YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 19, 2012

Bullies

Harvard Gr.School of Ed. magazine

[A note to the reader: Bullying is indeed a social problem, but the most prestigious education school in the land has nothing to recommend but nostrums that have been in place since the 1960s, and that have never worked. Nowhere does this article stress the search for truth as the highest value. There are only “points of view.” I don’t remember such a line being taught when I attended this school, holding the only Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship for projected leadership in science teaching. They offered me another full fellowship in Guidance, but I got married instead. It took me many years to begin to vindicate my fellowship, even as it brings me into conflict with Harvard as it currently exists. OTOH, the school may always have been progressive, and I didn’t recognize the regnant ideology as a science major.]

The Harvard Graduate School of Education devotes six pages in its Fall 2012 issue of Ed to what it sees as the all-consuming problem of bullying in the schools. Their solutions exactly mirror the prescriptions of “socially responsible capitalists” and multiculturalists, all of whom have focused on the affective side of public education: We are too focused on intellectual achievement (measured in standardized tests) to the neglect of “empathy, perspective-taking, and mindfulness”.  They have nothing more to offer other than the names of Lady Gaga and her friend Oprah Winfrey, who agree with them that we are Born This Way.

And yet their first example of the bullied student was not Born This Way. I quote their opening paragraph: “High school student Zachary Kerr didn’t know what to do. As a sophomore transitioning from female to male, he was met with comments in the classroom from whom one might least expect it: a teacher who voiced his disapproval of Kerr’s gender change. ‘It was hard to figure out what to do because it was a teacher,’ Kerr, now 18, says about his experience. ‘Do I complain about it? This teacher was responsible for grading me, and [his] was one of my favorite classes. Do I let it go and be uncomfortable? My decision was to let it go.’ He spent the rest of the year not speaking in the class about his transition.” [No mention in the article of any rebuttal by the teacher. I am pro-gay rights, but wonder why this particular example of unconfirmed bullying was the LEAD item in a six-page article.]

Skip a few paragraphs (one mentions a suicide, with no explanation as to the cause) to the meat of the article: Lecturer Richard Weissbourd, Ed.D.’87 explains his remedy for this apparently intractable problem: “’It’s a window into our failure to develop empathy in kids, or caring and responsibility in kids,’ he says. ‘It’s an opportunity to talk about social-emotional learning, moral development, responsibility for others, standing up and having courage, and also an opportunity to talk about the ways schools function and what we are doing and not doing to prepare adults to connect to students and to be helpful to them around peer troubles. You can’t prevent bullying without doing most of these things.’”

Next, Harvard tries to find the right balance: Headline: SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE. “In the era of standardized testing, incorporating these aforementioned lessons in the classroom isn’t easy. Across the board, experts and educators agree that with an increased focus on academic achievement comes an inadvertent decreased focus on social-emotional learning—the process for recognizing and managing emotion and how to develop concern for others.”

The author gives an example: a five-year old grabs a toy from another child. The [badass] kid is asked, how would you feel if someone took your toy by force?  Dear reader, this article I am quoting from was not written by Republicans but by the Democratic Party education establishment, or as I like to call them, the moderate men.

Note that Harvard educators of educators are not worried that our young adults cannot read or comprehend Shakespeare or Milton (say Hamlet, King Lear, The Tempest, or Paradise Lost), let alone such American classics as Moby-Dick). It is not bullying to throw out the masterpieces of civilization as written by dead white males, but it is bullying for a teacher to express disapproval of a sex-change operation, assuming that the interaction even took place as reported by “Zachary Kerr.” (The teacher was not given a platform to respond.) Victims never lie or exaggerate. (For more on the smashup of the old literary canon see http://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/.)

When I was briefly a student at P.S. 13 in Elmhurst Queens, right after the war, a gang of boys and maybe girls chased me home, as they brandished a knife. (I was the only Jewish kid in the class, and was perhaps resented as a teacher’s pet.) My mother went to the school and complained, only to be told by the principal, one Lillian Eschenbecker (of German descent?), that “Clare is like an apple: beautiful on the outside, but rotten at the core.” She really said that, and my mother told me about it. Perhaps she even believed this authoritative principal. I don’t know. Maybe I was Born This Way.

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4 Comments »

  1. […] VERSUS HATE. First, take a look at this blog on Bullies: http://clarespark.com/2012/09/19/bullies/ . Although the Harvard education school was mostly fixated upon the controversial switching of […]

    Pingback by Hate, “hard liberty,” quick fixes « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — January 12, 2013 @ 10:20 pm | Reply

  2. […] Go back several centuries to Milton’s famous polemic Areopagitica (1744). In my book on the revival of Herman Melville’s reputation in the 20th century, I devoted an entire chapter to Milton and Melville’s ambivalent relations to puritanism, as expressed in Milton’s Paradise Lost. The poet’s relationship to his character Satan (often taken to be the mouthpiece of Milton in his most radical mood) has generated a “Milton industry” of even greater size and consequence than the “Melville industry.” Conservatives, moderates, and radicals alike, appropriate the life and art of these authors as their ideologies demand. What each party suppresses is the ambivalence of either Milton or Melville—an ambivalence that we may find within ourselves as we save our own hides from the bullies we encounter at every stage of life. This is an issue that educators fail to address, no matter how well-meaning their efforts may be at reforming the current system of public education. (See http://clarespark.com/2012/09/19/bullies/.) […]

    Pingback by Milton, Mason, Melville on Free Speech « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — September 21, 2012 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

  3. […] http://clarespark.com/2012/09/19/bullies/ Arne Duncan and Obama at play Like this:LikeOne blogger likes this. Comments (1) […]

    Pingback by Index to blogs on education reform « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — September 20, 2012 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

  4. As a kid, I was bullied frequently. I was typically taunted for being a faggot, and a nerd, or some such. (I didn’t even know what those terms meant.) One kid, Greg S., even broke his hand hitting me in the face, then threatened me further for having broken his hand with my head. He stole and vandalized my bike, threw rocks at me, and picked my pockets. Adults weren’t much help. The teachers dismissed my complaints. My parents once confronted Greg’s parents, but retreated when Mr. & Mrs. S. belligerently defended their son’s innocence and threatened to sue if we brought it up again.

    The current approach to policing bullies by turning kids into snitches, and then intervening to foster a sense of empathy in the bully does little for the bully, the victims, and the witnesses and possibly traumatizes them more. Bullies don’t respond to the well-meaning adults. Generally, they feed off of perceived weakness and prefer to torment those who offer little resistance to intimidation. Instead of coddling, bullies need to be confronted and punished.

    This article, “Face Bullying With Confidence” (http://www.kidpower.org/library/article/prevent-bullying/),
    advocates building a child’s self-confidence in the face of bullying. It points out the potential positive benefits of taking personal responsibility and action against a bully, especially the sense of power and control that comes from dealing with a bully the right way.

    Slinking away into a corner, or, God help us, running to a teacher who believes in a non-confrontational, “social-emotional learning” approach to bullying, just makes the problem worse. A victimized child needs tools for dealing with the bully’s naked aggression, and self-confidence is the key. Unfortunately, modern school administrators, unwilling to make a distinction between victim and victimizer, will likely punish the bully and the victim “equally,” especially if the victim fights back and defends himself physically.

    Developing self-confidence in a timid child is difficult, but under an adult’s guidance and watchful guard, a child can learn how to develop mental and physical defenses to bully tactics.

    NB: Interesting that one of the examples of bullying is an insensitive teacher’s negative comments regarding a child’s gender change. There are no specifics here and there is no way to tell if any of this is true, but since when has an adult’s “disapproval” constituted “bullying?” How was such disapproval expressed? With a smirk? A rolling of the eyes? One would gather that the bullying disapproval is being fostered by the author on the reader as a cautionary tale for teachers who believe in traditional gender roles and families.

    PS: Never believe an article that begins or concludes with “Across the board, experts agree…” It has to be a con-job, and even if all “experts” do agree, what of it? Never allow someone else, much less a board of experts, do your thinking for you. Trust your own instincts and experience.

    Comment by Scott Gregory Lloyd — September 19, 2012 @ 10:07 pm | Reply


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