Why schools have bullies

The Bully Business is booming, writes Cevin Soling in The Atlantic. An entire industry has emerged to advise schools that “bullies feel bad about themselves, have deep insecurities and crave attention,” he writes. 

Bullying is a symptom of frustration, argues Soling. “The law requires children to be in a place many of them do not want to be, where they must associate with people they do not like, and where they must take arbitrary orders in a docile manner.”

Trapped and powerless, some will “bully others to attain some feeling of control,” he writes. More autonomy will lead to less bullying.

I share his doubts about the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs. However, Soling loses me when he compares The Bully Project‘s call for “safe, caring, and respectful schools and communities” to slave owners wanting their slaves to sing and dance.

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Soling is the author of the Student Resistance Handbook, which advises students on legal tactics to “disrupt the operation of school, substantially increase the costs involved in its operation, and make those who work for and support schools as miserable as they make the students who are forced to attend.”

A commenter writes: “About the best I can say about the stupidity and injustices of the public school system is that they prepare you for the stupidity and injustices of life. This is not a sufficient reason to cripple kids’ curiosity, creativity and enthusiasm. Cevin Soling has written a book I wish I had when I was nine. It’s a bit late now. But every kid should have a copy. Handy.”

KIPP = Nazi Germany?

In musing about democracy on Bridging Differences, Deborah Meier equates KIPP and other “no excuses” schools with Nazi Germany‘s schools.

What troubles me most about the KIPPs of the world are not issues of pedagogy or the public/private issue, but their “no excuses” ideology implemented by a code that rests on humiliating those less powerful than oneself and reinforcing a moral code that suggests that there’s a one-to-one connection between being good and not getting caught. It tries to create certainties in a field where it does not belong. . . . Life is never so simple that we can award points for “badness” on a fixed numerical scale of bad-to-good. As we once reminded colleagues, Nazi Germany had a successful school system—so what? I’d be fascinated to interview some KIPP graduates to learn how its work plays out in their lives.

KIPP schools don’t suspend students for misbehavior or send them out of class. Instead, they sit in a separate area with the school polo shirt inside out until they’ve apologized to their teacher and classmates and the apology has been accepted. I assume that’s what Meier means by humiliation.

The moral code that equates “being good and not getting caught” baffles me. What is she talking about?

Life is not simple, but surely it’s possible for teachers to award merit or demerit points to students for good or bad classroom behavior without turning into Nazis.

After all, very few schools try to operate as democracies.