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James Garbarino (Unwittingly) Declares the Failure of Psychology to Deal With Bullying

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A simple way to assess the current state of anti-bullying efforts is to hear what the country’s most revered expert on childhood aggression has to say. I came across a revealing article about psychologist James Garbarino in the latest edition of the New York School Psychologist (NYSP). Dr. Garbarino practically became a household name following the Columbine shooting, as the public media constantly enlisted him as commentator. (Yes, I admit it, I’m jealous. I was hoping they would turn to me!) Author of Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them, See Jane Hit: Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It, and keynote speaker at this year’s annual convention of the National Association of School Psychologists, Garbarino has made a career promoting hysteria regarding our nation’s children. (I can’t help wondering why, if our boys and girls are indeed becoming so much more dangerous, has violent crime been declining in recent decades?) He has recently been promoting hysteria regarding bullying in schools, with the help of his book, And Words Can Hurt Forever: How to protect adolescents from bullying, harassment, and emotional violence. (Notice the term, “emotional violence.” Can you get more frightening than that?)

The NYSP article reports Dr. Garbarino as saying that the zero-tolerance policies that were adopted as a response to the rash of school shootings have no value and “may actually increase violence” (and I agree wholeheartedly). So what is Garbarino’s alternative to zero-tolerance? He “stresses that bullying should be viewed as a human rights issue, comparable to sexual harassment or bullying among adult work colleagues. No employer would stand for such behavior among adults, so why do we let it persist among children?”

So what exactly is Garbarino suggesting we preplace “zero-tolerance” with? Nothing other than ZERO-TOLERANCE!!! Violations of human rights are not things to be tolerated. “We wouldn’t stand for such behavior among adults,” he says. Violators of human rights must be punished and/or rehabilitated. So Garbarino simply replaces zero-tolerance with zero-tolerance, but calls it “a human rights issue” instead. But what the heck – “human rights issue ” sure sounds better than “zero-tolerance”!

By calling for the treatment of bullying as a human rights violation, Dr. Garbarino is admitting that he does not know how to solve the problem of bullying by psychological means. We need to turn it into a crime and make the legal system solve the problem for us. In other words, our country’s most revered expert is declaring the failure of psychology! (More about this later.)

Garbarino and Bullying Among Adults

Garbarino thinks bullying doesn’t go on in the workplace? “No employer would stand for such behavior among adults”? What planet does he work on? There is more bullying going on among adults in the workplace than there is among kids in school, and employers are often the ones accused of doing it. If bullying in the workplace isn’t a widespread problem, why was a recent issue of the APA Monitor dedicated to bullying in the workplace? Why are there websites on workplace bullying? And why are we being bombarded with books and seminars on dealing with difficult people at work?

Furthermore, the most frequent and intensive bullying of all goes on right in the home. The divorce rate is at least 50%. Why? – because couples are nice to each other? Adults – even soulmates – have a lousy track record in getting along with each other. Does Garbarino expect kids to possess more mature social skills than adults? And, as my surveys have shown, children of mental health professionals and educators fight much more at home than they do in school. Why don’t the experts fight for the “human rights” of people not to be bullied by their family members? Is it because they don’t want their behavior at home constantly monitored and punished by the government? Are they afraid to be discovered as hypocrites who want schools to accomplish what they have no idea how to accomplish in their own lives?

Garbarino also recommends “reaching a point where every single person in a school setting can sincerely say that everything that is done in the school setting will be evaluated and does matter.” Wow! What happened when President Bush was pushing for more power to monitor civilian communications without a warrant in order to fight terrorism? Widespread condemnation! But our mental health experts think it’s all right for a school to become a Big Brother that monitors and controls all interactions between kids! Is Garbarino a psychologist or a warden? How does he think that kids are going to develop social skills if they cannot interact freely with each other and learn from their experiences? How are they going to develop resilience if adults are constantly protecting them from each other? And how are they going to manage when they grow up, get married and have children of their own, and discover what abuse is really like?

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