One of the upswings of The Narrator starting school today was that I was certain that his entry into the world of public education would provide me with a plethora of material that I could comment on here, and I am already finding this to be true.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a coma, you’ll have noticed this massive swing against bullying in schools. Law enforcement officials have visited schools to give talks and seminars to students about the severity of the situation. Faculty and staff have taken great pains to attend training on the matter, and schools are adopting a zero tolerance policy towards it.
This is a good thing. There is a such thing as ‘kids being kids’ – but there is also a such thing as bullying and it is a problem.
However, I couldn’t help but wonder if -like most things the policy is applied to- ‘Zero Tolerance’ has gone too far.
Yesterday, my five year old son came home from school with a folder full of interesting things. There were school and event calendars, health and safety notifications, letters to parents from the teacher, and so on. There was also an anti-bullying contract that he had to sign.
A group of five year old kids are being harangued into writing their names on a piece of paper that makes them promise not to bully, to report bullying, and so on. On the surface this looks great, it is instilling social responsibility on these kids as early as possible.
But the more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it sounded. You’re asking a bunch of kids who have little to no social ability at all to work on avoiding and reporting something like bullying? Half the time what they could conceive as play or the expression of frustration at five years old could be construed as bullying. Susie has a doll that Jennie wants to play with. In Jennie’s eyes, at her tender age, removing the doll from Susie is an option. Jennie does this, and Susie cries.
At five years old, this needs to be seen as a result of a lack of understanding of social grace and what is acceptable and what isn’t.
If the girls were older, and is of an age where her actions cannot be seen as resulting from lack of understanding, or might be intentional or malicious- then you have an issue.
Simplified example to be sure, but my point is that at the age of five, what are you going to do to Jennie? Call her into the principal’s office and hold up the contract she signed?
“See here little Jennie- this paper you wrote your name on that mommy read to you four months ago on your first day of kindergarten? This paper said you weren’t going to be a bully, and you bullied little Susie. Due to our zero tolerance police on bullying, you are hereby suspended for three days.”
Again, I am all for the ending of bullying as a practice, but we need to recognize that not every negative interaction between kids- especially at five years old, is going to be construed as such. What is that saying? “When all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.” Are we seeing bullying behind every rock, tree, and age-appropriate behavior?
Having a handful of kids who are still using backwards letters or intermingling upper and lowercase letters into their written names sign a contract that they are largely incapable of understanding is pretty ludicrous.
We need to teach what is good practice and what isn’t before we can enforce policies. I’m reasonably sure that no kindergartener is going to be thrown out of school for a minor violation, and if that is the case, why bother with the stupid form?
Nipping bullying in the bud from a young age is a great idea, but if your subjects cannot understand the concept yet…why the hell are you giving them a contract to sign?
Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe I’m just looking for something to complain about.
But it looks too me like there’s too much focus, too early, on obligating kids to obey best practices before they’re even schooled on what those practices ARE.
Before someone comes in here and gets all hot and bothered about my seeming to trivialize a problem- a serious problem, I need to reiterate that I recognize the issue and its severity. I was there too. I was bullied, AND- I am ashamed to admit- I bullied. I know what both ends feel like, and I don’t wish it on any kid.
What I am saying is that the focus needs to be shifted from contractual obligation to education right now. When you’ve got a kid who is thirteen or fourteen- at that point they should know better, and holding their feet to the fire for an infraction is a good idea. But a five year old?