Posts Tagged ‘Sociology’

The Motivation of a Bully

October 11, 2011

Recently I wrote about a cyberbully’s motivation.  The same can be true of a conventional bully:

It is my belief that cyber-bullying is often based on “dominance” and “popularity” rather than “hate”.  I don’t think most cyberbullies hate their victims.  Instead, I think they see them as stepping-stones to wider acceptance from their peer group.  Often the victims are minorities or outcasts.  The pressure to be in the “in group” has always been high.  For an “in group” to exist there needs to be a clearly defined “out group”.  It is often seen as a sort of right of passage for someone seeking popularity to kick the easy target.

This view seems to be backed up by a recent study conducted by CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°”:

A new study commissioned by CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” found that the stereotype of the schoolyard bully preying on the weak doesn’t reflect reality in schools.

Instead, the research shows that many students are involved in “social combat” — a constant verbal, physical and cyber fight to the top of the school social hierarchy.

“Kids are caught up in patterns of cruelty and aggression that have to do with jockeying for status,” explains Robert Faris, a sociologist whom “Anderson Cooper 360°” partnered with for the pilot study. “It’s really not the kids that are psychologically troubled, who are on the margins or the fringes of the school’s social life. It’s the kids right in the middle, at the heart of things … often, typically highly, well-liked popular kids who are engaging in these behaviors.”

Faris, along with the co-author of the study, Diane Felmlee, also found that bullies, whom they call aggressors, and victims are not defined roles, but in many cases, they can be the same person. The higher students rise on the social ladder, the more they bully other students, and the more other students bully them.

“When kids increase in their status, on average, they tend to have a higher risk of victimization as well as a higher risk of becoming aggressive,” Faris says.

The study was conducted this spring at The Wheatley School, a nationally top-ranked high school on Long Island, New York. More than 700 students at the school were given a survey with 28 questions on aggressive behavior four separate times throughout the semester. They were also given a roster of the entire school in which every student had an identification number and kids were asked to write down specifically who did what.

This is part of the reason why I am so critical of the way bullies are handled at some schools.  So often the emphasis is on the actions of the bully and not on the social environment that encourages bullying behaviour in the first place.  That is why so much of  my energy is devoted to changing the social fabric of my class.

After all, bullying isn’t a priority – it is THE PRIORITY.  As a teacher, I am entrusted not with people’s money or belongings but with the most important and precious things they have – their children.  It is my responsibility to ensure that they are safe and secure.  Sure, I have to teach them and help them grow academically, but even more so, I have to do my best to make sure that the child they dropped off at my classroom is going to come back in as good if not better emotional shape than when they arrived.

When I speak to my class at the beginning of the year, I tell them there is a sure-fire way for them to have to repeat the year a second time.  It’s not if they find the work difficult or are struggling to pass assessments – it’s if they are not treating their classmates with respect.  Because if they are not ready to treat others with respect, they are not emotionally ready to go up a year level.

I’m not joking.  I really do mean it.

There is a lot of talk about ‘child centered learning’ vs ‘teacher centered learning’.  I prescribe to neither.  Instead, I believe in what I call “class centred learning”.  The main focus of my teaching is that everyone in the class must respect each other.  It is the fundamental rule for assessing my own performance.  They don’t have to be best of friends, but they absolutely must respect each other.  And ultimately, it is my duty to empower the class and create an environment of closeness and mutual respect.

Does it mean that there is no bullying in my classroom?  Absolutely not.  I wish.  I’m only an ordinary teacher.  What it means is, I take more interest in the welfare of my class than any other consideration.

On the topic of bullying, I again strongly recommend (not for the last time) this most brilliant anti-bullying film developed by young students in their own free time.  It is the best of its kind by a long, long way!


Protecting Kids From Living Freely

October 10, 2011

I am an over-protective father and proud of it.  I am hesitant when my daughter takes any risks and hate to see her in discomfort.  Yet, at the same time, I realise that cuts and grazes are part of life and growing up.  You can’t shadow your child in the playground to prevent them from tripping and you can’t ban them from low-risk activities on the off-chance that something might occur.

That is why I am so opposed to the persistent interference by Governments and local councils in banning everyday activities.  It is not their place to decide what toy my child should play with.  They may choose to advise me about the risks and encourage me to supervise my child with graet care, but the constant banning is taking things too far.

It is such a shame that we live in an age where children are being banned from blowing balloons and playing with whistles:

The EU toy safety directive, agreed and implemented by Government, states that balloons must not be blown up by unsupervised children under the age of eight, in case they accidentally swallow them and choke.

Despite having been popular favourites for generations of children, party games including whistles and magnetic fishing games are to be banned because their small parts or chemicals used in making them are decreed to be too risky.

Apparently harmless toys that children have enjoyed for decades are now regarded by EU regulators as posing an unacceptable safety risk.

Whistle blowers, that scroll out into a long coloured paper tongue when sounded – a party favourite at family Christmas meals – are now classed as unsafe for all children under 14.

As well as new rules for balloons and party whistles, the EU legislation will impose restrictions on how noisy toys, including rattles or musical instruments, are allowed to be.

All teddy bears meant for children under the age of three will now have to be fully washable because EU regulators are concerned that dirty cuddly toys could spread disease and infection.

The EU and other Government bodies will continue to come up with irrational and overbearing legislation, but no matter how hard they try they will never be my child’s parent.


The Role of Teacher in Helping Students Deal With Divorce

June 5, 2011


In a previous post I observed that:

It is my opinion that while divorce is a fact of life and that in most cases there is nobody to blame, it is quite distressful for the child.  The fact that it is common and has also effected other classmates provides next to no comfort for the child.  I believe that when a child’s parents separate the teacher must refer the matter to the school councillor (if the school has one), and spend more time with child building their confidence and displaying patience when the child plays up or has difficulty completing a task.  It is not sufficient to wait until the child shows signs of anxiety or rebellion.  The time to initiate support is straight away.

Now we find just how difficult it is for kids academically:

Young children of divorce are not only more likely to suffer from anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadness, they experience long-lasting setbacks in interpersonal skills and math test scores, new research suggests.

Children do not fall behind their peers in these areas during the potentially disruptive period before their parents divorce, the study revealed. Instead, it’s after the split that kids seem to have the most trouble coping.

“Somewhat surprisingly, children of divorce do not experience detrimental setbacks in the pre-divorce period,” noted study author Hyun Sik Kim, a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “From the divorce stage onward, however, children of divorce lag behind in math test scores and interpersonal social skills.”

“Children of divorce also show enhanced risk of internalizing problem behaviors characterized by anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadness,” Kim said.

While the negative impacts do not continue to worsen several years after the divorce, “there is no sign that children of divorce catch up with their counterparts, either,” he added.

The study is published in the June issue of the American Sociological Review.

In the study, Kim discussed how the fallout from divorce might harm childhood development.

Children may be stressed by an ongoing parental blame game or child custody conflicts. This stress could be compounded by the loss of stability when a child is shuttled between separate households or has to move to another region altogether, thus losing contact with his or her original network of friends.

In fact, Kim observed a dramatic change in family locations, suggesting that children of divorce were more likely to change schools.

Parents’ divorce-related depression might also play a role, as could economic strains when family income suddenly drops, he said.

In his research, Kim analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study on 3,600 children who entered kindergarten in 2008.

The children were tracked through fifth grade. Over that time, Kim compared children whose parents had gotten divorced while the child was in the first, second or third grade with the children of intact marriages.

While divorce is an unfortunate fact of life for many adults and their kids, it is crucial that teachers play a supportive role, offering appropriate care and displaying patience and sensitivity at all times.  Just because it happens frequently, doesn’t make it any easier for those involved to adjust to and overcome.


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