Actually, the ads don't say that last part, but since this is an annual summit it can be assumed that it will continue to be held for many years. And since it is organized by the DoEd, who looks for continual improvement, or value added, it is not a leap to think that in a few years that's how they will interpret a child's failure to get involved in a bullying situation. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did say, “We are all responsible for our children’s safety, and no one can afford to be a bystander.”
Rather than deal with conjecture, however, lets take a look at the people involved in this summit. It included lawmakers, educators and government officials. Government officials included and Secretary Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Their goal is to develop a national strategy that "ensures a safe and healthy learning environment for students."
Sebelius told the summit, “Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s a systematic situation that threatens the health and well-being of our young people. It’s destructive to our communities and devastating to our future.”
Ok, raise your hands if you were never subject or witness to bullying as a child. I don't see many hands there. The fact is, bullying has been a part of growing up since man decided to live in groups. It is found in every single culture on the planet though it is almost never seen as desirable behavior.
Apparently Ms. Sebelius has not done much reading on the adolescent brain. If she had, she would know that not only is adolescence a time of increased hormonal activity which can affect decision making and impact impulsive behavior, but it is also a time when society begins to demand more from children. They are given doses of freedom and responsibility that can be very unnerving if the child hasn't matured enough to handle either of those things. The natural immature instinct to cover for that fear is to try to make someone else appear weaker or further behind in development. Bullying is fear masked as a power struggle. It can be done so easily because the immature brain actually cares more about what others think than the adult brain does. Bullying tactics just work better on the young brain.
A Temple University study used functional magnetic resonance imaging scans on teenagers and adults to determine "if there are differences in brain activity when adolescents are alone versus with their friends." The findings suggest that teenage peer pressure has a distinct effect on brain signals involving risk and reward, helping to explain why young people are more likely to misbehave and take risks when their friends are watching. It also explains why children are likely to bully kids if they know others are watching. There is the perceived reward of elevated status.
Having children intervene or speak up about a bullying incident would only work if a significant majority of kids present did so. But you have to factor in the social fear that is endemic to young children which will keep them from being one of the first ones to speak up. That is a very high hurdle to overcome. It would be great if they would unite against the bullies, but I'm not holding my breath.
But if bullying is so prevalent and has been around so long, why the intense focus on it now? DoED says they feel the need to act because of a recent string of high profile suicides by students who were later revealed to have been bullied. Potential 24 hour connectivity through technology has also increased opportunities for bullying. They are also highly concerned about bullying directed against students perceived to be gay or lesbian.
By this reasoning, bullying because of red hair or thick corrective lenses is not as bad as bullying because of sexual orientation. Come on people, either bullying is inherently wrong or it isn't.
Given the long history of bullying, the question they should be asking isn't, "How do we get kids to stop bullying" but rather, "Why do some children see suicide as the only way out of bullying?" What has broken down in society or the school system that makes children feel powerless?
The Washington Post covered this summit. Nowhere in the article is the idea of the victims standing up to the bullies themselves mentioned. Could this be one of the reasons children feel powerless? Children are still told to bring in an adult to solve the problem. Those adults are bound by school policy which is sometimes woefully misguided, punishing the victim as well as the bully. Could this be a reason children see suicide as the only way out? The list of things that are offensive is growing daily and is not posted on the school walls. Does this lack of clear, non-moving boundaries make children feel unstable enough to consider suicide? To get the right answer, you must ask the right question.
A note about one of the co-sponsors of this ad campaign. The Free to Be Foundation has been around since 1973 which develops and markets education material that challenge stereotypes. The group includes high profile entertainers like Marlo Thomas, Alan Alda and Mel Brooks. Their foundation
seeks to ensure children’s wholeness as human beings: their right to nuturing (sic) care from women and men; their right to schools, homes and a society that are free from descrimination (sic) based on sex, race, culture, class or any condition of birth; their right to nonsexist, multiracial education; and their right to grow up in a positive, diverse, supportive setting that encourages independence.This bit of pablum could receive its own post. It is generously sprinkled with nice words (even if they are misspelled) that entertainers like to get behind.
They seem tremendously enamored with the idea of Rights. I'm not sure if they understand rights must be protected or that the denial of rights can be punished.
They would like to make it a right to receive care from men and women. So when the daycare only has women employed, can we file a discrimination case for denying my child the right to a male provider? Can I refuse to let my child be in the classroom if there is only a male teacher? If I am unfortunate enough to be born into a wealthy family who is able to provide generously for me, will you punish those who call me spoiled rich kid, or who demand that I pay more than everyone else, when the circumstance of my birth is nothing I could help? Can they even explain what a nonsexist multiracial education is? You have a right to grow up in a positive, diverse, supportive setting???
As Inigo Montoya would say, "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."
The ads will start in October.