Anti-bullying laws: A mom dares to critique the social trend
Anti-bullying laws have proliferated in the past decade: But some people are troubled at what lawmakers and advocates almost always portray as a positive movement against bullying that may or may not have the desired effect.
With the start of the school year upon us, we have been extra interested in that hot national topic of bullying. After all, parents have heard a lot about bullying this year. Already. There have been speeches by school administrators, informational pamphlets and pledges, peer-to-peer presentations. We know the fight against bullying is a cause célèbre, but what gives with the extra attention this year?Skip to next paragraph
is a longtime Monitor correspondent. She lives in Andover, Mass. with her husband, her two young daughters, a South African Labrador retriever and an imperialist cat..
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We asked a number of experts about this. It turns out that while the topic is complex, one of the big reasons is that, increasingly, schools are required to adopt anti-bullying policies. By law.
It’s hard to know, of course, which came first: law or social trend. Chances are they have reinforced one another. But for now, we’ll take a look at how anti-bullying legal landscape has changed – rapidly and dramatically – over the past decade or so, and why some people are troubled at what lawmakers and advocates almost always portray as a positive movement against bullying.
Forty-nine states now have anti-bullying legislation in place; Montana is the only state without an anti-bullying statute. This is a huge increase from just a few years ago, and 15 years ago there weren’t any anti-bullying laws at all.
Katharine Silbaugh, a law professor at the Boston University School of Law and an expert on bullying legislation, explains that the first laws against bullying passed soon after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, as lawmakers scrambled to respond to what suddenly seemed to be a shockingly dangerous phenomenon in schools.
(To recap some of what we’ve written before about Columbine: Almost immediately after the shooting, in which two seniors killed 12 other students and one teacher, media reports focused on the idea that the perpetrators were social outcasts who were taking revenge for being bullied. That narrative, however, has been challenged: in his book, “Columbine,” for instance, author David Cullen unravelled the bullied-versus-bully story line, which he found to be almost entirely a media creation.)
The laws spread rapidly across the country. Between 1999 and 2010, according to the US Department of Education, 120 bills were enacted by state legislatures either introducing or amending laws to address bullying and related behaviors in schools.