Our elementary school recently surveyed the kids about bullying as part of its “Steps to Respect” program. The survey asked the kids to “Check the kinds of bullying you’ve seen or had happen to you at school,” and then offered the following choices:
TeasedI can imagine bullying occurring through any of those means, but won’t that list catch many things that none of us would consider bullying? Friends can tease each other, and may even sometimes call each other names. When does talking about one’s classmates become “spreading rumors”? Where is the line between “leaving someone out on purpose” and simply wanting to choose which kids to play with during what little free time the school offers? I wouldn’t want to have my belongings taken, but is all theft a form of bullying? Pushing and even hitting aren’t that uncommon in certain types of play – our most popular sports are “contact sports” – but not every foul is an act of bullying.
Left out on purpose
Hit, pushed, or kicked
Belongings damaged or taken
What is gained by simplifying the issue in this way? If the kids take the survey literally, they will come away with a distorted and trivialized sense of what “bullying” means. (If you’re anything less than an angel, you’re a bully.) If the kids understand that only some things in those categories really qualify as bullying (as I suspect they do), then they are already more sophisticated than these teaching materials give them credit for. The survey seems designed to inflate the rate of reported bullying, and thus to justify yet more behavioral interventions and harsher discipline.
More thoughts on bullying here, here, and here.