Recently another friend of mine called to ask what she can do to help her niece. The young girl was in second grade and was being tormented by several other children on a daily basis during the school day. To keep the story short, her parents went through the usual chain of command and were disappointed that the bullying continued. The girl told the teacher who did nothing. The principal was informed, and still nothing changed. The kids involved were brought to the guidance counselor’s office to discuss how everyone should play nice at school and respect each other. The bullying still continued.
If this was the only time I had heard this story, then I wouldn’t have anything to write about. Unfortunately, I hear this story at least twice every school year from parents who want to know how I can help their child stop the bullying. Parents come to me because the school systems fail their children and, as a martial arts instructor, they feel I may be the only hope left.
What is the ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY? (I prefer to call it ‘Zero Intelligence’ or the ‘Zero Tolerance Fallacy’)
According to the National Association of School Psychologists – http://www.nasponline.org/resources/factsheets/zt_fs.aspx
“Zero Tolerance” initially was defined as consistently enforced suspension and expulsion policies in response to weapons, drugs and violent acts in the school setting. Over time, however, zero tolerance has come to refer to school or district-wide policies that mandate predetermined, typically harsh consequences or punishments (such as suspension and expulsion) for a wide degree of rule violation. Most frequently, zero tolerance policies address drug, weapons, violence, smoking and school disruption in efforts to protect all students’ safety and maintain a school environment that is conducive to learning. Some teachers and administrators favor zero tolerance policies because they remove difficult students from school; administrators perceive zero tolerance policies as fast-acting interventions that send a clear, consistent message that certain behaviors are not acceptable in the school. However, research indicates that, as implemented, zero tolerance policies are ineffective in the long run and are related to a number of negative consequences, including increased rates of school drop out and discriminatory application of school discipline practices. Proven discipline strategies that provide more effective alternatives to broad zero tolerance policies should be implemented to ensure that all students have access to an appropriate education in a safe environment.
The broader policies adopted by schools have lead to situations where if some breach of the rules happens and they cannot determine clearly who the perpetrator was or there are no witnesses, then everyone involved gets punished equally. This is especially damaging where it applies to bullying.
Problem #1 – Teachers have a tough enough job teaching to students who don’t value an education without having to deal with bullying in the classroom. It is a difficult job, I know, I’ve been there. Teachers are not trained in dealing with that type of conflict in their classrooms, and they shouldn’t have to, it’s the assistant principal’s job to deal with conflict and rules violations. But, the AP’s are handicapped by a society that is prone to frivolous law suits and can’t accept responsibility for their children misbehaving in school. As one administrator once confided in me, “The inmates run the prison in schools today”. So, the answer is that everyone gets punished to make things FAIR?
Problem #2 – Often victims are made to sit and play nice with the bullies. It is common practice in many schools for the assistant principal to ignore the rules violation, not punish the bully, and send both kids to the guidance office to have a chat about respect. Guidance will force the victim to sit and face the bully. This is followed by explaining to the bully that these actions are not allowed and that he or she must apologize. So, the bully apologizes and the victim is asked to accept the apology and shake hands. Does anyone else see how damaging this is to the victim besides me? Let’s assume that, as an adult, a coworker torments you daily, makes rude comments, and basically makes working stressful and nearly impossible for you. You complain to HR. The HR director invites you both into the office where rules are stressed, apologies are made, and you have to smile, shake hands, and pretend this never happened. You would not tolerate that at work, but your child is made to accept this treatment at school. Do you want your child to learn to accept punishment gracefully and turn the other cheek day after day? We all know that the bully’s apology is insincere, that it won’t change anything, and school will be a miserable experience for the rest of the year because your child is forced to be nice to someone who torments him or her.
Problem #3 – Many studies suggest that as much as 87% of bullying in school happens when no adult is available to witness it. So, when a child actually has the courage to report the incident, there are no witnesses and that is where the zero tolerance policy kicks in. ZT is a lame excuse for administrations being lazy in investigating and enforcing anti-bullying policies. What ZT does is allow the school to say that ‘We don’t care who started the problem. We don’t care who the perpetrator is or who the victim is. We will simply punish everyone involved and be done with it.’
True story…my son was about 16 and a classmate chose him as a victim. This other child was new to the school and had no idea that my son was a black belt because he is a quiet and reserved kid. So, in gym class, when the teacher wasn’t watching, naturally, the other kid verbally threatened my son. When that didn’t get a reaction, he push him. When that didn’t get a response, he shoved him harder. My son turned and punched him in the eye. Because the teacher wasn’t paying attention to the class, she couldn’t determine who was at fault and therefore both students were punished. My son got 3 days suspension and so did the bully. The gym teacher did not get reprimanded for failing to supervise and protect her students. Instead, she was promoted the following year to Athletic Director. Fair? I think not. I am proud of my son for 2 reasons; he tried his best to ignore the bully at first, then he had the confidence and skill to protect himself when that didn’t work. The school suspended him due to the zero tolerance policy. I took him to lunch to celebrate.
“Does this mean I advocate violence?” Certainly not! However, I do teach martial arts so that people can protect themselves when the system fails, and I think my son’s reaction was justified and used a minimum amount of force. It was not retribution, it was self-defense, and a good lesson for the bully.
Problem #4 – Zero Tolerance punishes the victims and does nothing to stop the bullying. In the story of my son’s bullying incident, both kids got suspended for 3 days. My son missed out on an education that he valued and enjoyed. The bully had 3 days of vacation to sit home and play video games. How does anyone think that’s fair? There was more of a lesson learned by the bully from getting a black eye than there was from the suspension. What my son (the victim) learned from the administration’s ZT policy was that he can’t rely on the system to protect him and that adult’s can’t be trusted to be fair and just. My son was the victim and he got punished for standing up for himself. That’s his big take-away. Yes, I know that some people are going to say he should have told the teacher, etc. Maybe the teacher should have been watching her class instead of gossiping with the girls? We can go on all day with this line of thinking. If he had gone to the teacher and both students had been taken to the office for a chat, what would that prove? It punishes the victim by making him think he’s a coward, a tattler, and a whiner. And, again, the bully got away with shoving him (several times) and no punishment would be issued. So, who really get’s punished with ZT?
Problem #5 – Zero Tolerance teaches children to be victims in at least 2 ways. Victims are afraid to report incidents of bullying for fear of retaliation or being called a squealer. Victims are afraid to protect themselves for fear of punishment by the “zero tolerance fallacy”. So, their choice is to accept being bullied.
What is the answer?
Let’s look at the summary from NASP:
Although zero tolerance policies were developed to assure consistent and firm consequences for dangerous behaviors, broad application of these policies has resulted in a range of negative outcomes with few if any benefits to students or the school community. Rather than increasing school safety, zero tolerance often leads to indiscriminate suspensions and expulsions for both serious and mild infractions and disproportionately impacts students from minority status backgrounds and those with disabilities. Serious dangerous behaviors require consistent and firm consequences to protect the safety of students and staff; however, for many offenses addressed by zero tolerance policies, more effective alternative strategies are available. Systemic school-wide violence prevention programs, social skills curricula and positive behavioral supports lead to improved learning for all students and safer school communities.
My Summary – Since schools aren’t going to eliminate the “Zero Intelligence Policies” anytime soon, and bullying won’t go away, my best recommendation is to enroll your children in martial arts classes. “Why? So they can learn to be violent and get in trouble in school?” Martial arts training does not teach violence, it teaches personal protection. Many studies have shown that martial arts training develops an air of self-confidence that prevents children from being chosen as victims. The bullies simply look for less confident children to pick on. Martial arts training prevents violence by creating fewer victims. How? Bullies don’t want to pick on children who are confident and can protect themselves – pure and simple.
All the Zero Tolerance in the world will never eliminate bullying, but your child does not have to be a victim. If your child is being bullied, get him or her into martial arts training immediately.
~ Matt Randall – 6th Degree Senior Master Instructor