!

Question of the Decade: Why Do Children Bully?

11 Dec

Several issues caught my attention recently, in the article “New Focus on Bullying Tries to find Solutions: Provincial laws aim to curb problems in wake of suicides,” by James Keller in the Winnipeg Free Press, December 8, 2012, and I draw attention to them in this blog entry and one to come.

Firstly, I was struck by the courage of twenty-three year old, adopted Lindsey Belaire, who managed to survive being bullied throughout her entire school experience—from K-12—by six or seven cruel girls who made it their mission to make Lindsey’s life miserable, calling her “fat,” “ugly,” “popcorn head,” “Orphan Annie,” and more.

Of interest was the fact that after Lindsey went for help and after the well-meaning principal set up lunch- hour anti-bullying talks between Lindsey and the bullying girls, the bullying got worse.

I am not surprised that the anti-bullying meetings between the bullies and victim didn’t work. The bullying girls attended the meeting as a group in which the “instigator” could remain anonymous and maintain hidden control of the group. Most often, there is an instigator in the bullying scenario, as well as followers who have varying degrees of investment in the bullying, ranging from wanting to hurt the victim to wanting not to become the bully’s target. The actual structure of the bullying group has to be discovered by caring and safe adults, in order to begin to alter the group dynamics.

As well, bullying behavior is deeply entrenched in children through role modelling at home, through negative media and video games, through peer group pressure, through negative social hierarchies in classrooms, and these matters need to be discovered and explored with students by guiding and knowledgeable adults who don’t resort to shame/blame tactics. The goal is to help the victim and the bully, and to empower bystanders.

The lunch hour meetings didn’t work because the only way to change bullying behavior is to transform the bullying individual, and to replace an attitude of cruelty toward others with self-love that then generates empathy towards others—a time consuming process!  The transformation comes as the bully and bystanders internalize new understandings—not through surface information that doesn’t reach the channels of change in the psyches of the bullying children.

The article goes on to state that “politicians are promoting anti-bullying strategies and laws,” with policies that are vastly different and that “reflect the struggle to understand why children bully.” This question is essential to our understanding of bullying and our desire to have happier and kinder children and classrooms. Why do children bully?  I am opening up discussion on my blog for others to add their comments because I believe that educators are in an especially powerful position as observers and change-makers as regards anti-bullying strategies.  Educators are in relatively objective positions, unlike parents of children involved.

–continued in next entry

Welcome to My Blog

11 Dec
A Writer's Desk

A Writer’s Desk

Thank you, readers, for coming to my blog. I started this endeavour in order to share in a dialogue about anti-bullying, as well as other topics of concern or of delight. In 2008, my anti-bullying novel, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach, was launched. In 2009, I created The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach Novel Study and Anti-Bullying Guide that has now been used in over one hundred Manitoba, Canada schools, and that offers youth (primarily from Grades Six to Nine) an immersion into the bullying scenario that is ultimately transformative. Curiosity about life, art, education, and the transformation of the self are at the core of this blog.