Tag: bullying

“We’re from the Government and We’re Here to Help,” Schoolyard Edition

In an epic case of unintended consequences, government-mandated anti-bullying programs are actually increasing bullying by teaching kids how to bully, according to a new study published in the Journal of Criminology:

The study concluded that students at schools with anti-bullying programs might actually be more likely to become a victim of bullying. It also found that students at schools with no bullying programs were less likely to become victims.

The results were stunning for Jeong [the author]. “Usually people expect an anti-bullying program to have some impact—some positive impact.”

The student videos used in many campaigns show examples of bullying and how to intervene. But Jeong says they may actually teach students different bullying techniques—and even educate about new ways to bully through social media and texting.

Jeong said students with ill intentions “…are able to learn, there are new techniques [and gain] new skills.” He says students might see examples in videos and then want to try it.

According to Jeong, some programs even teach students how to bully without leaving evidence behind. “This study raises an alarm,” he said. “There is a possibility of negative impact from anti-bullying programs.”

So under the pretense of helping, the government essentially created a “How To Bully and Get Away With It” program that has made the lives of tens of thousands of schoolchildren more miserable. 

Indignant over Free Speech Trumping Bullying Protection? Support Choice

Yesterday, the Michigan Senate passed anti-bullying legislation that has anti-bullying legislators, activists, and sympathizers outraged. Why? Because at the insistence of some in the legislature, it includes a provision protecting religious speech.

A video of State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) has already gone viral, with the senator railing that  ”as passed today, bullying kids is okay if a student, parent, teacher or school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it.” Similarly, Time columnist Amy Sullivan asks ”why does Michigan’s anti-bullying bill protect religious tormentors?”

I’ll tell you why: because as odious as one might find the religious beliefs of many people, they are entitled to freedom of speech the same as anyone else. That is a basic American right, and all the desire in the world to protect kids from hearing things that might make them feel badly must not change that. Abridge that right, and any speech becomes imperiled if a majority simply deems it unacceptable. And the legislation in question does not protect bullying—if that is defined as physical assaults or threats of such assaults—for religious reasons. It only states that the legislation ”does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.”

Of course, being on the receiving end of constant pronouncements that you are doomed to Hell or something similarly hideous would almost certainly become difficult, if not impossible, to bear. It shouldn’t be something that any child is subjected to in school. But how do you balance protecting children against people’s fundamental right to speak?

The answer is that despite all the lofty talk of “democracy” and other empty rhetoric behind public schooling, you cannot protect everyone equally in a government school. No matter what policy a public school or district adopts, government will pick winners and losers. That’s why the only solution to a quandary such as this is educational freedom: Give control of education funding to parents, let them choose among independent schools run by free educators, and enable people to choose schools that share their values. Then all people can select educations for their children that comport with their values and needs, and without government deciding who is more, or less, equal than whom.

Anoka-Hennepin “Battleground” is Government Schooling in Microcosm

The Star-Tribune has a telling article about the Anoka-Hennepin school district, Minnesota’s largest and, after a recent string of suicides, the subject of a lawsuit and federal investigation over its handling of sexual orientation-based bullying. What led to the suicides and how the district dealt with bullying remain open questions, but in the absence of concrete evidence on those matters, perhaps nothing nails Anoka-Hennepin’s root problem as squarely as this article subhead: “Diverse and large.” 

Anoka-Hennepin, in other words, appears to be the nation in microcosm, and the firestorm enveloping it sadly but starkly illustrates the destructiveness of forcing diverse people to support a single system of government schools.

Beyond its succinct subhead, the Star-Tribune piece expands on its main point:

The spotlight isn’t a surprise to [Superintendent Dennis] Carlson, who recalls the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone telling him that politicos and cultural observers look to the disparate school district as a bellwether not just for the state, but the nation.

“That’s why we’ve been chosen for this political battleground,” Carlson said. “[But] it’s not a battle we want to fight. That’s not why we’re here.”

One flashpoint is the district’s 10-sentence Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, which allows teachers to discuss sexual orientation issues but requires them to remain neutral. Two national civil rights groups sued the district this month on behalf of five current and former students, seeking removal of the policy, which they say doesn’t do enough to prevent harassment.

Meanwhile, a parents group is seeking to keep the policy in place and accuses the lawsuit sponsors of using children as pawns.

All the problems with forcing diverse people to support a single system of government schools are here: The inevitable conflict; the hopelessness of “neutrality” (which itself requires taking a stand not to act on something); and schools becoming battlegrounds when what most people presumably want is just for them to teach their children. Oh, and as usual with politically controlled schooling, there’s politics thrown in: Anoka-Hennepin is in Michele Bachmann’s district, and people are starting to connect its problems to her.

Anoka-Hennepin is, save for being the home of a major presidential candidate, not an outlier: As I laid out in a 2007 report, in just a single year battles sparked by the zero-sum contest of whose rights and morals win in government schooling raged across the nation. Subsequent to publishing that, I have collected information on hundreds more throwdowns around the country, which I hope to have posted on Cato’s website in the coming months.

This is not how education in a free country should operate – government picking rights winners and losers – yet  based on fuzzy notions of all-togetherness many education thinkers and pundits blithely assert that government schooling is the “foundation of our democracy.” It’s a conclusion that simply isn’t supported by either logic or evidence, and Anoka-Hennepin exemplifies both crucial failings.

I don’t know if the Anoka-Hennepin district intentionally failed to combat bullying based on sexual orientation – if it did, that is clearly unacceptable – but from what is known, Anoka-Hennepin, like public schooling generally, is doomed to war. And there is only one way to meaningfully foster peace: Let parents control education dollars and choose schools that share their values,  rather than forcing citizens to come to blows.

University Speech Codes, Reborn As “Anti-Bullying” Rules?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is out with this timely warning about the “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act,” a bill introduced in Congress by Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Rush Holt, both New Jersey Democrats:

…the bill redefines [campus-based] harassment in a manner that is at odds with the Supreme Court’s exacting definition of student-on-student harassment, which successfully balances the need to respond to extreme behavior with the importance of free speech on campus. In Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999), the Court defined student-on-student harassment as conduct that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.” This definition has been relied upon by courts for more than a decade and has been adopted by many institutions across the country, including the entire University of California system.

Flouting the Supreme Court’s carefully crafted balance, the bill removes the requirement that the behavior in question be objectively offensive. The loss of this crucial “reasonable person” standard means that those most interested in silencing viewpoints they don’t like will effectively determine what speech should be banned from campus. Unconstitutional definitions of “harassment” have already provided the most commonly abused rationale justifying censorship, having been applied to a student magazine at Tufts University that published true if unflattering facts about Islam, a Brandeis professor who used an epithet in order to explain its origins and condemn its use as a slur, and even a student at an Indiana college simply for publicly reading a book.

Because this bill has the potential to be a powerful tool for censorship, it would likely be ruled unconstitutional were it to become law. Indeed, since 1989 there have been at least sixteen successful challenges to campus codes that included similarly broad and vague harassment provisions. Every one of those lawsuits has resulted in the challenged policy either being declared unconstitutional or revised as part of an out-of-court settlement. If passed, the bill is likely to violate students’ rights while leading colleges into expensive, embarrassing, and unsuccessful litigation.

As FIRE President Greg Lukianoff points out, existing law gives universities (and civil authorities) ample authority to punish the serious breach of student privacy alleged in the Clementi case. Daniel Luzer of the Washington Monthly notes that Rutgers already had in place an anti-bullying policy of the sort envisioned by the bill.

Also of concern is the Lautenberg-Holt bill’s requirement that administrators move against off-campus or online student behavior. This provision, says FIRE, in practice “is likely to compel universities to monitor student behavior in unprecedented ways – including close and comprehensive monitoring of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter – in order to ward off potential lawsuits.”

Hate Register?

In my policy analysis “Attack of the Utility Monsters,” I wrote that one problem with hate speech laws is that the longer they stay on the books, the more they can encourage outrage over increasingly petty offenses. Here’s a story from the United Kingdom I’d certainly have included if I were writing that paper today:

A ten-year-old boy from Weston Super Mare has been put on a school “hate register” after he allegedly made a homophobic insult in the playground.

Peter Drury, a pupil of Ashcombe Primary School, is believed to have called one of his friends a “gay boy,” according to his mother.

The boy’s mum says she was called into her son’s school to be told by head teacher that another mother had heard him using homophobic language.

She claims she was told the incident would be registered and his file monitored while he was at the school.

“He doesn’t even understand about the birds and the bees, so how can he be homophobic?”

Schools are reportedly being given advice that offensive comments made by children as young as five should be recorded and kept on record until the pupil leaves secondary school.

Kids can be incredibly cruel, in both word and deed. But if we were to put every child who ever said something hurtful on a “hate register,” just how many kids would we have to register? All of them? What good would that do us?