Schoolyard bullies don’t always stay that way. In fact, I’d wager that a majority of them gain perspective with maturity, grow out of whatever insecurities are driving them to inflict abuse on other children, and ultimately grow up to be decent people. That’s a separate issue from how their victims deal with the effects of bullying, but still, the bullies themselves don’t necessarily stay that way.
Then again, sometimes they refuse to grow out of their juvenile aggression as they grow older, bigger and more adept at putting an acceptable face on their abusiveness. They take jobs in school systems and form committees with other adult bullies to write “Advice for Dealing With Bullies” flyers to be sent home with vulnerable fifth-graders. Witness this fuckery from Zeman Elementary School in Lincoln, Nebraska.
These “rules” shouldn’t be labeled as advice for dealing with bullies. They should be called “Ways We Can Get You Goddamn Kids to Act So We Never Have to Deal With Your Problems Ever.” Also—did no one at this school give a second thought to the fact that children might read these rules and think this is how they should deal with bullies in their home life? Is someone in your family verbally or physically abusing you? Laugh it off! Make a joke about how ugly your sister is!
Don’t worry though, after being inundated with outraged parents, the school district responded and apologized, with a portion of a letter written by the school’s principal:
A flyer that contained inaccurate information regarding how to handle bullying situations was sent home with Zeman Elementary School fifth-graders.
Our educators at Zeman Elementary School work hard to provide accurate and appropriate lessons and education for our students in how to handle bullying situations. The flyer was sent home with good intentions, unfortunately, it contained advice that did not accurately reflect LPS best practices regarding response to bullying incidents.
Note the weaselly use of the passive voice in the principal’s response. “Mistakes were made! We meant well, really we did!”
I have screen-capped and saved the flyer here. Proceed with caution unless you have a strong stomach for abuse-enabling bullshit.
If you don’t have a strong stomach, I’ll save you the trouble: this flyer does not contain advice to bullied children about how to keep themselves safe or make their school experiences better. It is a fetid pile of Orwellian victim-blaming. It is the result of a clutch of adult-aged bullies getting together and talking about the environment they wished had been available to them when they were kids—not so that they would’ve developed in such a way that they would’ve behaved decently to their peers in the first place!—but so they could’ve avoided the stress of thinking maybe they were doing something wrong.
I won’t let the school administration off the hook by laying this strictly at the feet of a handful of shitty people, though. The fact that this flyer went home with kids is a symptom of a school that doesn’t know how to deal with bullying and doesn’t care enough to learn how. Telling bullied kids how they might respond to their abusers can be part of a sound anti-bullying strategy, provided the advice is evidence-based, which this crap clearly isn’t. It shouldn’t be the central focus, though. Do they ever send information home to parents about the school’s anti-bullying policies, and what to expect if their kids are found abusing other kids? Do they even have anti-bullying policies aside from telling the targeted children to suck it up and act like everything’s fine? The burden for making children safe at school should not fall squarely on the shoulders of the children who are already being made unsafe. Children don’t get a choice about going to school, and they barely get a choice about where they go to school. They are required by law to attend school until at least age 16, which means they have no choice but to spend 6 hours a day, 180 days a year, in buildings along with hundreds of other kids who also didn’t ask to be there. The adults in charge of running those schools need to give a fuck about what those kids do to each other when they’re forced into dense physical proximity for the better part of the day. Adults in positions of responsibility need to stop passing the buck and start acting like responsible adults.