By Gabrielle. Image by my favorite childhood artist, Norman Rockwell.
Oh my goodness. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the feedback and kind words you’ve shared in response to my 2014 plans. I have devoured every comment and am looking forward to responding to more of them. I truly, truly appreciate the support and thank you from the bottom of my heart. And now, on to a sort-of opposite topic: The word “bullying” is on my mind.
I feel like it gets thrown around like crazy lately — and in some instances I find myself confused about how it applies. In an attempt to keep children safe from bullying (a worthy goal and one I fully support!), many schools have instituted a zero tolerance policy toward bullying and bad behavior. Does your school have one? Even if it doesn’t, I’m guessing you’ve heard this term once or twice, right? It is likely written in your school handbook in a bold font, mentioned often during PTA meetings and Back to School nights, and it has possibly even accompanied a few not-so-subtle warnings before your kids got on the school bus!
After reading this editorial about some US school districts reconsidering the concept, I couldn’t wait to hear your thoughts. Since our return from France, I’ve really noticed the leaning in the US to act quickly and harshly when bullying or bad behavior is even remotely glimpsed. It seems like there’s not a lot of discussion or wiggle room or parent persuasion when it comes to breaking the rules — written or implied — in school. My initial instinct, is that I’m totally fine with that…I think! Because so far, we’ve not been directly touched by the policy. (Let me repeat: So far! I have six children, Friends! And there’s always tomorrow!)
Then again, an acquaintance recently told me about her experience with zero tolerance. Her son attends an international school and was recently suspended for a day because another student reported him for bullying. She asked the Head of School to define bullying in this specific case, and was assured that her son hadn’t done anything of consequence. Rather, the complaint had to do with an uncomfortable feeling the other boy felt whenever he spoke to her son, likening it to a queasy stomach! After a long silence, the mother suggested that her son now had a queasy stomach, too. From speaking to the Head of School!
As comical as this situation sounds, I’m sure it was super frustrating for all involved. I can tell you my response would not have been as reasonable or calm as my friend’s was — I think I would have freaked out if my child was suspended for vague reasons!
I’d love to hear how zero tolerance makes itself known in your school experiences. Do you see it as too stringent? Too black and white? Or have you seen it work well to keep negative school behavior in check? Also, I’m curious to know if your school attempts to define bullying as part of their zero tolerance policy — I’m guessing different schools have widely different definitions.
P.S. — I asked Ralph and Maude what bullying was like at their high school here in Oakland — specifically about whether or not homosexual kids felt like they could be safely and openly gay. They both answered that they didn’t see bullying against gay kids at all, and that any kind of mocking of homosexuals would be completely shut down by students at their school. I was glad to hear it! Sounds like progress to me.