Saturday, March 31, 2012


One appreciates commerce. One knows that when a producer is trying to market a film, he will do everything in his power to engage the public interest, to make it a must-see movie.

More power to him!

If the movie is a documentary, its marketers will tell the world that the problem it addresses is pervasive. They will recommend that we think of nothing else.

A good marketing campaign for a documentary will try to leave you thinking that you must see the movie because your life and the lives of your children depend on it.

Of course, movies are not statistical surveys. Even when they pretend to present irrefutable facts, documentaries rely on what social scientists call anecdotal evidence. The case of one individual is far more compelling than a mountain of data.

Documentaries are not scientific papers. They cannot really assess the scope of a problem. At best, they alert us to a potential problem.

The marketers of a movie like Lee Hirsch’s Bully want to convince us that bullying is pervasive, that no one is doing anything about it, that we all need to have our consciousness raised by seeing the movie, and that we must join the massive nationwide anti-bullying campaign.

You aren’t just going to a movie; you are saving the world.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Lee Hirsh’s movie is being marketed by Harvey Weinstein, a man who not only makes great films, but who is also a master at marketing them.

In truth, we are all against bullying. I suspect that we have all been subjected to some form of bullying in our lifetimes.

In the Wall Street Journal this morning Nick Gillespie recommends that we not to allow ourselves to be whipped up into an emotional lather over bullying. It does exist, Gillespie says, but it is far rarer than a movie’s marketers and our politicians portray them to be.

Besides, before your frenzy completely obliterates your rational faculties, you should ask what is being prescribed as treatment and whether it will improve or aggravate the condition.

A good marketer will make a problem more pervasive by expanding its scope and definition.

Gillespie asks:

But is bullying—which the website of the Department of Health and Human Services defines as "teasing," "name-calling," "taunting," "leaving someone out on purpose," "telling other children not to be friends with someone," "spreading rumors about someone," "hitting/kicking/pinching," "spitting" and "making mean or rude hand gestures"—really a growing problem in America?

When does a campaign against bullying become a campaign against freedom of expression?

If you expand the category of bullying to include any meanness or rudeness, then to label all of it as hate speech, you are laying the groundwork for an attack on free speech.

Gillespie is also correct to note that those who are lathered up over bullying also tend to use the problem as an excuse to empower educational bureaucrats.

If enough people buy the anti-bullying message, American elementary and high schools will be invaded by an army of sensitivity trainers putting every child in group therapy. They will also bring with them a myriad of new rules requiring a mountain of new paperwork.

Yet again, the task of educating children will be buried under an overwhelming concern for their self-esteem.

It is frankly wrong to try to make childhood into a mindless exercise in kindness.

Gillespie argues correctly that we are in danger of systematically softening children up, making them all into a bunch of cry babies who cannot stand up for themselves and do not know how to fight back.

The point has been made before, but the best way for a child to stop being bullied is to learn how to defend himself. A child should learn how to defend himself against taunts and insults, but he should also know how to fight back.  

By now everyone knows about Casey Heynes, the Sydney, Australia boy who was bullied by one Richard Gale. Until the day when Casey decided to fight back.

The good news was that Richard Gale, was suspended from school for twenty days for bullying. The bad news is that Casey Heynes was also suspended, for acting with violence.

I do not know whether the punishment would have been the same in America, but the  Australian school was telling children that they should not fight back against bullies. 

If you want to encourage bullies, that is a good way to go about it.

If you do not learn how to defend yourself in high school, you are going to have a very rude awakening when you reach adulthood and discover that your competitors try to diminish you by trash-talking you or your product.

If a child never learns how to deal with taunts and insults what will he do when he steps on the playing field and hears his opponents say rude and insulting things about his mother? Will he fight back or will he dissolve into a puddle?

Taunts are not the same thing as an assault or as a continuing pattern of assault. Like it or not, insults are part of the game. Learn how to deal with them.

Extreme cases do exist. They are horrifying. But it is always a bad idea to use extremes to make the rule. Surely, there are other ways to deal with assault than to force everyone in the school to spend a few mornings in a warm bath of empathy.

Reviewing Hirsch’s movie on the Yahoo site, Thelma Adams asks the right questions. When all of the bullying was taking place, why didn’t the school administrators crack down? Why didn't they punish the most egregious examples of bullying?

In her words:

We all agree — except those tormenting these victims and justifying their daily actions — that bullying is bad. The major failing of this movie … is that it doesn't delve into why kids bully, why school administration officials let themselves off the hook saying "kids will be kids" or that they will take care of the problem, and try to solve it with well-reasoned discourse and limp handshakes. Why do the responsible parties consistently fail to assume responsibility or be held accountable? Is this really that new, and that universal, that new programs -- even legislation -- are required to address it?

At the end, we see parents and surviving students banding together, and literally wearing wristbands, releasing balloons in honor of those who have taken their lives, and calling for people to just get along, one act of kindness and support at a time. Am I alone in thinking that's kind of feeble? …

There are tough questions that need to be addressed: Why do schools no longer have control over children's safety on school buses? The driver has to drive, but someone has to maintain order and ensure that kids sit in their seats and don't prey on one another. Someone has to step up and take responsibility, when predatory behavior against other children is happening in plain sight, and not leave it to children to police themselves.

We all agree that corporal punishment has no place in schools. But what has replaced it? Why do the schools in the movie seem to have no control over the students who steal one boy's clothes in the gym while he is in the shower (boys will be boys), call one another names, and hit other kids in the head while no one is looking? The teachers and counselors are failing to protect the kids on their watch, and we may just have to go back to a certain level of strict behavior enforcement. Or at least address that issue, or other solutions to the endemic problems of bullying on and off campus, a problem that has become even more baroque once you add sexting, texting, and cyberbullying.

As Adams sees it, the film testifies to the failure of teachers and school administrators to take responsibility for the persistence of extreme bullying.

Documentary evidence of extreme bullying exists. Every American child above a certain age carries a cell phone that takes very good motion pictures. If a child is being bullied the chances are very good that someone somewhere has a video record of it.

Here’s an idea. If a child harasses, abuses and molests another child, how about suspending him from school? Why not expel him from school? If his behavior is bad enough report him to the police? If he is in high school, why not put it on his high school record? And why not call the child’s parents on the carpet?

Tell a bully that his behavior will be exposed to every college he applies to and see how quickly he finds religion.

Ironically, the bureaucrats and administrators who want more control over schoolchildren are incapable of exercising the authority they currently possess.

They suffer from the unfortunate American habit of thinking that all abusive behavior reveals a psychological problem and that all psychological problems need to be cured with intense psychotherapy.

After all, that is the bottom line. School administrators refuse to exercise authority or accept responsibility because they believe that a bully just needs more therapy. 


The Fun Sized Writer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stuart Schneiderman said...

Just between us, dude, you did not read what I said very carefully.

I do have compassion for the victims of bullying. That is why I tried to outline some steps that can be taken to deal with the problem.

Some of what is called bullying is extreme behavior that the individual cannot deal with himself. I strongly suggested that teachers, parents, administrators, and the police be brought in to help deal with the problem.

That has nothing to do with blaming the victim.

Thelma Adams was not blaming the victim. Nick Gillespie was not blaming the victim. And neither was I.

There are situations where someone who is being bullied can and should fight back. Perhaps not in quite the same way that Casey Heymes did, but his example does show something that can be done.

It does need to be the exact same thing, but there are often things that can be done. If not alone in conjunction with the proper authorities.

Less extreme forms of bullying can usually be dealt with with less extreme measures.

Do you think that a football player who is being taunted and insulted should receive our compassion? Do you really think that that would help him to deal with the situation?

No, I was not a bully at school. Rather than striking out at people who are trying to help you, it might be a better idea to see if there are any other ways to deal with the problem.

David Foster said...

"School administrators refuse to exercise authority or accept responsibility because they believe that a bully just needs more therapy."

I think the problem is more generic than that. I think people often become public school administrators specifically because they want the status that goes with the title but without accepting the combination of responsibility and authority that goes with a true leadership position. The average public school administrator, in the US at least, has no interest in being in a position in which he must personally make hard decisions and be accountable for the outcome. He would rather defer to generalized policies.

Anonymous said...

We had a bully at school when I was in the sixth grade. He picked on anyone he could get away with pushing around, including me.
My big brother found out about it. He was in the seventh grade. Next time this kid picked on me was his last time.
My big brother, a 13 year old, beat the ever living sh*t out of him in front of the entire school.
He never touched me, my brother, or anyone else in my class, or the school again, that entire year.
Bullies only learn one way.

But they really learn it.