America is spending a lot of time and money right now trying to eliminate bullying in schools. There are t-shirts, student groups, politicians, teachers and administrators all trying to come up with a solution because kids are now killing themselves over being bullied. While I agree this issue has gotten out of control – I don’t necessarily blame the bully and I don’t think bullying bullies is the solution.
You see, I have been bullied and I have been the bully. Our entire society is about power, who has it and who doesn’t. How can we stop bullying when everything we project to kids reinforces the idea that certain things make you a better person than the guy sitting next to you? Your religion, your race, your political affiliation, the neighborhood you live in, the clothes you wear, your weight, your height, how much money you have – we teach kids everyday that they are better or worse than another person based on these arbitrary things. Why then are we so surprised that kids respond to this perception of superiority with bullying?
Children pick up on these things quickly – if they are told that they are better than someone else for whatever reason, they will quickly judge others that don’t have that quality. Some of them will resort to bullying in order to express their superiority over another child and those being bullied already have a lower self-esteem because they have been told that they are inferior – either by the bully or by society.
The day after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, a 3rd grade teacher in Iowa conducted a controversial experiment with the kids in her class. Jane Elliott talked to her 3rd graders about racism and asked them what they thought it might be like to be a black boy or girl. She also asked them what they thought of blacks – and they quickly pointed out that they weren’t as smart as whites, that they fought a lot, and several other stereotypes they had learned from their parents and society at large. The kids weren’t mean about it – they were just stating what they believed to be true. Jane then conducted an experiment and separated her class by eye color. She told the children for the first part of the day that those with blue eyes were superior, and those with brown eyes were inferior. The blue eyed children quickly started to judge their classmates with brown eyes. The second part of the day, she flipped it and now brown eyed student were superior – those kids that spent the morning be bullied and discriminated against – did not behave quite as badly as the blue eyed children did – they KNEW now what it felt like to be judged based on just their eye color. They were more compassionate toward their inferior blue eyed classmates.
While this experiment is still considered to be highly controversial, I think it is a very relevant and an important lesson that should be taught to kids today. I also think that rather than focusing on ending bullying we need to teach children about their own self worth, groom their self-esteem, and focus on the reactions and feelings of victims. If we teach kids that they have value, enough that they believe it – bullies have no power. If we teach kids that nothing makes them inferior to others, that they are valued for who they are – not for what they have, and teach them to handle insults and ridicule then when they are bullied – their first reaction won’t be to kill themselves – instead their reaction will be to stand up and say, “You are wrong Bully, I am wonderful!”
I learned to handle people picking on me by valuing myself. No matter what anyone says to me – I know that I am loved, I am valued, and I have the power to determine what affects my life. I will never feel suicidal over someone else’s words or actions ever again, because I have learned to value my strengths and work on my weaknesses. We need to focus on teaching children to value themselves and take away the power of bullies. Bullying stops when it is no longer effective (for the bully). If we teach children how to react and respond to bullying – the problem just may solve itself.
What do you think about Jane Elliott’s experiment? Do you think this lesson is relevant today? How have you dealt with bullying in your own or your child’s life? Can you think of any solutions?