Proposal for a Rational, Moral School Bullying Policy Based on The Golden Rule
By Israel C. Kalman, MS, Nationally Certified School Psychologist
Director, Bullies to Buddies, Inc.
Students, Parents, Staff and Community at Large:
School anti-bullying laws require us to develop an anti-bullying policy. We are hereby presenting our anti-bullying policy that is based on the Golden Rule. We have chosen the Golden Rule as our guide because it is the universally recognized formula for a moral, harmonious society. Any policy that violates the Golden Rule is by definition immoral and can only result in more harm than good.
The Golden Rule instructs us to treat others the way we would like to be treated, to refrain from doing to others what we would not have them do to us, and to love our fellow human beings, including those we label bullies.
The Problem with Anti-Bullying Policies
Anti-bullying laws require our school to guarantee that all children can attend without fear of being bullied by other children. These laws also empower parents to sue us for failing in this mission. We are being mandated to protect children from all unwelcome behaviors such as verbal insults–especially insults based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation–demeaning gestures, aggressive physical actions, social exclusion, rumors, and degrading posts in cyberspace.
We regret to inform you that we cannot offer you such a guarantee. The Golden Rule instructs us not to do to you what we wouldn’t want others doing to us. We would not want anyone to give us false hope by making guarantees that are impossible to fulfill, for this would inevitably cause us disappointment and pain. Likewise, we will not give you any false hopes by guaranteeing your children a bully-free environment. We do not create the children who attend; we do not screen for potential bully- or victim-proneness; we cannot deny admission to children who have such potential; and we do not magically acquire control over children’s biological drives, emotions, behavior, personalities, intelligence and social lives once they become our students. Thus we cannot create a place in which people are always nice to each other. We have heard of only one place like that, and it is called Heaven. Research has shown that the world’s most revered anti-bullying programs have a dismal track record. They rarely result in more than a minor reduction in bullying and often cause an intensification of the problem. How can we offer you a bully-free school when the programs we are required to use don’t work?
Furthermore, despite the widespread concern about bullying among kids in school, statistics have shown that schools are the safest place for children. There is more bullying going on among adults in the workplace. The most frequent and serious bullying of all takes place within the home. The divorce rate is about 50%, and in most families the kids fight on a daily basis despite all the attempts of the parents to make them stop. If you can figure out how to make your home free from bullying, please let us know how you did it and we promise to adopt the same strategy for our school.
Schools throughout the world are currently experiencing a historically unprecedented level of tension and hostility as a result of anti-bullying laws. When the school administration gets involved investigating, interrogating, judging and punishing children for the way they treat each other, hostilities among students, parents and school staff escalate. At least one set of parents ends up feeling the administration was unfair to their child in this process, and then they get angry with the administration, complain to the school district, and may hire lawyers to sue the school or district. Rather than bringing peace to schools, anti-bullying laws are resulting in increased hostility. An anti-bully law is a Catch 22 because the very attempt to enforce the law creates an intensification of the bullying problem.
Both the American Psychological Association and the National Association of School Psychologists have issued research-based position papers advising against zero-tolerance school policies for aggression, explaining the myriad ways in which they cause more harm than good. If zero-tolerance is counterproductive for aggression, how can it be productive for bullying?
The Need to Think Rationally
Our country has been making irrational decisions regarding bullying because we panicked, and when people panic, logic goes down the drain. We panicked about Columbine, and in a knee-jerk manner, declared war against bullies, adopting zero-tolerance policies that abandon well-established psychological and moral principles. More recently we’ve been panicking about child suicides committed by victims of bullying and are intensifying policies that can’t work.
To solve problems, we need to think rationally. Therefore, as an alternative to the hysteria-driven, counterproductive anti-bullying policies that schools are being forced to uphold, we are offering a rational, moral policy based on the Golden Rule and psychological understanding of human nature. We anticipate that many of you, especially parents, will object to this policy because you would like to see the dickens punished out of your kids’ bullies, but we guarantee that this policy is to your benefit, too. What good is a policy that will fail to solve your children’s problems while increasing hostility towards you and your children? And in your zeal to see bullies punished, you may be failing to consider the possibility that the school is as likely to determine that your child is bully as a victim.
This said, we are happy to inform you that our school is, indeed, determined to do all in its power to make your children free from bullying. We will attempt to do it by rationally applying time-honored moral and psychological principles.
Our School is an Educational Institution, not a Correctional Facility
Anti-bullying laws are requiring schools to function as maximum-security correctional facilities. They strip away the freedom of children to behave according to their natural inclinations and require them to act like saints; no violations will be tolerated. They oblige educators to do double duty as security guards who monitor every inch of school territory in order to protect children from each other, to be detectives who investigate every complaint of bullying, and to be judges and punishers. They compel students to assist the staff in this effort by attempting to determine who are the victims and bullies, to stand up for victims against bullies once they have made this determination, and to inform on the bullies to the school authorities or they, too, will be punished as accessories to the crime. Finally, they hold the schools accountable for successful implementation of the correctional facility role or it, too, will be punished and possibly sued.
Research and experience have shown that the correctional facility approach to bullying does not work and causes more harm than good. Our school rejects the role of correctional facility. We believe that parents, too, do not want their children to be educated in a prison-like atmosphere.
We declare our school to be an educational establishment. Our purpose is to empower children to meet the challenges of life, not to protect them from those challenges. They will be encountering meanness throughout their lives, and most of the meanness will be in their own homes. While it is not humanly possible to prevent all mean behavior among our students, we will do our best to equip them with the wisdom to handle mean behavior without needing the help of others. If we can teach them how to do this when they are children, we will be helping them for a lifetime. However, just as we cannot guarantee that our students will acquire academic mastery, we cannot guarantee that they will acquire wisdom, either. We educators, too, are often lacking in wisdom despite our age and education.
We will do our best to monitor the school grounds and prevent students from injuring each other, though we cannot always succeed, much as we would like to. Developmental psychologists recognize that for children to be happy and to develop resilience, confidence and social skills they need the opportunity to interact with each other without adults constantly hovering over them and monitoring all of their interactions. We would not tolerate such interference in our adult lives, and children should not be subjected to it, either.
We will do our best to teach students to solve their interpersonal problems on their own rather than to inform on each other to the school authorities, for doing so almost always causes them to hate each other and to seek revenge. We will only instruct students to inform the school authorities either because they would like us to teach them how to solve their problems or because they need us to handle situations in which there has been physical harm to bodies or property or to prevent such harm.
How the School Staff Will Treat Students
We want students to learn to live by The Golden Rule. Therefore, the staff needs to function in accordance with the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule instructs us to be nice to people even when they are mean to us, for we are to treat them the way we want to be treated, not the way they are treating us. When we respond nicely to people who are mean to us, they almost always stop being mean.
The Golden Rule requires us to respect students even when they disrespect us. If we are disrespectful, we are teaching them to be disrespectful. It is irrelevant if the students were the first to be disrespectful.
We refuse to disrespect children by using the insulting the term “bully.” We do not conduct anti-jerk, anti-slut, anti-wimp, or anti-idiot campaigns, and we will not conduct anti-bully campaigns either. Anti-bully campaigns promote hostility, divisiveness and intolerance. No one is perfect. We are all occasionally bullies, jerks, sluts, wimps or idiots, and we would not want society to conduct campaigns of intolerance against us.
A Moral Code of Rules and Punishments
Our school will strive to establish a disciplinary code of rules and punishments that is truly moral; otherwise we will be causing more harm than good and raising children who are immoral. This code will be an evolving document that we are hopeful will improve over time as we grow in wisdom and experience.
The Golden Rule will be our guide in establishing rules and punishments. We cannot treat all negative behaviors as punishable offenses or the school staff will be constantly involved in prosecuting and punishing children while simultaneously escalating hostilities and preventing them from learning how to deal with such behaviors on their own. Furthermore, a legalistic process hinders the development of children’s moral development. When we prosecute children for hurting others, we would like them to feel remorse. Instead, they are likely to attempt to avoid punishment by justifying their negative behavior and blaming the other side. As adults we often do things that others experience as negative and we wouldn’t want to stand trial every time we do so.
We will use a formula derived from the Golden Rule for determining what behaviors will be punishable offenses and which will not. The formula is: “Would I be willing to be punished for doing that behavior to you if you are willing to be punished for doing it to me?” If the majority of rational people would answer Yes, then that behavior will be deemed a punishable offense. If they would answer is No, it will not.
The Punishment Will Fit the Crime
Our school will strive to minimize the need for punishment. Parties involved in disputes will be encouraged to solve their problems directly with each other to their mutual satisfaction. However, when this process fails, or when people break inviolable school rules, it can become necessary to administer punishment.
An essential principle for moral discipline is that the punishment must fit the crime. Otherwise, it will be ineffective and immoral.
The purpose of punishment is to deter crime, to reform law-breakers so that they will become better people, and to have the lawbreakers make restitution to those they harmed. The commonly mandated punishments of suspension and expulsion are usually immoral. They have no relationship to the crime, are usually far more severe than the crime, and tend to cause more harm than good. They rarely reform the lawbreaker and they do not provide restitution to the victim. Thus, suspension will no longer be a routine punishment in our school. Expulsion will only be used when we believe we are incapable of preventing students from being real dangers to themselves or to others.
Promoting Freedom of Speech
Another essential principle we will adhere to is Freedom of Speech. Our Founding Fathers were wise people. They had excellent reasons for granting us Freedom of Speech and putting it in the very first Amendment to the Bill of Rights. Our Constitution guarantees people the right to say things others find offensive without fear of punishment. This right is an absolute necessity for a healthy, free society.
Freedom of Speech is a wonderful principle not only for a government but also for our personal lives. Freedom of Speech is mandated by the Golden Rule. Just as we would like to feel free to say what we want without being punished, we must allow others to say what they want, no matter how much we don’t like it, without punishing them. Our response to words is subjective, meaning that when we get upset by words we really upset ourselves, and it is immoral to punish people for our subjective response to what they say. Freedom of Speech is also the solution to verbal bullying: when we try to stop people from saying mean things to us, they continue to do it, and when we permit them to do it, they stop. We can provide practical demonstration of this principle to anyone who requests it.
Only speech that can cause objective harm to people’s bodies or property or deny them liberty is to be forbidden. This ban includes threats of violence and incitement to violence.
Our school will try to encourage proper speech habits, primarily by speaking properly ourselves, and to discourage improper speech, but we will do so respectfully, without punishment. And we will do our best to teach children to respond with respect when others speak to them disrespectfully, for this is the best antidote to disrespectful speech as well as necessary preparation for successful lives.
Input from the Community
We welcome any suggestions from parents, students or other community members on how to help our school function in accordance with the Golden Rule. We also encourage you to present the school policy to any moral leaders you respect and ask for their opinions, suggestions and advice.
The School Administration