Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bullying: Calling It What It Is

Local homelearners from toddlers to teens (and parents too!) on a farm tour.
Bullying is coming up a lot on our island, recently. Well it's been coming up a lot in general these past few years, as people try to name, recognize and slay the thing that is plaguing them. But I don't believe in "bullies". That's just a way to force an 'us-and-them' situation where there isn't one. I think we have to let go of the need to distance ourselves from this unfortunate reality of social interaction, and accept that we are all capable and culpable of behaviours that are anti-social.

Bullying in schools is where the discourse generally is centred. My opinion is that, while assault, harassment, bullying, and other social problems are a part of every society, they are more common when giant groups of children are lumped into enormous facilities where there cannot possibly be a balance of adults to children, or a truly encompassing celebration and inclusion of the natural uniqueness of individuals. Balance of adults to children: Children learn by watching. If 90% of their peers are their own age, then 90% (approx) of what they learn will come from those peers, and the small amount of observed adult behaviour they experience will not balance that out. In a truly mixed-age setting, kids get to see adults and older children learn to deal with difficult situations. Questions can be answered by people with more experience, instead of by similarly-aged peers trying to climb ahead on the same social ladder. While schools try to mitigate the problems that arise from the impossible situation they are presented with, it simply can't be resolved as long as the root cause (unbalanced ages and an atmosphere of competition) exists. Celebration and inclusion of individual uniqueness: How can we possibly celebrate uniqueness in a system where many kids are required to learn the same things, and those who fail to do so are given lower grades? This is the atmosphere of competition I'm referring to. Testing, grading, and PLO's are by nature pathways to competition; children feel inadequate if they don't make the grade. And consequently, when they feel inadequate, they flip this spectrum to their advantage, socially, and make those who do make the grade feel ashamed. And this is without all the rewards and punishments that are commonly placed on those same kids by teachers and parents with limited resources to coerce the children to comply.

But it's not the people who are flawed! It's the system they've chosen to work with! And yes, I say "chosen" because it IS a choice. And some of us have opted out.

I have two children. They learn together, in that they live in the same house. Sometimes they choose to learn or even study the same things, but often they don't. And because they are teaching themselves (seeking and accessing resources with decreasing help from me, as they grow), they have the option to learn what and how they want to. They really can be unique individuals, and because nobody is requiring them to learn from a pre-set curriculum, they can learn in their own individual ways. Of course they have many friends who attend schools (both large and small schools), but they arrange their activities and time with those friends as it fits their own needs, and often this includes medium-sized groups of multiple ages. From this lifestyle, they have learned not only that people of all ages and uniquenesses have something valuable to offer them, but also that they are valuable, themselves.

I think the notion of "public system" needs to go. There's a perception that it's up to the government to provide for us and for our children. When we give up the privilege of providing for ourselves, we commit ourselves to what the government can do within the means it allots to education. And that's not much. Providing for ourselves gives us both freedom and a feeling of self-worth.

When I graduated from University, I heard my Mum say to somebody else: "When she graduated from highschool that was meaningful to me because that was my work. She did this herself." I've never forgotten the depth of meaning in those words.

Myths that it took me a long time to come to terms with: A lot of people like the idea of getting out of the system, but they're afraid that they can't replicate it at home for their children. But Thinking that replicating the system is getting out of it is a problem! That's why a radical shift is needed. We were raised in the system so it's difficult to break our system-thinking and realize that learning is possible without coercion, curriculum, and pre-determined outcomes. But my experience by now has shown me that it's not only possible - it's better. And it's necessary.

Finances: Of course, financially it's hard for people with 9-5 jobs to stay home with their kids... but maybe if more of us were doing it, then more of us would be able to swap childcare when the kids are young, work fewer days, and adjust to a lower income. My husband and I have given up a lot of income to unschool our kids, because I have chosen to stay home with them, and he has insisted with any job, that his family comes first and he ALWAYS comes home for dinner. However, we've gained much more than we've sacrificed in that we've stayed true to our goals, and our kids are happy. I may never own a home, but my kids' happiness has always been most important to me. And this lifestyle has allowed me to relax, too. That's better for my health! So why, exactly, do we need schools or a 'system'?

Bullying is not (in my opinion) solvable by just being angry about it, "calling it what it is", or making a big deal of it -- all those things just lead to punishment, and we know how far that goes. "Bullying" is what happens when people try to make the best for themselves but are not privy to the social tools and feeling of community or self-worth that begets compassion. "Bullies" don't bully; everybody bullies, and until we recognize that people making harmful social choices are equal and equally deserving of compassion, then we will be nowhere.

I tell my children (even when it applies to my own not-so-stellar behaviour) that when someone says something unkind, it is likely that they are just upset with themselves. If we can't figure out how to help them with their upset, then at least we can feel compassion instead of hurt. This isn't always easy to do, especially when the hurtful words still sting, or a threat still looms, but in my experience it is the only path to freedom.

I think the only solution to 'bullying' is to start calling it what it is: humanity. And then we can move towards an actual systemic change. I also think that change is coming whether we as a society recognize it or not. Some of us are just making the leap earlier, with joy, instead of waiting until there's no choice.


  1. although i agree with a lot of what you said. esp. the ratio of kids to adults in large school systems and how they don't have the role modeling and input of adults on a constant basis.... i don't feel like everyone can homeschool. a single parent with an already low income could not make any changes in their schedule to homeschool in most cases. they are in a survival mode. each moment of work barely keeps a roof over head and food on the table leaving no wiggle room. i also don't see the huge shift happening that you see coming. i do not believe that the government input, funding and school system as we know it will disappear from the reality as we know it. it may shift slightly but not go away unless the world explodes entirely :) what i do feel is necessary is for parents to stop chalking teasing, disclusion, and conformity up to just being a kid. in fact i think it is up to parents to teach their kids how to be compassionate and understanding individuals on a constant daily basis, not just once in a while or during a bullying discussion. i reinforce it in my home numerous times a day and my kids get it and spread it. i have taught my kids to stick up for those things and i am proud of the compassionate and polite beings they have become.

  2. i also said this on facebook: i don't think everyone needs to homeshool!!!!! that was not my point at all. what i was saying is that compassion and individuality need to be more celebrated and instilled so that kids can navigate life more gracefully and free from so much negative social interactions. my kids may one day choose to go to public school, private school, alternative school or any other school in the future but i believe that by teaching them compassion, inclusion and individuality that they will be able to navigate better when they do get there if they choose to. amanda


Your comment will appear after it is approved. This can take a while!