A Bully By Any Other Name
When it comes to stopping bullying in schools, policymakers and school administrators who push harsh discipline policies as punishment for bullies should take a long, hard look in the mirror. "Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right: Why Zero-Tolerance is Not the Solution to Bullying," a white paper co-authored by the Advancement Project, Alliance for Educational Justice, and Gay-Straight Alliance Network, criticizes the rise of zero-tolerance discipline policies in response to bullying. In fact, say the authors, zero-tolerance is a form of bullying in and of itself, not a solution to it.
The authors acknowledge that it's necessary to address the bullying that goes on in schools. However, in doing so we need to employ discipline methods that keep kids in school for all but the worst offense and that address the root problems causing the misbehavior. Of the 42 states with bullying laws, 24 of them (57 percent) rely solely on punitive measures. These zero-tolerance policies have not only failed to make schools safer, they have produced a variety of harmful outcomes including the unnecessary use of school-based arrest and juvenile court citations; the overuse and misuse of out-of-school suspense and expulsions; and aggressive, in-school security measures such as metal detectors, surveillance cameras and school security or law enforcement officials. This "dangerous cocktail of policies and practices" is criminalizing our students rather than helping them grow and develop appropriate behaviors:
"Bullying interventions that rely on exclusion or justice-system intervention miss critical opportunities to respond to these acute needs, break down these harmful behavioral patterns, and help teach misguided youth the social and emotional skills they will need to stop bullying and ultimately grow up to be healthy, mature, and responsible adults. Zero-tolerance responses also squander the opportunity to create healthier, more inclusive, and more productive learning environments. Instead, just as with other student disciplinary matters, harsh responses to bullying usually only make matters worse, and create new problems, by putting the “bully” on a fast track toward dropping out and winding up in jail."
Both bullying and harsh discipline policies have many of the same effects on the targeted students: academic difficulties, truancy, acting out, self-defense, psychological trauma and mental health consequences, dropping out or being pushed out of school. The white papers authors recommend that we focus on eliminating harsh discipline policies in favor of restorative justice practices, provide additional resources to schools seeking to create healthier and more supportive learning environments, and reallocate funding dedicated to school police, security officers and metal detectors towards more guidance counselors, social workers and nurses to address students' behavioral and mental health issues.
In other words, we can't stop bullying unless we stop being bullies ourselves.