What if we retired the word “bullying”?
It’s a bold suggestion, especially during Bullying Prevention Month. But setting aside a word educators, parents, and students often disagree on is exactly what expert and veteran administrator Jim Dillon suggested in a column last week.
As a former teacher, I understand what he’s getting at: Disputes over whether a behavior constitutes bullying can hamper effectively addressing the underlying problem. More importantly, he notes, a criminal justice framework is often applied in schools to acts that are not always observable.
Mr. Dillon is not implying that bullying doesn’t happen, or that it shouldn’t be dealt with using state laws and policies, when necessary. Parents are most worried about their children being bullied, according to surveys. And the prevalence of social media adds to those concerns. Just this week, Instagram announced new measures to combat such harassment.
Even so, Dillon makes a compelling case for why it’s time to let go. The word is tied to the criminal justice approach, which makes people more self-centered, because of fear of repercussions. That approach also focuses on perpetrators and victims, disempowering bystanders, whom research suggests are a key deterrent. Rather than “merely stopping a negative behavior,” he suggests reframing the problem to make it a positive challenge, where a whole school community (or, potentially, one online) is involved in creating a safe environment.
That is sometimes easier said than done. But efforts to promote kindness and inclusion, like Unity Day on Oct. 24 and Instagram’s new “kindness camera effect,” offer opportunities to get the conversation started.
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