Thursday, October 27, 2011

Zero Tolerance Can Be a Bully, Too: A post on the blog Thriving this morning has me thinking about bullying and the proper response to accusations. There's a major bullying crackdown going on at my son's high school, and that sounds like a good thing, but I'm not so sure. Many of the accusations of bullying turn out to be little more than misunderstandings or minor disagreements -- but each has to be investigated, and a number of complaints against a particular student will result in suspension or expulsion. Great in theory, but significantly problematical if you have a teenager with special needs whose behavior can appear to be provocative when it is in fact an innocent and predictable function of his particular disability. Zero tolerance is not nuanced enough to take that sort of thing into account, and it makes me worry for my son every day.

I think, too, of my daughter, who felt bitterly that she was bullied by boys -- fellow special-education students -- in several of her resource-room classes. As her language and social skills have advanced, she has come to realize that she was misinterpreting their behavior, and the boys in question had some problems of their own that kept them from realizing that their joking around wasn't having the intended effect. I don't think coming down hard on her "bullies" and removing them from school would have been good for anybody, but it would have been most disastrous for them. What was called for was a teacher to have a good talk with all the students about words and hurt feelings and reading social cues. As much as we would like it to be, as righteous as it feels, bullying is not always black and white. Maybe it never is.

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