Saturday, August 08, 2009

Revisiting the subject of bullying

You might not have heard the name Tom Daley before. Especially if you are neither British nor interested in the sport of diving. So, a little background.

Tom was selected for the British olympic squad and competed in Beijing. Team GB did not fare very well, but Daley was quite philosophical about it, in spite of the hail of criticism that inevitably followed.

Something he was less able to overcome was bullying at school. Daley spoke out about his situation and the whole country was aware of the seriousness of it. Eventually things got so bad that he felt forced to change schools. Sadly, this is something we see more and more of - that the victim winds up having to change schools because 'the system' is powerless to take effective action against the perpetrators.

Daley recently won gold in the individual event in Fort Lauderdale. Hopefully that will silence some of his critics.

I am pleased that Daley's profile, coupled with his willingness to speak out, has shone a spotlight on this problem. My sons' head teacher is of the view that bullying is a universal problem, that there isn't a school in the world which is free of it. This is not to say that she condones it. Quite the contrary. But she recognises how common it is.

And of course, most kids aren't like Tom Daley. They don't have his profile. The country's press doesn't howl in outrage when they are bullied. So they may feel as if there is no-one to whom they can turn.

My own sons both begged me not to take up the matter with the school authorities, believing that this would only make matters worse. I overrode one of them... and proved him right. Things did get worse. Then my husband stepped in and pushed a little harder. We hope that we might have begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel of torment.

Yes, bullying probably is in every school. It is certainly in many workplaces. And it takes a variety of forms. But that doesn't make it right. We shouldn't put up with it.


V Yonkers said...

The worst thing a school can do is to deny bullying. In Schnectady, NY, there was a rash of suicides in the High School, eventually found to be the result of bullying.

Even worse is the institutional or teacher bullying that sometimes occurs. Teachers that ridicule students in front of the class is bullying.

In my daughter's school, the parents got together and traded stories, discovering that the issue of bullying was not unique. We went to the administration as a whole to ask that there be a program addressing bullying instituted. For the next 5 years, our class was labeled the "trouble makers" who had bullies in their class. No other class "had that problem". In fact, we were the only class to address it and the bullying, while still there, was minimized and addressed.

The upsycho said...

@V_Yonkers I totally agree with you regarding the institutionalisation of bullying, which can happen without even being noticed, and sometimes with the best of intentions on the part of the staff. My own high school experience was an example of this.

In the case of our elder son, we are convinced that it was the teachers who set the ball in motion with regard to his experience of bullying. Not intentionally. You see, our son moved to this school from a far more relaxed school where the kids called the teachers by their first names, wore no uniform (probably unique in the UK) and were regarded as having a voice (this brought with it its own problems, which were legion, but that's another story). When he switched to this far more traditional model of school, he had a tendency to speak out, to challenge the teachers during lessons. This is not accepted practice at this school and they came down hard on him, in front of the other kids as a way of restoring their authority. We believe the kids took their lead from this, feeling safe in the knowledge that the teachers supported them, since they had identified the target in the first place.

Once he had found his feet and found an accepted way to disagree with the teachers, that conflict eased off, but the bullying at the hands of the kids continued. And still does.