Bullying: The state legislature to the rescue
The Star/Tribune reports that a controversy has developed in the Minnesota State Legislature regarding a bill dealing with bullying in schools.
The proposed state legislation passed its last committee today and is headed for a floor vote. Its author, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, has said current state law, which provides a model policy for school boards to adopt, is vague and has led to inconsistent standards in dealing with the problem.
While the current law covers race, gender and religion, the bill would add other categories, including sexual orientation, national origin and disability. School boards would need to adopt a written policy to enact the language by Jan. 1. Several groups are backing the bill, including OutFront Minnesota, a GLBT advocacy organization, and Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union. But others, such as the Minnesota Family Council, say current anti-bullying statutes are sufficient.
"Any time you elevate particular groups or statuses, it's problematic," said Tom Prichard, head of the council. "I think you keep a general policy across the board, verbal or behavioral, whether it's a gay student who clearly is picked on or beat up or someone who is overweight or for their political persuasion."
Conservatives also believe that a new law might be used to push a certain political agenda.
Three parents with children at Minneapolis' Hale Elementary School spoke about a program called "Welcoming Schools," which they said is not being used to educate against bullying but to promote same-sex marriage and a pro-gay agenda. The Family Council said the program is an example of how anti-bullying legislation can morph into social engineering.
Finally, apparently some of the proponents of the bullying bill aren't completely adverse to bullying themselves.
Parent Lesley Chaudhry said that, as a Muslim, she felt uncomfortable with the content after learning of the program but was chastised by school officials at a parent meeting and her home was hit with graffiti and her children called racial epithets.
I have to admit that anytime our politicians come up with something to tell us how to handle things in our schools, I get nervous. Bullying is a problem, but I think school personnel have become very aware of it, and I don't think anyone puts up with it when they see it. I know that our school district has put a very real emphasis on bullying over the last few years. Sometimes, I actually wonder if there hasn't been too much emphasis on it.
I say that because there is value in kids learning to handle their own affairs without adult intervention. If a teacher is expected to step in every time one kid makes fun of another kid, that is not a good thing. I can remember one situation when a boy was harassing a girl, and she turned on him with a verbal assault that left the young man feeling about two feet tall. End of problem! That would not have happened if I had stuck my nose in. Had I had to worry about a lawsuit if I didn't intervene in a timely manner, I'm sure I would have. I know there is a concern that bullying still happens, but there will always be some things going on in schools that teachers and other school personnel aren't aware of. No matter how many laws are passed, that isn't going to change.
Finally, this is going to sound harsh, but it's true. Most of the bullying that I've seen has not been a result of race, gender, religion, or even that all-time favorite, sexual orientation. In fact, most of the kids I've known who have been victims of "bullying" have done much to bring it on themselves. There are some kids whose social skills are so poor and behavior is so obnoxious that they might as well walk around with sandwich boards that say, "Pick on me!" That is not to say that real bullying of them should be tolerated--it definitely shouldn't. But if they are bailed out every time they complain that someone is being mean to them, we end up encouraging their obnoxious behavior and discouraging their growing up.
Bullying is a bad thing, and it is definitely something that teachers and everyone else in a school should be aware of and try to prevent. I had "the Fermoyle smalls" all through my junior and senior high school years, and I remember spending two days when I was in eighth grade living in fear of a bigger and stronger kid who wanted to beat me up. At the end of the second day, he did just that. So I know how it feels to be bullied, and we should try to prevent that from happening in our schools. But please, let's just be aware that it is possible to go too far.