Sometimes I get emails from Change.org to my inbox. Some of them I sign, others I laugh at. Today I've received one on an issue that honestly has me torn: bullying. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating bullying, not at all. I'm not convinced that our approach is handling bullying is the right way to go.
This particular article started with a tale of woe about a 14 year school girl who was bullied at school and online and then, tragically, took her own life. The girl's mother pushed to have legislation enacted that would keep bullying out of schools. The petition was sent out to stop SB-500, which basically states that the schools would not be allowed to initiate disciplinary action against students who cyber-bullied other students on the grounds that the school doesn't have the authority to control children on the nights and weekends and that the school is not the police department.
Obviously, bullying sucks. Anyone who's ever been bullied knows that. So, on the one hand, I totally relate and have empathy for these kids. But I'm torn because I don't think that pretending that bullying doesn't exist is the right approach. Okay, so you've effectively put up a wall of make-believe at school and made the students stop picking on each other, great. What's going to happen when those students go to work and find themselves working with coworkers, or even for a boss who is a bully? What if the HR person is a bully? (Yes, that happens, while I never was the target of that, I have personally seen it). It seems to me that instead of trying with futility to change the whole of human behavior, we should be teaching children how to respond to bullying. I suppose it's possible (but I think highly unlikely) that they might teach kids not to bully other kids and that once they are out of school those kids will suddenly all just become nice people, but what happens when those people interact with people from other countries where bullying isn't outlawed? They will literally have no skills to handle such a situation. I don't see how that is helping. We don't tell our kids "Hey, bicycles are dangerous and you might fall down and get hurt so we're going to put a ban on bicycles until you're 25 and how no idea how to ride them anyway." No, we teach our kids, this is how you ride a bike. This is how you get up and dust yourself off when you fall down. This is how you laugh it off and take it in stride.
Rather than protecting our kids from this menace I really feel like a better use of our time and money would be to teach kids to have confidence in who they are and embrace their quirks. I vociferously oppose the "zero tolerance" policy in schools. I have, and will always tell my kids that they have the right to defend themselves. If someone starts a fight with them, they are allowed to fight back. Even if the school suspends them, they will not face repercussions at home as long as they didn't start it.
I've found that most of the people who bully do so because they are insecure themselves, and most of the people who tend to get bullied are some of the most awesome people. Wil Wheaton has talked several times about how he was bullied as a kid, and he has really great advice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04WJEEb33CY I was called a nerd a lot in school. I know, that's a big surprise to everyone who knows me even a little (sarcasm). I am huge nerd. I make no apologies about that. It's who I am and I fully embrace that fully. I'm a dork, and I'm silly and I find wonderment in life from the inner workings of our universe down to the smallest atoms and how photosynthesis works. It's just absolutely amazing to me. I wouldn't trade any of what I know for people to stop calling me a nerd. The more I know, the more beautiful and amazing the world becomes. In some ways I do pity those who rebuke science because they will never see how beautifully intricate everything is. We shouldn't be teaching kids to run away and hide from ridicule. We should be giving them the confidence to embrace who they are enjoy what they love.