American educators operate on the premise of “benign neglect” – that students have to work out their social problems by themselves and that teachers should not interfere with this childhood “rite of passage.”
But there is another way. A growing movement from abroad in Sweden and Canada has begun to challenge these premises. A book on mobbing by Dan Olweus shows that this culture of cliques, social torture, and cruelty can be changed by concerned educators.
“Bully Beware” programs have been successful in dozens of schools around the world. Unfortunately, few of these schools are in the U.S. and these anti-bullying notions are not being accepted by traditional American educators. After the Santee, California shooting in 2001, the Washington State Senate passed legislation aimed at cracking down on bullying, but not without opposition. Some of the Republicans questioned whether a law could fix the problems of bullies.
One study of pediatric leukemia patients showed that they associated their worst pain not with chemotherapy, surgery, or spinal taps but with “going back to school and being teased.”
Consider what might have happened if any of the schools had been attentive to such problems. At Columbine, students, being aware of such problems, would have told a teacher that “the trenchcoat mafia” was acting strange. The teacher would have asked what the “trenchcoat mafia” meant. They would have been told that it was a reference to a dream scene in the 1995 film — The Basketball Diaries — in which Leonardo DiCaprio fanaticizes about wiping out his classmates. A professional would have quickly seen that such behavior represents a potentially dangerous alienation. And the ultimate shooting of 25 might have been prevented.