October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. As if we needed to be more aware of it. The US government has a website, a Facebook page and an app to help parents combat the scourge of bullying. “Bullying of any student by another student, for any reason, cannot be tolerated in our schools,” the Department of Education has told teachers in a letter reminding them of their legal obligations.
No wonder schools are rolling out anti-bullying programs.
But do they actually work?
According to a widely-publicised study in the Journal of Criminology, perhaps not. Researchers at University of Texas at Arlington and Michigan State University found that students at schools with anti-bullying programs are more likely to be victims than students at schools without them: “students attending schools with bullying prevention programs were more likely to have experienced peer victimization, compared to those attending schools without bullying prevention programs.”
Ever since Columbine spawned a world-wide anti-bully crusade, there has been a slew of research studies consistently revealing that the most highly regarded anti-bullying programs rarely produce more than a minor reduction in bullying and often result in an increase. However, people, including psychological researchers, despise bullies and want to see them eradicated, so they refuse to accept what the growing body of knowledge is telling them. They stubbornly insist the solution is to implement the counterproductive strategies more intensively.
So this latest study is really, really important news. We are spending time and money on programs intended to protect children from being bullied and they end up in greater danger of being bullied!
Still worse, the researchers fail to accept the results of their own study. Instead of concluding that we need to get rid of anti-bullying programs because they are making the problem worse, or that we need to look for a radically different approach to the problem of bullying, they did what researchers typically do: justify the failing approach and recommend intensifying it. According to US News & World Report, the researchers “suggested that schools should develop ‘more sophisticated’ strategies that go beyond implementing preventive programs and move towards ‘systemic change within the schools,’ such as employing guards, using metal detectors or conducting bag and locker searches.”
Why have these programs been failing? It’s because they have been doing precisely what these researchers recommend. The researchers are misleading when they say we need to “go beyond preventive programs.” Most anti-bullying programs are far more than preventive.
They have, in fact, been taking a “systemic” approach. They require schools to monitor all areas of the school campus and all of children’s interactions. They require everyone in the school and in the general community to be involved in stopping bullying. They require actively going after bullies once the bullying has been committed. They require investigating, reporting, judging and punishing (“administering consequences”) every act and complaint of bullying.
(By the way, the great majority of bullying is verbal or relational. How will metal detectors and locker searches help? Or do we just hire “speech security guards” to accompany students at all times?)
These programs are failing because they are turning schools into totalitarian police systems in which everything students say and do to each other come under the jurisdiction of the school authorities. Totalitarian police systems are not friendly, happy places. They punish people for speaking and assembling freely. They make the populace suspicious and hateful by turning them into spies and informers against each other. They make people suspicious and hateful of the authorities as well for monitoring all their behavior and punishing them for things that should be none of their business.
So what are the current researchers’ solution to bullying: turn the schools into totalitarian police systems!
Thank heaven for the wisdom of researchers!
Israel “Izzy” Kalman is Director of Bullies to Buddies, a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems. To learn more about why anti-bullying programs are failing, click here.