The Independent is in the middle of a multi-part series on the bullying issue in our schools.
There's an argument to be made that that sentence should end with the word "communities," instead of "schools," and I can't say I totally disagree with that.
Because so much of reported bullying takes place at schools - that's where all the kids are at, right? - our society seems to believe it is the schools' problem. To an extent, it is. But it goes beyond those buildings that house our kids for eight hours day, eight months a year, and for us to point a finger at the schools and only the schools would be an injustice.
A school is part of a community and the community needs to help play a role in trying to figure out the best ways to curb bullying. Why is this lost on us?
One superintendent who spoke with the Independent recently made a good point. He said bullying can and does happen anywhere - during summer rec programs, at the pool, even during Vacation Bible School. It can happen in July just as easily as it can happen in January. If a bully goes after a kid at a park somewhere during the summer after a baseball game, is that any less worrisome than when it happens on a school playground or in a school bathroom?
The answer: No.
Bullying is not the school's problem, it's the community's problem - and that includes businesses, general community members and parents. I don't know if it takes a village to raise a child, but it wouldn't hurt to have that village work together to fight bullying.
Many adults have lost track of what it means to raise children the right way; I don't even know if I'm doing it right half the time. That doesn't make us bad parents, but when was the last time you sat down with your kid and talked about bullying, talked about what it means to be a good person - to people they know and those they don't? I would be willing to bet the majority of kids these days, whether they attend school in a large district or a small one, don't even know what The Golden Rule is. I bet my daughter doesn't know what it is, because, full disclosure here, I don't ever remember telling her.
I know it sounds basic and fundamental, but maybe that's what we should get back to - the fundamentals of raising kids. Knowing what The Golden Rule is - treating others as you would like to be treated - probably won't change lives, but it's a good stepping-off point.
That's the kind of stuff that can start at home, that should start at home. Because our kids spend so much of their day in a school setting, we think that's where the fault lies, but that's a dangerous assertion. What about what goes on at home? What about what goes on in the bedrooms late at night, either via computer or cell phone? Is it the school's responsibility to police that?
That being said, it is incumbent upon schools to jack up their vigilance in the fight against bullying, if for no other reason than because they're the kids' home away from home for so much of the year - that in and of itself puts the responsibility in their laps. Schools will need to continue to play the watchdog role and never, ever look the other way or dismiss any student complaint of harassment, no matter how minor or trivial it might appear.
To what degree the state will get involved next year is unknown, but it's likely schools will be hearing from our top officials on the issue. But if the state plans on playing a role in the fight against bullying and orders schools to ramp it up a notch, it has to scratch the schools' back as well in the form of some funding for added programs and even increased staff. Of course, with another budget deficit staring us in the face, we wouldn't blame schools for looking at added funding as nothing more than wishful thinking. Let's be realistic here. The chances of the state putting money into this fight are slim and none, leaving schools to search for it elsewhere. Then search they must, because like it or not, schools will always be looked at as the front line in this fight. If schools need to go out and find some grant money to fund programs, so be it.
Schools must continue to lead the way, but if it's true there really is strength in numbers, it's time for the communities to play their part as well. The assumption that schools have everything under control is not only idealistic, it's borderline fantasy.