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Justifying, Rationalizing, Defending, Debating the Right to Bully Kids

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Last week I wrote to you about "No Excuse for Abuse: How to Change a Bully." In my email, I recommended a more humane approach and strategies to help these kids work their way out of how their bully behavior mirrors their life circumstances. Every now and then I receive an email response like this:

"Sorry to disappoint you, but the old-school approach is what we use at XXXX School, and it works. We honestly don't have bullying, and that's because all the students know that there's only one "bully" at the school, and that's me. Sounds awful to say it, but it's true. Seriously, we have a number of students enroll with us every year because of bullying at other schools. That's the way it is for us."  - a Principal

Rather than going into detail about my parents' old-school style of bullying, verbal, physical and attitudinal abuse in raising me, I will say this: throughout some really tough years of daily bullying, I would promise myself over and over and over again that I would NEVER EVER treat my children like they were treating me.

Fast forward to my first teaching job: Sure enough, one day when I was trying to get control of my students who were being age-appropriate and disruptive, I heard myself going off on my students, starting to shame and humiliate them, doing what my parents had done repeatedly to me. I was running one of their threatening, in your face lectures like a tape recorder. There was even a rhythm and a cadence to it because it was so programmed into my mind.

I heard myself.
I stopped.

And then I did what many people do in that defining moment. I justified it: "Well, it worked on me, so it must be OK that I puff up like a bully, threaten and lecture abusively and excessively 'at' my students as my parents had done to me. If I can bully and scare them enough, if I can control them with threats and take-aways using old-school tactics, if it appears to work for now, it must be OK - after all it's old-school so that makes it acceptable."

I like to refer to this as: justifying, rationalizing, explaining, defending and debating ...and when you hear yourself doing this, it's a defining moment where you can literally make a new decision to stop the legacy of abuse and pain that has - up to this point - been generational and exponential.

When I got home that evening, I realized I was justifying, rationalizing, explaining, defending and debating this with myself because I had never thought through how I could do it differently.

I asked myself two questions: "What would I have preferred my parents to have done?" and "What was it that I really needed to be constructively taught and empowered to do in order to just be on task with the things they wanted?"

In asking myself how I would have liked to be treated and taught, I found empowering answers for doing things differently with my students, and later, with my own children. And from that day forward, I was mindful to stop myself when I heard the "old-school" recording starting up.

So, to appeal to this Principal logically, intelligently and educationally, I responded to his email as follows:

You are right. Out-bullying the bully IS awful ...and it is simply NOT true that it should ever be considered an acceptable way to reach and teach students to not bully.

Your excuse for abuse is merely justifying, rationalizing, explaining, defending and debating your self-approving entitlement to bully these kids even more, so you don't have to make the time to think through how you could learn - as an educator - to do things differently and productively.

Educators like yourself, i.e., self-proclaimed bullies who appear to be unwilling to "learn" positive and empowering strategies that actually work for the long-term, are in fact continuing the generational legacy of pain in our society.

Question: Aren't you merely teaching how to be a bigger bully - so they can go out and be bigger bullies elsewhere as they grow up and model your approach - which in turn, can lead to landing in prison, or at the very least hurt somebody so they end up in mandatory court appointed anger management or spouse abuse classes?

Answer: I've worked with these bullies too, in all shapes, sizes, and environments (yes, alternative schools) - and never once, did I need to out-bully the bully to get long term, self-sustaining positive social results. You really want to teach them a lesson? Then grow their EQs with logic, reason and yes, compassion. Try it. You will be amazed. And maybe most importantly, you will be healed by it!

It takes great courage and fortitude to be compassionate in the midst of intense situations. Compassion, after all, is not for the faint at heart.

It takes a lot of energy to use force, control and threats to out-bully a bully.

I am not saying don't have consequences for hurtful behaviors. What I am saying is that, before those consequences can acceptably be determined, using my "What, If, When" Technique will open the door for ALL parties involved to understand more fully what really needs to happen next in the "educational process."

This IS time best spent, and you will only have to spend it a small number of times, instead of repeatedly until the student graduates!

Bullying the bully may appear to work for this short-term, controlled environment, but not for the long haul. I have the measurable, academic and psychological success with this population of students to tell you honestly that there are more positive and empowering ways than bullying the bully.

So, I understand that you tell yourself that the old-school approach honestly works - and I very rarely, ever say something like this to anyone, but in this instance I will - you are wrong.

Violence begets violence. There is NO Excuse for Abuse.

He did not respond back, so I did something that any concerned citizen must do, I contacted his school district as I felt it vitally important that his administrator know what he is espousing. When people write and tell me that what goes on in their school is none-of-my-business because I don't live in their town, I write back: "It is my business because I make it my business to do what I can. When I have been informed that students are being abused and bullied, it becomes my business."

Many today still excuse themselves by saying: "I just don't have time to deal with the social-emotional issues of these kids."

I say that any educator who intends to see every student succeed does not have time NOT TO LEARN HOW TO deal with what's driving self-defeating behaviors. When you give this the time to learn and use techniques that really get to the heart of the problems, and then do skill development and community building, you will make a self-sustaining, life-long difference in these kids' lives that saves you time and energy beyond what I can even put into words.

It becomes ENERGY GIVING rather than energy draining. I know, because I've done it. I have succeeded where others continue to justify old-school tactics. Over the last thirty years of using these "old-school" tactics, this population of failing, angry, disinterested and abusive students has grown exponentially, and we are at long last going to have to adopt an effective teaching model to succeed with these kids.

Team Synergy 101 Corporate PackageMinimizing the importance of this issue only compounds it. Can we really afford to not make the time to work with the educators who continue to out bully the bullies?"

Reaching out ...
Mary Robinson Reynolds, M.S. - an effective model for succeeding with all students.

In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model.
You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.
- R. Buckminster Fuller