The front page of Section B of the Omaha World Herald today tells the story of LB 205, a bill which would essentially criminalize bullying in schools. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gwen Howard, has generally been well-received. According to the newspaper account, no one has yet expressed opposition to the bill, including groups like the Nebraska Association of School Boards and Lincoln Public Schools, which last year opposed a similar bill because it would have been too difficult to enforce.
• Bullying: Schoolyard bullies would get pushed back - possibly right out of school - under a bill considered by the Education Committee. The bill (LB 205) from Sen. Gwen Howard of Omaha would require that by July all schools have policies in place to prevent bullying. The practice is broadly defined in the bill to include physical, verbal and even "electronic abuse" via e-mail and other means. Bullying as defined by the bill also would be grounds for suspension or expulsion from school.
The quote above comes from the World Herald's online description of the bill. I have just a few thoughts about this...
First, I don't like bullying, and I have no problem with schools developing policies which would allow them to address bullying in the schools. I suspect, however, that most schools already have the means to do that, should they choose to.
Second, physical bullying is--at some level--assault, and there are already ways of dealing with that.
Third, I'm not sure how you stop verbal bullying, because I suspect that bullying in that instance is going to be in the eyes of the beholder. If a kid's friends say something "mean", is that bullying? Or is it just kids being kids? I think writing a policy that addresses those things that are "over the top" without criminalizing every unthinking and unkind thing that kids say is going to be tough.
Fourth, the bill also addresses "on-line" bullying--things like e-mail, MySpace, etc. There again, I'm going to be very interested to see how the schools are going to handle this. Are they going to go looking for problems, or will they just act on "tips"? How does the school justify possibly suspending a student for an activity that probably took place in the privacy of his/her own home (writing the e-mail, for instance). Certainly usage of school computers for the purpose of electronic bullying would be covered under some policies, but, unless there is a threat, or an overt disruption of the school day, I'm not sure where the authority comes from.
Like I said, I don't like bullying, and I know that kids can be very mean to each other. But, I think the fact that this is being taken up in the state legislature points to one of several things (maybe in combination): parents aren't paying attention to what their kids or doing, or if they are, they aren't making the kids behave civilly, or; we just want a "Mary Poppins" nanny state, where everyone is required to be nice to each other, even though that doesn't correspond to the real world. I've got news for these kids who complain about "relational aggression" (the technical name for bullying): there are thugs out there in real life--people who just aren't nice, and who get their jollies out of making you miserable. They only win if you let them get the best of you, so short of sticks and stones, as the old saying goes, just ignore the morons and find yourself some nice friends.
O.K., maybe that's too simplistic, but I just don't get the point. If you can isolate defined bad behavior, punish that, but to have a generic law against "bullying" that will undoubtedly end up being a burden on schools and other agencies required to enforce, seems kind of silly to me. Sort of like the proposed bill to ban all alcoholic consumption by minors--even if it's a glass of wine at home with the parents on Thanksgiving. How do you enforce that? If you've got a problem with a behavior (being on the street drunk, for instance), then legislate against that, not against those things which don't appear to pose a danger to society.