Tuesday, April 20, 2010


School bullies: Three strikes and you're out should NOT apply

The main reason the three strikes and you're out rule should not apply to bullies is simple. It does not work. Bullying is not part of a game in which you're sending the offender to the penalty box or the bull-pen or even out of the game. In fact, the three strikes or zero tolerance rule, as it's known in some parts of the world, is as varying and inconsistent as are types of bullying. Not only are those in authority unable to agree on what out means, the wide-ranging policies, also called student exclusion in some areas, raise many concerns.

And what happens to the bully that does get suspended or, heaven help us, expelled?

Statistics show that one in five children admit to bullying others. Assuming that even half of those make the grade, that is, end up striking out, and you have one in ten of the average school population being exiled from mainstream schooling to where? Depending on the age of the bully, the child may end up in alternative schooling, should some be available, where it stands to reason, he or she will end up with other bullies, given that that's where their parents will be forced to send them also, or, if the child is older, they could well end up in Juvenile Detention, budding delinquents in the making.

Research has shown that most bullying children are in desperate need of positive adult role models and positive pro-social influences. Chances of bullies receiving this much needed modeling seem unlikely if they are tarred with the three strikes rule and written off by those who might be in a position to help them turn their lives around.

A study in Toronto, Ontario done during the mid-nineties by D.J.Pepler and W.M.Craig showed fully 85 percent of bullying peers were involved in bullying episodes, and that was over a decade ago. More recent studies are not encouraging, if anything, they show the trend to be on the upswing, not in decline, and the three strikes rule does nothing to address this part of the cycle.

Internationally recognized speaker and educator, Barbara Coloroso, in her book, The Bully, The Bullied, and The Bystander, makes some interesting points in the chapter, ‘’Caring Schools, Involved Communities’’, especially in the section entitled, ‘Beware: Zero Tolerance Can Equal Zero Thinking’.

With a few anecdotal examples and her common-sense approach to all things regards parenting, child-care, and educating, Coloroso shows clearly the flaws with zero tolerance rules, as they were first written. The problems with across-the-board rules are they are just that, inclusive, with little or no choice of application, and leave administrators no 'wiggle room' or leeway, with which to move or make decisions.

As might be deduced from the title of Coloroso's book, she believes strongly that no-one is exempt from bullying, no-one.

Author William Burroughs said, “There are no innocent bystanders” and followed that up with, “What were they doing there in the first place?” Both of Burroughs' statements can be found in Coloroso's book in her chapter entitled ‘Bystanders’ wherein she also discusses ‘The Bullying Circle’ developed by one of the world's leading researchers on bullying, Dan Olweus, Ph.D., of the University of Bergen, Norway. Dr. Olweus’ study, in a round-about way brings up another reason the three strike rule does not work— threat of extreme punishment; e.g. the possibility of the bully being suspended or expelled—is believed to keep many children and even some adults from reporting bullying.

It's easy to see why many would like to see the three strikes and you're out rule remain in place. It's the easiest solution or so it must seem. The bully is, by definition, the bad guy and, he or she is hurtful, and has been hurtful, at least three times. So, get rid of them, wash your hands, end of story. But is it the end of the story? Or, are we in fact, just creating bigger and better monsters?

St. Augustine, a fifth century bishop believed, “hatred deforms the hater more than the hated”. Bearing his hypothesis in mind, it seems counter-productive to be throwing all of the haters out with the three strikes rule, leaving them as hating and angry as ever. With tragedies like Virginia Tech still occurring, now more than ever it's time to look to alternate measures for dealing with bullying.

(originally published on Helium.com; published here only because the link to Helium no longer works S.E.Ingraham 04.20.10)


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  2. Sharon;
    You have spoken well on this topic. There are many factors that are a part of this. For example, the idea that someone is labelled a bully can place a good person in a light from which they may not be able to overcome, like a wrong (or even right) ‘mental illness’ label, or an ‘incompetent’ label. Labels in the retail world help us to identify a product, and are kept and advertised as such often for years; they are the calling card of the product. As we are accustomed to this form of label, I believe we use this same logic, unconsciously, to personal, psychological, and social labels. Thus, the same behaviour in two different people, can be labelled in almost opposite ways, from bold and courageous to bullying and threatening. The bullying label demonizes the labeled person, and that person then must prove his non-bullying status often by ridiculous extremes of kindness, many of which are not believed. I am making the extreme case, because such cases exist. As long as people have existed, real bullies have indeed existed and real false labelling and demonizing have also existed. That is why I believe in not giving up on people we label, rightly or wrongly, as bullies.

  3. I agree with Sharon re the labels. Labels can stick like mud. Not productive or helpful. As regards bullying itself, I have pondered long and hard about this emotive subject. I have seen many sides to it. Of course it has always been around, and individuals react in individual ways. Some get over it, some don't. I don't believe exclusion is the answer, but it does give everyone a breathing space and there must be a consequence of some sort, otherwise it contributes to the conspiracy of silence that pervades this social or anti-social behaviour. Addressing the issue of the improving the positive adult role model in the bully's life seems to be a better way forward. However, there is also the bullying of a child who is different, in some way. To use labels, ( merely to illustrate the point succinctly), the special needs child, the nerdy geek, the loner etc. might not necessarily need a positive role model, they may already have that, so do you think another method of addressing bullying is needed here in order to address social equity in the school environment?


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