Education Week online published an article recently, “Lack of Knowledge Stymies Efforts to Stop Bullying.” It describes a two-day conference that brought together experts from around the country in an effort to address – in the words of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – “the plague of bullying.” Here’s a quotation from the article: “researchers, school leaders and federal education and health officials say more research is needed to pinpoint effective anti-bullying practices.”
Secretary Duncan opened the conference by letting attendees know that government officials will do their part to enforce civil rights violations since bullying can be construed as a violation of harassment law. While I applaud the Secretary’s desire to eradicate bullying, enforcement is not the answer. And we don’t need more research to take effective steps now.
While money is spent and time passes and more bullying occurs unabated, let me offer a few points that might cast this horrific problem in terms that render it considerably more manageable:
- Bullying is a behavior.
- All behavior is purposeful.
- People (yes, even bullies) behave to satisfy their needs.
- One need that drives us is the desire to be powerful.
- One way to satisfy the need for power is through academic competence.
- When people can meet their needs responsibly they are less likely to engage in irresponsible behaviors like bullying.
- Many bullies do poorly in school.
- Bullies – like everyone else – are driven to be powerful.
- Bullying satisfies the drive to be powerful.
- Some bullies struggle with the academic demands placed on them. Unable to attain legitimate power through academic achievement, they resort to bullying.
- Some bullies are academically competent but disengaged and bored. Until classrooms are structured to be engaging – and, yes, even fun – the problem will continue.
- When we create classrooms where all students are engaged and can enjoy themselves and satisfy their needs responsibly, bullying will decrease dramatically. Thankfully many schools and classrooms already have these characteristics. For information about how to create need-satisfying classrooms, I encourage you to read The Motivated Student.
Sometimes even horrific problems can be effectively addressed with relative ease. Not everything that is troubling needs to be characterized as something inapproachably mysterious and requiring unending research.
I wrote the cover article that was just published in the October issue of the Virginia Journal of Education entitled “Getting at the Roots of Bullying.”