Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hey Kids, Do as We Say, Not as We Do.

a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.

We, in education, are always being asked to prevent bullying and to teach kids why bullying behaviour is wrong.  Though this is certainly a laudable goal, I shake my head at the shear hypocrisy these exhortations demonstrate about much of the society around us.

As teachers, one of the first things we learn is that the most powerful teaching tool we have by far is to model the skills and behaviours that we are hoping to teach.  Telling doesn’t work.  So in the schools we do our best to model things like sharing, compassion, cooperation and encouragement.  In short, we try to demonstrate all the opposite traits of bullying.  But then students leave the school each day (and eventually graduate).  Then what do they see?

They see things like our prime minister running a whole series of ad hominem attack adds.  They see parents at sporting events belittling referees and opposing players and coaches.  They see companies like Wal-Mart demanding that suppliers cut costs while turning a blind eye to the working conditions those suppliers must perpetuate to stay competitive.  They see governments unilaterally stripping workers of the right to collective bargaining. They see people like Rush Limbaugh mocking the Japanese earthquake survivors.  In other words, our society is rife with bullying behaviour, especially amongst our “leaders”, you know, the ones telling the schools that they should be preventing bullying!

The political and corporate worlds have always had a “bullying” element to them.  In recent times however, bullying tactics seem to have become the dominant model in both the political and corporate cultures.  We seem to accept it to such a degree that in many circumstances it’s become “the new normal”.

What’s worse is that this has happened because these strategies work.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be used.  So, the big question becomes, “Why are we so susceptible to, and willing to accept, bullying in so many of society’s institutions?”  Behaviour that we actively discourage on a personal level seems endemic to our political, corporate and media institutions, and we accept it.

We at the schools will continue to decry and work against bullying in all its forms.  But paradigm shifts need to take place across our society as a whole if we are serious about eliminating bullying.  After all, modeling is the best form of teaching.  Until we refuse to accept the exercise of power through intimidation, belittling and humiliation that we see daily on an institutional level, we can’t expect kids to take us seriously as we tell them that bullying is wrong.  Luckily, the vast majority of students at most of our schools understand this concept, perhaps they should be the ones teaching us?!