John Dewey, one of the most studied educational philosophers states that “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself”. On this note, I would like to discuss the problem of bullying. Every few days, I see a post on social media promoting one anti-bullying campaign or another. As you read my post, do keep in mind that I am with these campaigns; I am not against them at all, but I do believe that they are not enough. In fact, they are sometimes serving a somewhat negative purpose.
To begin with, we need to take a look at different forms of bullying in real life. As adults, we face bullying in many situations. It may take the form of a boss bullying employees by verbally abusing or overworking them. Sometimes it’s the opposite: employees bullying a new manager who may be a bit weak-willed. It can also be colleagues bullying one another and emotionally blackmailing others to do the work for them while they slack off. Bullying can also be a big part of our religious communities where representatives of religion bully members of the faith in order to donate more money to the religion. It can also be part of our families where parents or siblings verbally assault one another. When you look at it, bullying is everywhere, not just in our schools.
In comparison with the above, it’s no wonder that we see so many forms of bullying in school. We see it in the classroom, at the gym, in the playground, in the hallways, in the bathrooms, and even online. However, the main difference between bullying in school and bullying in real life is that the first is punished while the other isn’t. Many schools implement a lot of zero tolerance to bullying programs and deal harshly with bullies: they give them detention; they suspend them; they may even expel them from school. But does this make much difference? Not really.
Punishing the bullies rarely results in any positive or significant change. In most cases, the bully’s methods become even meaner, more creative and less likely to be caught. This is because we haven’t addressed the problem itself; we merely gave it a quick fix. If we were to consider bullying as a virus and the punishment as the antibiotic, bullying builds resistance: it eventually overcomes the antibiotic and comes back stronger and harder to beat. However, if instead we build immunity, we can almost completely eradicate it.
Therefore, instead of just looking at the bully in order to find a solution, we need to work more with the victim. Don’t take me wrong; we still need to work with the bully, but I am not tackling this part of the treatment as there are many programs for it. We need to strengthen and empower the victims in order to not allow bullying to affect them.
Some teachers I’ve worked with do have that mentality; however, they go about it the wrong way. They do sometimes punish the bully and attempt to work with the victims. But the way they work with them is by bullying them even more. They tell them to “toughen up” or to stand up for themselves. But, as we all know, talk is cheap and mainly leads nowhere. How can we expect a five, six or even twelve-year-old child to understand the meaning of “toughen up”? If they did understand that, they wouldn’t be in this predicament. Instead, we need to teach them how to toughen up physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Physically, most bullying victims find themselves weak and unable to defend themselves in a fight. They succumb to the bullies because they fear getting hurt. Therefore, the first step in toughening them up is to have them enroll in some type of sports, preferable martial arts. From experience, students I worked with who were enrolled in martial arts class, be it karate, Judo or any similar programs, were less prone to the effects of bullying. In this way, we would be helping them build their endurance and resistance to pain, in case they had to face it.
Mentally, even if we taught our students to defend themselves physically, it is infinitely more useful to teach them to avoid the fight altogether. We need to teach them to be critical thinkers so that they can get themselves out of a fight unscathed and without hurting anyone in the process. We can do this by sitting with them after an issue occurs and helping them think of other ways of dealing with such situation. In this way, they can learn how to deal with it in case the need arises again.
Emotionally, and this is important for all students – bully and bullied – we need to help them understand their emotions and control them. This can easily be done through storytelling and discussions. By analyzing character’s emotions and motives, students will sooner or later internalize these thoughts and learn to see these emotions within themselves. Also, an added activity can be to ask students to create alternate endings based on emotional changes in characters.
Spiritually, and most importantly, we need to teach our students the value of forgiveness. I am not talking about the religious value of it, but the actual worldly value. When you can forgive someone for what they have done, you can more easily get over it. If our students know that they could’ve defended themselves if they had to (physical toughening up) but they were able to get out of the situation smartly (mental toughening up) and they didn’t let it get to them emotionally (emotional toughening up), then this would never be able to “scar them for life”. They would just forgive, but not really forget; they would forgive and learn how to deal with the problem proactively by either winning over the bully as a friend or by avoiding provoking him altogether.
In conclusion, I would like you to imagine a world where victims of bullying are not affected by bullying anymore. When bullies try to gain control over them a few times unsuccessfully, these bullies will have to eventually change their ways or be shunned. Wouldn’t that be an ideal win/win situation? Instead of encouraging the weak to remain weak by protecting them from the bullies, we empower them to forbid bullying from affecting them in the first place. Thus, we can build a stronger generation who can face bullying in school and, later on, in life.