|My daughter Payton. Both my kids have at one time or another been bullied. One of my children could also easily be perceived as a bully. She is not, but she has special needs and is frequently mishandled, undersupervised and left to handle situations she cannot because of her disability.
My heart breaks when I read of kids who have ended their lives because of bullying. This is tragic every time and I can see too easily how a child could feel that there is nothing good in the world when school is not a safe place. I believe bullying is an adult issue largely that impacts kids and we, the adults aren’t doing good enough. Yesterday I read a headline about bullying legislation and infighting among the political parties who can’t work this out for our kids. AND then I read this phrase again ZERO TOLERANCE. Zero tolerance for bullying. Rhetoric. Semantics. Words that are meaningless unto themselves. But when you place them inside this current culture of poverty, recession, job loss, stress, distrust and discord, I get really worried. Zero Tolerance is to politics what spanking is to parenting. The easy solution. The quick smack on the ass that says end this now I am the one in the position of power and I will tell you NO. So what’s wrong with spanking and what’s wrong with zero tolerance? It is mindless and a knee-jerk reaction, in my opinion. Also it absolves all the adults of their responsibility for systems, for running the systems and for making the choices that impact our kids. I want better for my kids. I want better for all of our kids.
In theory, our education system is now set up with this philosophy of inclusion, all abilities are included in a class and they are all to be taught accordingly. We will all accept every disability and learning disability and neurological difference and mingle all together in one class and it will be butterflies and rainbows. And frankly in my daughter’s school I see this instead. Chaos. Anger. Frustration. Further insults to fragile mental health systems. I see anxiety. I see stressed out kids. I see kids who are super confused about what bullying is and when to intervene and whether the child with anxiety and stress because of their disability is a bully if they lash out when overloaded because school is the place where their little triangle brains are being smushed into circles. I see kids who are underserved. I see one half time EA racing from class to class to manage a huge range of needs, some diagnosed, some not. And sayonara at noon because special needs disappear at Noon. They are apparently only present half of the day. Because having Autism or FASD is a part-time diagnosis. Or even ADHD. I see most of the teachers trying hard within their limitations to keep abreast of curriculum and children’s needs, and then recess and yet here is what we have recess left with not enough supervision. Children who need 24/7 supervision at home and a complex array of therapies, autistic children, kids with Down’s, kids with sensory processing disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and kids who may not have had breakfast at home and some who live in foster care and others who have mental health issues and ADHD and some who have brain differences because of complex childhood neglect and abuse. I see all of that and the adults saying well we will fix it all with one size solution. And isn’t inclusion great? Haven’t we done a good job?
Oh and here is what I hear: excuses. A steady stream of excuses from politicians, principals, assistants and legislators. I hear kids saying: It is bullying if you say you don’t want to play with me. (Well, no not really. If I don’t want to have lunch with a person I know I am not forced to do so) I hear the adults in the building unable to agree even on what the very definition of bullying is. I hear, well the Educational Assistant is not assigned to any child in particular but the whole school and she’s only here half days. The senior kindergarteners need help from her at recess with their social skills class. So now we throw them all together on a recess yard and say work it out.
I am glad Dalton McGuinty put out a Youtube video the other day reminding children that It Gets Better. Because yes it does, if they get through and I think right now that is the trick. Because the adults are skirting the real issues. They refuse to see past the playground. They refuse to fund the proper supports for in the schools where there is a need. And they keep trying to hammer little triangles into square pegs or round holes, or whatever shape of the day is the current educational philosophy.
I have known so many kids who could be classed or perceived as bullies. Almost every one of those kids have a deep issue or disability, or home situation that no adult is fixing. Zero Tolerance means those kids are set up for failure. Consistently.
I can see both sides of this issue too well. I have two daughters. Both are vulnerable. One who is often the target of bullies, who by the way was warned earlier in the year that she couldn’t defend herself at school if a bully charged her on the yard. Which is what a girl at her school has done. I have another daughter who is bullied subtly because of her special needs. Earlier this year a child told her the only reason she had any friends at school is because she has a disability. This same daughter is also easily perceived as a bully. Because she has a brain injury many are not understanding. She lashes out when overloaded. She plays actively and rough – like boys sometimes – and she wrestles and she has impulse control issues and she is left with all of that by herself. Yes the school playground is monitored by a teacher. Typically could be a teacher who doesn’t even know my daughter’s name, let alone her needs. In reality, avoiding bullying is best accomplished by preventative measures. Monitoring what is happening before the bullying occurs. It is basic parenting for many of us who have kids with special needs. Fix the problem before it becomes one.
Unfortunately our schools don’t share the same philosophy. We react with a smack on the hand, or a suspension, when it is already too late.