By Rachel Shankman — Guest commentary
Special to The Commercial Appeal
This year, more than 18 million American kids will be bullied, making it the most common form of violence that young people in the United States experience.
Bullying — repeated aggressive behavior with an intent to hurt another person physically, socially or mentally — is characterized by an imbalance of power between an instigator and a victim. It may occur in schools, online, and in many other settings, and may involve physical aggression, social exclusion, derogatory comments, spreading rumors, or racial or sexual stereotyping.
In a perspective offered at the first White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in 2011, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that bullying was nothing less than a fundamental denial of the victim’s civil rights.
Behind each of the statistics is a story of real young people who reported being bullied in ways that included being “pushed, tripped or spit on”; “threatened with harm”; “being excluded from activities on purpose”; “being the subject of rumors” or having “their property … destroyed” (National Center for Education Statistics, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety,” 2011, Indicator 11).
With the advent of the Internet, bullies are able to maintain a more persistent presence in the lives of their victims through cyberbullying. Researchers define cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”
Often the person being bullied does not know how, or does not have the power, to make it stop.
While bullying occurs across all grade levels, researchers point out that it is most prevalent in middle school and remains common throughout high school.
In 2011, two-thirds of middle school faculty and staff reported that they frequently witnessed bullying in their schools.
A few years earlier, 89 percent of middle school students interviewed had witnessed an act of bullying, and 49 percent said they had been a victim of a bully.
In 2009, 20 percent of high school students reported being bullied at school during the previous 12 months.
The National Association of School Psychologists estimates that more than 160,000 students miss school each day because they fear being bullied.
Seemingly small steps of ridicule and labeling, when allowed to persist and go unchallenged, have too often had catastrophic consequences.
At Facing History and Ourselves, we have spent more than 35 years researching, teaching and writing about those consequences — historical episodes of collective violence in which the marginalization and humiliation of particular groups played the central role.
Why, in such cases, did some people willingly conform to the norms of a group, even when those norms encouraged wrongdoing, while others spoke out and resisted?
That is a Facing History and Ourselves question that applies to understanding the issue of bullying and the responses to this phenomenon.
Preventing bullying in our schools and communities will not take a quick fix or simple solution. Stopping it needs to go far beyond reacting to alarming media headlines, completing surveys, and distributing policy reminders — as important as all of that may be. In the best schools, every adult, no matter what his or her position or job title, recognizes and accepts his or her responsibility as role model and educator.
As a community, we have the opportunity to continue the conversation at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at White Station Middle School. Facing History and Ourselves — through our partnership with the Allstate Foundation — will host a screening of the film “Bully” with its director, Lee Hirsch. To reserve a seat, visit facinghistory.org/memphis.
While the stories in the film examine the dire consequences of bullying, they also give testimony to the courage and strength of the victims of bullying and seek to inspire real changes in the way we deal with bullying as parents, teachers, children, and in society as a whole.
Through the power of these stories, “BULLY” aims to be a catalyst for change and to turn the tide on an epidemic of violence that has touched every community in the United States — and far beyond.
For additional resources related to bullying and ostracism, including the downloadable study guide to accompany the film, visit facinghistory.org/safeschools.
Let us commit, you and I, to continue to be educated about the issue of bullying, to become upstanders and to intervene appropriately whenever we witness an act of bullying ,and most important, to help create a community that prevents bullying from taking root.
Facing History and Ourselves is hosting a Community Conversation featuring Emmy award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch and a screening of his film, “Bully.”
When: 6:30-9 p.m. Wednesday
Where: White Station Middle School, 5465 Mason
Details: Seating is limited. To RSVP and for more information, visit facinghistory.org/communityconversations or call 901-452-1776 ext. 223.
Rachel Shankman, a Faith in Memphis panelist, is senior director of the Memphis office of Facing History and Ourselves.