by Izzy Kalman (May 2005)
Cross Country Education, because of economic considerations, only schedules a handful of my Turning Bullies into Buddies seminars per year (less people register than for my Anger Control seminars). By a strange coincidence, they scheduled the bullying seminar for the week of the Columbine anniversary (I had no input in this scheduling). This gave me a good opportunity to check on the status of our nation’s anti-bullying campaigns. Many participants came up to tell me that their schools’ anti-bullying programs are making them miserable. They find themselves with the frustrating task of playing policeman and judge. They are supposed to be reducing hostilities, but these programs often escalate the hostilities. Squabbles between children are turning into feuds between families as parents support their own children in the trials conducted by the schools.
One mother was practically in tears telling me her story of woe. She is considering pulling her daughter (I’ll call her Alexa) out of the only Jewish school in their area. Her daughter’s best friend (I’ll call her Brittney) told her a secret. Imprudently, Alexa betrayed Brittney’s trust and told the juicy secret to someone else, and the secret spread. This, of course, greatly upset Brittney, and her enraged parents then turned to the principal for help with this incident of “bullying”. The principal, who apparently enjoys the drama of social problems more than educational administration, began conducting lengthy hearings. (The school is tiny – only five kids in the class in this story – so the principal obviously has lots of spare time on his hands.) This process let the “victim” know how horrible of a crime was committed against her, and Brittney has become too emotioanally traumatized to be able to attend school. She no longer goes to school, and is going to a private therapist for treatment.
All of the Alexa’s and her parents’ efforts to reconcile with Brittney and her parents have failed. Alexa and her parents now feel like THEY are victims. Alexa is so miserable that her parents fear their only choice is to take her out of the school. And both sides are right. They are both victims of these counterproductive anti-bullying policies. Had the school not gotten involved, Brittney would have probably gotten over this incident which, though unfortunate, is a rather routine childhood occurrence. So now you have one school phobic child and another possibly switching to another school. Two families that used to be good friends are now enemies. And with two out of five students leaving this class, I don’t envy the school principal. How is he going to justify to the school board their meteoric drop in enrollment?