Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bullying is on the increase because adults are on the decrease

Warning: this article contains explicit language that may upset young children or naive adults

A child fakes illness for a week because a bully threatened to punch him in the stomach the next time he saw him.

Another child is told by the bully he'll cut his penis off. Another is told to go home and take a picture of his penis and bring it to school or his face would be bashed-in.

"I'm going to bring a chainsaw to school and cut your head off," says a seven-year old girl to classmate.

"Go home and sit on your couch and tell your parents you're going to commit suicide."

These are not stories from middle or high school.  These are stories from elementary school students bullied since the start of kindergarten.  These are stories from a district that has a policy about bullying.  Each of the threats is credible because adults hadn't proved able or willing to stop them.

But this article is less about bullies and their victims than it is about parents, teachers, and administrators.

There's a lot of talk about bullying lately.  But it's only talk, hand-wringing, and politicizing.  Children of all ages can be bully or victim.

The bully's greatest accomplice is a school system unable or unwilling to expel them for the safety of other students.  Bullies face few consequences at home because their parents aren't parenting.  Bullies are enabled by social workers and administrators more interested in experimenting with bullies to help them find "more productive" ways to express their frustrations than kicking, tackling, punching, touching the genitals of or threatening other children.

These adults may not enable the bullying, but they certainly prolong the victimization of other children.

And do you know what young children learn from adults?  They learn their parents are unable to protect them from daily abuse by other children.  They learn that telling teachers or lunch monitors about a boy touching little girls on the playground does nothing to arrest the behavior or remove the culprit.  It teaches them that sending the bully to the principal's office accomplishes nothing because the bully will return to class.

In short, the adults responsible to provide for children's safety turn their backs on the victims so they may trip over their platitudes about misunderstood or disadvantaged bullies.

Without specific punishment for either the bully or their guardians, a state-wide law requiring school districts to have a bullying policy will accomplish nothing.  Without the ability to remove bullies from the classroom adults have done little to protect their own or other children.

As much as you might feel for the victims or even the bullies, the problem is adults neglecting their responsibilities, even after it's too late.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Don't risk losing the news

News can be provocative.  News can be controversial.  Eliminate the provocative and controversial and publications risk eliminating the news as well.  A publication that intentionally avoids potentially contentious news and viewpoints does a disservice to its readers by not informing or exposing them to issues that may require the reader's action, the reader's deliberation, or even the reader to form new opinions or change old ones.

This thought occurred to me after reading an online publication's editorial policy regarding this November's election.
"We believe that objective community journalism should not thrive on drama and comment wars.  We do not run politically divisive stories, nor do we mix news and opinion by allowing comments on the site. 
"[The editor] typically does not vote in local level elections and is committed to her role of remaining politically independent and doing fair coverage."
It is rare for publishers of traditional journalistic properties to deliberately inject drama or hyperbole into articles except that which naturally seeps-in from the writer's or editor's biases.  Most of the drama is introduced by readers commenting on stories, with the worst offenders posting anonymously.

Regardless whether replies are signed or unsigned, they are the opinions of your neighbors.  Whether informed or uninformed, these are the opinions of citizens that may cast votes for or against your candidate or issue.  Readers may choose whether to read comments or not.  Readers choose whether to post their own opinions or keep them to themselves.

Comments, like the articles themselves, belong to the person that wrote them.  A well-written, well-thought-out comment can be as informative as the article itself or provide additional clarity.  As important, a comment might provide a counter-point, keeping both the publication and author honest.

The greatest risk in allowing comments, especially uninformed or vicious comments (or worse, anonymous), is that other readers may not be able to distinguish between good comments and bad, or may form opinions based on rumor or poorly-reasoned arguments.  But if a reader is unable to discriminate between good and bad comments however would the publisher expect them to detect editorial bias or read between the lines?

As valuable and informative as an article may be, as valuable (or disappointing) may be the reactions of your neighbors to the same article.

Granted, not every comment is civil.  Not every comment is kind.  Heck, many comments are barely on-topic.  But comments do reflect, if imperfectly, our fellow citizens.  You may be either encouraged or discouraged by that.

Whichever you are, I encourage you to leave a comment--we're unafraid of controversy.