November 9, 2010

Bullying - Problem Based Learning & Shifting Paradigms

This really felt like it was going to be an AMAZING unit to teach to my students.  We are working on persuasive and expository reading and writing.  With this in mind I decided to do a problem based learning unit on something that is becoming more and more important everyday...bullying.  You see it in the news all the time now.  Teenagers who are so teased, so harassed, that they end up taking their own lives, or others'.  It is painful to see so much pain in the world and I really want to feel like I am doing everything that I can to help.

On this journey part of my job in facilitating this unit is that I need to research a ton about it.  I need to be as well informed an expert as possible.  That way my students can feel confident when they speak to me on the subject.  However, the more I read about the subject, the more contradictory and confusing it gets.

You think you know what it means to be a bully, but you really have no idea how broad and generalized that term has become.  There are so many different ways to bully in our modern world.
  • Face to Face - physical harassment and intimidation
  • Rumors and gossip
  • Texting
  • Picture messaging
  • Video Messaging
  • E-mail
  • Youtube
  • Facebook
  • and even the low tech approach of writing on the bathroom walls
  • etc.
The first thing that you want to do in a problem based learning unit is to DEFINE THE PROBLEM.  But, there are so many different forms and variations to bullying that I am not sure if the problem can be defined.

The next thing that I am learning is how misguided I have been about bullying.  The one thing that I have always known is that the victims of bullying need to be empowered to seek help.  That will end the cycle, that will grant them their freedom.  But that is not as simple as I believed either.

The first problem is that telling students they need to seek help does not empower them to do so.  Kids are kids and they are not going to change one of the biggest paradigms in their world: don't snitch.  So what do we do?  Empowerment is important, so it looks like we are going to have to go another direction: empower students to protect themselves and to handle their own problems.  It is not to suggest that they should go out looking to fight every bully that they encounter, but they should know that they have the right to protect and defend themselves.

But, not all bullying is physical.  Kids need to understand what it takes to get the upper hand in a confrontation of words.  My boss was telling me recently about a student that had seen him because he was being ostracized by students that a friend of his hangs out with.  They literally voted for him to leave their table at lunch.  As an adult, I would tell them all to go to Hell, but a kid?  They are looking to be accepted, to be part of the group.  However, what kids need is to accept themselves.  Once they do that, they can deal with almost anything.  They need to feel that comfort in their own skins that we, hopefully, gain as adults.  They need to see that they are worth more than those idiots out there who undervalue them could ever imagine.

The last thing that I want to point out is the giant mistake that we are making in the way that we are handling bullies.  The typical response to bullies is that we need to punish the offender, which will then ostracize them, as we have seen them do to their victims so often.  At the same time though we have historically found that bullies are victims in their own right.  They come from households where they are undervalued, ignored, bullied.

I am not suggesting that we let bullies off the hook, that would be irresponsible.  What I am saying is that if we are going to end a vicious circle, we need to go back to its beginning.  We need to look at the cause of the real problem, what makes a bully, and what can we do to repair THAT damage.  It is my belief, and I am sure that most would not disagree, that bullies need to be saved just as much as their victims.

This epidemic, as it has been recently labeled, is a struggle for the ages.  I am sure that bullying has existed throughout the existence of humanity and it will go on for as long as we let it.  The human race is constantly evolving.  We change the ways we do things, the ways we interpret things, the ways we think. 

Can we change the ways we feel?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

YES! We can change the way we think! However having said that we also cannot legislate morals. Bullying is a tough problem and in many ways far more prevalent now with cyber bullying. You see in all the time in the commentary section of newspapers below articles. Specifically when the comments can be left anonymously.
Because of the bully type nature of the comments in the San Diego UT that they now require you to be registered with a Facebook account to leave a post. This has curtailed the bully blogging. It is easy to hide behind the mask of a clown and act out - but take the mask off and the world knows it is you pulling the prank.