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Pop Quiz: Thoughtless Cruelty

Bullying is a part of human existence.  Don’t get me wrong it’s a crappy part, but it is still a part.  As a teacher in a school I have seen a small spectrum of bullying behavior from friends teasing each other to the “popping” books so that the holder drops them in a cloud of papers.  I have not seen bullying that rises to the level of assault or abuse, but I am not naive enough to believe that none of my students have experienced it.

I often feel overwhelmed by the size and scope of the problem, but even feeling overwhelmed I feel that I must respond even if in an imperfect manner.  I have responded to what I have witnessed in a variety of ways, but they all seem to me to be woefully inadequate. For instance:

  • Two put ups – this is a technique I learned in a class.  The consequence for verbal teasing is the teaser must say two nice things about the teasee. I find that this forced and fake niceness is not in my comfort zone.  I feel too much like a bigger bully, though I have seen it used in a fluid and skillful manner.
  • My current go to technique is to look at the teaser and ask is so and so your friend?  (I have never had anyone yet say no).  Then I pause, look at the teasee, then back at the teaser and say “You are not being a very good friend.”
  • Another version of this is to ask the bully, “Do you think being a good person is important?” This usually throws them off since they were immediately expecting a reprimand. They nod or say yes. “Does [insert behavior] make you a good person? No? Now that you have [insert behavior], what can you now do to make up for it?”

Now my response in the immediate situation does not mean that there are no official disciplinary  consequences like detention, but I feel that how one deals with the situation in the here and now can have a bigger impact than a delayed reprimand.

So my question today is what are some effective ways to curb the thoughtless cruelty we call bullying?  Have you seen someone do something to stop bullying that stuck with you or changed your own behavior?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (ET).

Featured image: Bully, by Thomas Ricker

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Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.

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