Has education failed at “no bullying” programs?
**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**
A guest column by Judith A. Yates
On September 5, 2015, a 14-year-old high school girl stood before bullies and drove a kitchen knife into her own heart to fall dead at her tormentor’s feet. The little girl’s name is Sherokee Harriman. Some of her peers and family members report Sherokee was, in part, hopeless due to the school district’s lack of protection from these bullies. The bullying has not stopped as people (her peers suspect students) are now destroying the memorial placed, where Sherokee fell, in a La Vergne, Tennessee Public Park.
“Even in death,” says one student, “they disrespect her.” Her mother demands an answer: “Why do they continue to try to hurt her?” Has the education system’s “No Bullying” programs failed these kids?
According to the Suicide Prevention & Resource Center, suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 12–18. Other factors are contributed to suicide, yet “Bullying is associated with increases in suicide risk in young people who are victims of bullying (and) increases depression and other problems associated with suicide.” This encompasses both the bullies and the children being bullied. (SEE CITE 1, below, for source)
Friends, classmates, and students in other schools, who knew Sherokee Harriman personally or marginally, report there are in-house programs to report bullying at all their schools. They also explain why so many students do not trust the programs. “They (the administration) don’t do anything” when bullying is reported and “if you report, then you are (called) a snitch (by other students),” creating more problems for the victim, the students who want to report, and the program. “So, it’s not worth it” one student says blatantly. Sherokee’s parents call the “Zero Tolerance for Bullying” program in their child’s school district “a joke;” her mother assisted Sherokee in completing multiple “Bully Reports” in both junior high and high school, supporting her with long talks, and trying to follow up. The last time they completed a report, it never went through the system because Sherokee was in her grave.
These are opinions of a handful of students from classrooms across the U.S. and anguished parents, but one student in fear of the school hallways and one parent let down by the education system is too many. Despite all of the “No Bully Zone” and other similar programs, the system appears to be failing students who feel unsafe in the school … and students who are bullies. Why?
One of the suspected barriers in preventing the success of “Stop Bullying” school programs is lack of funding. In 2013, the United States public school system reported an outstanding debt of $415,238,582.00 (For some information on this report see below link labeled CITE 2). The funding to create and keep school programs may look impossible with a school system that scrambles to afford basic supplies while meeting all budget demands. “We have to pay for so much classroom supplies,” says one Nashville, Tennessee high school teacher. “How are they going to find money to keep a new program running?”
Another suspected barrier is what teachers can do versus what the system demands. In 2001, “Secretary of Education Arne Duncan … reported 82 percent of U.S. schools may be failing by 2013” explains researcher / author Ron Berler. “… On paper, idealistically, No Child Left Behind was a wonderful thought, but it wasn’t put out there with any practical thought … (education needs to) reduce and adjust the amount of standardized testing” (source see CITE 3 below). It appears learning now focuses on tests; the system seems more concerned with teaching to a standard rather than combining compassion, education, and social etiquette.
How does the education system create “Stop Bullying” programs that meet faculty, students, and parents’ goals for a safe school environment while fitting the budget, with a place in the overall curriculum? The effort cannot be deemed impossible or useless to try.
It is far too late for students like Sherokee Harriman and the kids who bullied her; who, somewhere, all became lost in the mix of programs, budget demands, and education system requirements. They slipped through those cracks to fall dead in the grass, to face potential criminal charges at the age of 14, and to trash a child’s memorial.
The Society for the Prevention of Suicide offers free information for educators. It includes education, books, training, and provides a free toolkit. Learn more here:
Judith A. Yates is currently completing a PhD in Criminal Justice. She has taught at several schools, within the field of law enforcement; has worked as trainer, attended classes across the country, and has been a mentor in several programs. Her website can be found at judithayates.com.