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Hidden Victims of Zero Tolerance

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by Izzy Kalman (May 2008)We are so happy to hate bullies that we fail to see the harm anti-bully policies are causing. In my profession’s (school psychology) monthly newspaper, the Communique, authors of an article on “relational aggression” (the supposedly female version of bullying) claimed that relational aggression is escalating, and hypothesize that the cause of the escalation is anti-bullying programs. The article states:

…occurrences of relationally aggressive behaviors are only likely to increase as schools target and discourage more overt forms of aggression. In fact, researchers have found that schools that have adopted the most detailed and comprehensive antibullying policies are those in which relational aggression incidence rates appear to be higher. (Crothers et.al, Addressing Relational Aggression in Children and Adolescents, Communique, March 2008, Volume 36, Number 6, page 23)

Based on this, you would think that the authors would suggest getting rid of, or at least reducing, the intensity of anti-bullying policies. But no. They simply recommend that schools add a program to address relational aggression (and the authors are developing a program precisely for this purpose, which, of course, they hope you will go out and buy). This is the same model that our American health care system uses: take a medication to address a symptom, then add more medications to deal with the side effects of the first medication.

The greatet number of immediate victims of our intensive anti-bullying policies are the kids who are being accused of bullying. A recent article from Nevada reports on the escalation in kids being sent to special schools for aggressive behavior. While this process may help some students, does anyone actually believe that expelling kids from their school helps most of them? It is usually a major step in the downfall of the child, as the child gets sent from one school for problem kids to another, often leading to increased involvement in anti-social behavior, culminating in prison. Very often, anti-bully researchers point out that a high percentage of bullies end up in jail, so we can pat ourselves on the back in congratulation for our efforts in pursuing bullies. But we make them that way! Instead of being proud of ourselves for supposedly targeting criminals-in-the-making, we should be ashamed of ourselves for making kids become criminals. In the hope of creating safer schools, we are ultimately making society a more dangerous place while sacrificing countless students on the anti-bully altar.

And why do these kids get sacrificed? As the article says,

December is typically a slow month when it comes to discipline problems. But in December 2007, principals referred 535 students for expulsion, compared with 344 in December 2006. One theory is that the Dec. 11 wounding of several Mojave High School students who were shot after getting off a school bus spurred the expulsion referrals.

One act of violence occurs, and hundreds of kids who had absolutely nothing to do with that incident pay the price because of our own fears. It’s a classic witch-hunt phenomenon!

The most violent people are not the “bullies” in school. They are the adults, who, in the name of making schools safer, are ruining kids’ lives en masse! There are many excellent approaches for reducing aggressive behavior by treating kids like human beings. But rather than using them, which requires that we, ourselves, make the effort to act like human beings, we employ simplistic zero-tolerance-for-bullying policies that turn kids into criminals by treating them like criminals.

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