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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 03/10/2011

Bullying is not a rite of passage

By Jonathan Capehart

Valerie Jarrett had just run through what would happen at today's summit on bullying when I asked her a rather blunt question. With all that's going on -- fights over budget cuts, the encroaching debt ceiling, the economy, job creation, not to mention the wave of protests across the Middle East and the bloody intransigence of Moammar Gaddafi -- why is President Obama focused on this today?

"What could be more important than our children?" Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, asked during an interview in her West Wing office Wednesday Thursday. "There is a perception that bullying is a rite of passage. And it's not....It's just not acceptable."

Pointing out that education is a key component of the "Winning the Future" strategy that Obama presented at the State of the Union, Jarrett said: "What the children will tell you is that many of them are so paralyzed by fear that that's all they think about in school. We want to free them from that, because every child should be able to go to school and feel that they are in a safe and secure environment. And so, as the president focuses on what are the impediments to really getting the absolute best out of our children and having them grow up to be the inventors and the extraordinary Americans of tomorrow, making them safe in school is a big part of that."

Of course, she's right. And I applaud the president and the first lady for continuing to shine a light on this problem.

Last fall, we recoiled at the litany of gay teens and young adults who took their lives rather than suffer one more day at the hands of bullies. And don't think that students who are gay or perceived to be gay are the only victims. Young girls, those with disabilities, kids of different ethnic origins or nationalities -- all are just a few of the targets. Most recently, we recoiled at the video of Nadin Khoury, whose pleas for help went unheeded as he was beaten by a group of fellow students. His "offense"? His mother is African.

Today's summit in the East Room of the White House is meant to give those students, teachers, administrators and the community at large the tools they need to foster the safe and secure learning environment Jarrett spoke of.

To that end there will be announcements of three actions taken by the administration that have gotten little to no notice. Last October, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to schools, colleges and universities to clarify when student bullying might violate federal education anti-discrimination laws that protect students from harassment based on race, national origin, sex, gender or disability. Duncan followed that up in December with a letter to governors, chief state school officers and state education boards outlining anti-bullying state laws and best practices around the country. In addition, there will be a new technical assistance center housed within the Department of Education that's dedicated to bullying prevention.

Also recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a study to compile useful data on "Victimization, Perpetration, and Bystander Experiences." With real data there will be a more accurate picture of what's working and what's not so that scarce resources can be allocated to the most effective programs.

The importance of these actions will be made plain in the faces and stories of those who attend the morning panel and the afternoon breakout sessions. Among them: Kirk Smalley of Oklahoma, whose son, Ty Field, took his own life at the tender age of 11; Caleb Laieski, 16, of Arizona, who has written to all the schools in his state demanding that they institute anti-bullying policies after his own negative experiences; and Sirdeaner Walker, whose son, Carl Walker-Hoover, committed suicide when he was 11 years old after enduring constant bullying in school.

Walker has become a national anti-bullying advocate because of her son's death. But the administration hopes its high-profile efforts will help all of us change our attitudes toward bullying and make us advocates in some form. "Coming up with strategies that help us solve the problem...is a collective obligation, responsibility," Jarrett said. "The purpose here is to engage people in that conversation and to give it the spotlight of the White House so that perhaps people who've been ignoring this issue or weren't aware of it -- we can capture their attention.... Everybody in the community has a role to play. Not just parents and students.

"We all know what the problem is," Jarrett said at the end of the interview. "Well, now we need solutions."

By Jonathan Capehart  | March 10, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Comments

How much bullying does the Post think goes on in Anacostia? How often has the Post spoken out against it in the last 50 years? The answers are: a huge amount every single day and never.

Posted by: jy151310 | March 10, 2011 8:11 AM | Report abuse

And yet, by example, governors from Wisconsin to New Jersey, from Alabama to Maine are showing by example how a bully state works. Success is measured by how force and strong-arm politics wins over reason and justice and right. So we meet in an abstracted convention to talk about bullying (and it is horrible in any of its forms) while bullies and a bullying political ethic sweeps our land. Where is "liberty and justice for all"?

Posted by: Jazzman7 | March 10, 2011 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Missy Jenkins at missyjenkins.com knows all about what bullying can do. She's paralyzed for life, in part because the boy who shot her int he Paducah school shooting was relentlessly bullied for years by other kids. Her book is helping to stop the bullying.

Posted by: apr1185 | March 10, 2011 8:12 AM | Report abuse

And yet, by example, governors from Wisconsin to New Jersey, from Alabama to Maine are showing by example how a bully state works. Success is measured by how force and strong-arm politics wins over reason and justice and right. Did I mention the bully position of the right in Congress? So some will meet in an abstracted convention to talk about bullying (and it is horrible in any of its forms) while bullies and a bullying political ethic sweeps our land. Where is "liberty and justice for all"?

Posted by: Jazzman7 | March 10, 2011 8:13 AM | Report abuse

I would imagine those who feel "governors from Wisconsin to New Jersey, from Alabama to Maine are showing by example how a bully state works", felt quite different when the 111th Congress pushed through Obamacare, thus bullying 70% of the citizens of this great Country.
There is a big difference between trying to keep a state from going bankrupt, and ruining the entire nation with programs that are unnecessary but are pushed through because of the immature mentality of the "I want it and will hold my breath if I can't have it" administration we now have in office.

Posted by: allenswan | March 10, 2011 8:39 AM | Report abuse

I'm a bit surprised that you list the victims of bullying as gays and ethnic minorities. Far more likely to be the overweight or others who seem a bit different, or who don't have the coping skills to deal with it. It should be cracked down upon from an early age; kids need to learn it is unacceptable, and I'm fine with it being a criminal offense or actionable through the civil courts, with the parents responsible for judgments.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | March 10, 2011 8:49 AM | Report abuse

I don't like how this conversation (not just Capehart, but all pundits) focuses on the victims. I have tremendous sympathy for them, and cannot imagine the horrors visited on some kids. But we really should be talking about reining in the bullies. Rather than weeping for the victims in these public forums, we should be stigmatizing the perpetrators. I don't care if they are minors. Publicize their acts, humiliate them and their parents if necessary. Make the price too high. As it stands, society is standing around wringing its hands as if it were being bullied itself.

Posted by: NNevada | March 10, 2011 9:09 AM | Report abuse

"It should be cracked down upon from an early age; kids need to learn it is unacceptable, and I'm fine with it being a criminal offense or actionable through the civil courts, with the parents responsible for judgments."

How can I say this....

Let me start with a quote from the author Craig Nova (http://magazine.columbia.edu/reviews/fall-2010/booktalk-murder-berlin):

"People make up their minds, and then they find facts to justify what they already believe, rather than looking at the facts and coming up with an explanation."

The facts say that violence begets violence. Your 'solution' of punishing bullies only institutionalizes the problem. It is not a solution. It is part of the problem.

Posted by: mmyotis | March 10, 2011 9:17 AM | Report abuse

"Your 'solution' of punishing bullies only institutionalizes the problem. It is not a solution. It is part of the problem."

Are you serious? I haven't seen anyone advocate for visiting violence on bullies. What is so wrong with prosecuting the actions of bullies? What is wrong with stigmatizing bullies? In case you haven't noticed, the whole concept of bullying is predicated on stigmas and stereotypes. Cowering in the corner rather than fighting back is not only foolish, it's counterproductive.

Posted by: NNevada | March 10, 2011 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Yes, I am serious.

Posted by: mmyotis | March 10, 2011 10:51 AM | Report abuse

You can always cite one or two examples of a kid's suicide or a fight at school, but those who closely follow these threads of posting-KNOW THAT THE BULLYING CLAIM IS SIMPLY A SEMI-HIDDEN HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA TO FORCE ACCEPTANCE OF THEIR DESTRUCTIVE, DISGUSTING, DISEASE SPREADING SAME-SEX ACTS!
We all went to school-saw and experienced some bullying and grew up just fine! It was a "RITE OF PASSAGE" AS THE AUTHOR TRIES TO DIS-CLAIM!

Posted by: lyn3 | March 10, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Having been the on the receiving end of countless hours of bullying and ridicule by my peers and in some cases teachers in high school, I firmly believe that there should be measures in place to make the bullying as minimal as possible. Do we need massive federal intervention? No. I'd much rather see massive intervention in the large inner city school districts stressing personal responsibility and the need for education as a means of breaking the vicious cycle of teen pregancy, high school dropouts, teen crime, and low graduation rates. It would be interesting to see where the USA would rate if inner city schoo test scores were removed from the equation.

Posted by: pmb49858 | March 10, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse

So, the federal government is now going to take on bullying. They've been a total failure in the education area, but they'll jump into this bullying thing and get it cleaned right up. Since when is bullying a federal issue?

Posted by: Marin823 | March 10, 2011 11:35 AM | Report abuse

"THE BULLYING CLAIM IS SIMPLY A SEMI-HIDDEN HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA TO FORCE ACCEPTANCE OF THEIR DESTRUCTIVE, DISGUSTING, DISEASE SPREADING SAME-SEX ACTS!

We all went to school-saw and experienced some bullying and grew up just fine!"

Evidently we didn't all grow up just fine.

Posted by: mmyotis | March 10, 2011 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Bullying? like on Metro?!!

Posted by: 10bestfan | March 10, 2011 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Bullies are weak. Coddling the victims and wiping their tears will not stop the bullying. Introducing consequences to the bully will stop him or her.

Posted by: NNevada | March 10, 2011 12:06 PM | Report abuse

"Bullies are weak. Coddling the victims and wiping their tears will not stop the bullying. Introducing consequences to the bully will stop him or her."

Let me guess. Irony is not your strong suit.

Posted by: mmyotis | March 10, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

How ironic I put bullying into my google search today and I come up with your article. How does this help me?

I have twin daughters, both in a public middle school both dealing with bullies. One daughter has been bullied every year for the past 3 years. She sees a child psychologist because of it. Yesterday she had a cast on her arm to stabilize her arm that she broke roller blading in November. WHY? Because a girl in her class, documented to the principal via e-mail many times because she has been bullying or mean to my daughter, twisted it because my daughter asked her to move away from her desk so she could get her things out of it and get the bus.

This is only one instance of many but definately the worse. Fortunately, this time there was a witness that was willing to tell the truth. We have considered an attorney but don't want to jeapordize their school year, my husband's business (he owns a small business in the community) and our home. We have also considered private school but are not sure if we can financially swing it.

What do you suggest we do? All the principal talks about is proof, perception, etc. I went to work today with my daughter on the phone hysterically crying that she was afraid to go to school. My husband dropped her off with tears, not only in her eyes but his as well.

Any suggestions? When/how does it end. Yes, my 12 year old has talked about killing herself. Wishing she was dead.

Posted by: taymack | March 10, 2011 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I am a retired junior high school teacher. I had a passion against bullying. I had a burden. I firmly believe that this problem can seriously be attacked with the help of teachers. Teachers must not just expect administrators to deal with this problem. It will never be solved that way. Teachers must be proactive. If a teacher thinks that her/his only job is that of an academician, then that teacher is seriously mistaken. Perhaps he/she can become a college professor. I have even seen bullying at the college level. Bullying is a human problem. It is because of the reality of jealousy, competition, and the human need for certain people to feel superior to others. As a teacher; I was never a "tough guy," but around me bullying seldom went on. Why? Because students knew of my passion against it. I talked to teachers who actually thought bullying was okay because it taught kids to "deal with some harsh realities of life." I do not agree with that. Public school is not boot camp. It needs to be a place of safety. It needs to be a place where learning goes on. I used to call parents at their home and I even visited them at their place of employment. Visiting parents at work a few times to let them know that their kids are seriously mistreating others is risky. I used to take that risk. It was not always pleasant. But it sure tended to be successful. Discussion needs to lead to proaction.

Posted by: rdominguez42 | March 10, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

"Let me guess. Irony is not your strong suit."

I just want to know what you propose be done when an actual bully is identified. Let's just take the scenario described by taymack above.

What would you do to the girl who inflicted physical harm on her classmate? Shake your head and cluck about what a shame that is? She should be punished. Suspended, detention, something.

I work in a very large organization, and bullying behavior occurs in the workplace. You address it head on, and the bully is inevitably revealed to be a spineless incompetent. But the way you tell it, it's better for the organization to ignore the bully and just hold the victims' hands. Because if we do anything to the damned bully, that will just cause a vicious cycle. Right?

Posted by: NNevada | March 10, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

@taymack: I am so sorry your daughter is going through this and no one is helping.

I was bullied by kids at my suburban schools (mid-elementary through high school) because I integrated the schools. This was during the '60s and early '70s. My point is this: I did grow up to be fine, highly motivated and successful. But not because of the bullying -- IN SPITE of it. I wished every day that my parents would get me out of there; like you, they couldn't really afford to. But I sure wished they would.

Barring that, get the police involved, or file a lawsuit against the other child's parents. Something to focus their attention. But be prepared to move -- bully children often come from bully parents who approve of their actions.

Posted by: Victoria27 | March 10, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

My understanding is the assault and battery are torts, and that children over the age of 12 (I think?) are presumed mentally competent for purposes of liability. Threaten to file suit, against the perpetrator, against her family, and against the school. Nothing spurs action faster than threat of public scandal in a school.

Posted by: arm3 | March 10, 2011 4:06 PM | Report abuse

One thing that schools have to change is the notion that it is acceptable to tease kids who are heavy. For some reason, the unbearable taunting and bullying that goes on involving weight passes muster since it doesn't fall on any particular political directness agenda. But it is cruel and it is a huge portion of the cruelty that's out there.

Posted by: fmjk | March 10, 2011 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Bullies and their victims have unique earmarks that can be identified in all cases. The bully is someone who, obviously, wants to bully others-- no news there. We all know how to protect ourselves from a bully-- form alliances with others. Therefore, the victim is someone who is, for whatever reasons, unable to form alliances in his own or her own defense.

Now tell me the gay kid who jumped off the GW bridge didn't know he was vulnerable to being bullied. And still, he had no one he could run to when he became the victim of a prank. Of course, I often note that his sole, heterosexual room-mate was also a religious and ethnic minority student.

Remember that speaking out against bullying works in small groups of strangers. Once everyone knows one another, people become fearful of the bully's wrath themselves and likewise they dissociate from the victim or consider the victim to be an unreliable ally against the bully.

You can step between a bully and a victim, but that victim may not be there for you when the bully changes targets and makes you the new object of attention.

Posted by: blasmaic | March 10, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

@NNevada For the life of me I can't figure out why you would think that I might think bullies should be ignored. I think bullying is unacceptable in any venue - in the home, in the school, or in the workplace. Bullying should not be tolerated under any circumstance. By the same token, I believe there are as many ways to address bullying as there are acts of bullying being committed and that the sooner it is dealt with, the easier it will be to handle.

Institutional solutions are fine as far as they go, but they usually don't go very far. Here in Connecticut there are laws to protect children against bullies in school, but the laws don't solve the problem if the teachers, the parents and the administration aren't willing to educate themselves in order to take advantage of them.

The problem of bullying will only be solved when each of us takes personal responsibility for our own behavior. In my experience, when I act on the desire to punish someone for bad behavior, it usually only results in my feeling bad about myself. By bullying the bullies I only bully myself. That insight has led me to discover many useful ways of managing the bad behavior of others which does not involve seeking power over them. Today I seek solutions that help us empower each other.

Posted by: mmyotis | March 10, 2011 5:17 PM | Report abuse

As long as you have 1)teachers who witness students bullying others and choose to do nothing about it, 2) principals and administrators who ignore the problem when it's pointed out because the bully's parents might get angry and complain to the school board if the bully is disciplined, and 3) zero tolerance laws that punish bullied children if they try to fight back or defend themselves, NOTHING will change in the schools.

Posted by: CAmira5 | March 10, 2011 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Oh, good grief! Who hasn't been bullied in their life?

Obama is the Champion Bullier when it comes to talking, but watch him recoil like a true bully will when he realizes others aren't with him.

Posted by: JAH3 | March 10, 2011 6:34 PM | Report abuse

lyn:
"those who closely follow these threads of posting-KNOW THAT THE BULLYING CLAIM IS SIMPLY A SEMI-HIDDEN HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA TO FORCE ACCEPTANCE OF THEIR DESTRUCTIVE, DISGUSTING, DISEASE SPREADING SAME-SEX ACTS!"

Paranoid much?

"We all went to school-saw and experienced some bullying and grew up just fine! It was a "RITE OF PASSAGE" AS THE AUTHOR TRIES TO DIS-CLAIM!"

It might have been a rite of passage, but it was still pretty terrible. When does it stop being a rite of passage and start being abuse?

Posted by: presto668 | March 10, 2011 8:10 PM | Report abuse

JONBENET RAMSEY INVESTIGATOR RELEASES BOOK ON BULLYING Http://Profilingyourlife.com/

Posted by: pyllauracollins | March 10, 2011 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Well, I had a meeting with the principal last night because another girl threatened to "break every bone in my daughter's body so she can't move" for telling and getting kids in trouble. She was suspended for two days. However, I just heard from the principal who spoke with the mother and girl who twisted my daughter's arm. After my daughter asked the girl to move and the girl said she wasn't done talking my daughter put her hands, on the girls upper arms (not grabbed) and said in a joking way, come on ____ move away and then the girl grabbed her and twisted her arm. The mother said that if her daughter wasn't touched first than this wouldn't have happened. Nothing is being done. The girl is in school. Parents, this is why these things happen. The parent feels that the child is never wrong. This sickens me. Maybe the media will pick this up. Something has to stop.

Posted by: taymack | March 11, 2011 10:44 AM | Report abuse

arm3 The child is either 11 or 12. I can understand the parent not wanting her child suspended. But really, just send her back to class? Here is my daughter in a cast. I cannot tell you how many man hours my husband and I have spent this year on these kids whose parents don't even know what is going on. If the school doesn't tell them about their kids the kids are not going to say "hey, I was mean to a girl today". Tell me what you think of this idea. We continue to send the girls to school, continue documenting anything and everything. Line them up for private schools next year and start setting up an attorney to file a lawsuit at the end of the year. Does anyone feel this wouldn't work?

Posted by: taymack | March 11, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Obama and Bullying
“Bullying is not a rite of passage”
For GOVERNMENT officials it is!!!!!!!!

I appreciate that Obama is symbolically supporting “Antibullying Efforts.” But I have to say his EFFORTS are symbolic EXCLUSIVELY if not laughable!!!!!.

Bullying is loosed without consequence in our GOVERNMENT today. Empowered by ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY for ALL those acting under color of law.“We the People” are being BULLIED everyday with the DEPRIVATION of rights, privileges or immunities as secured by the constitution and laws of the United States of America.

We have NO enforceable rights in the United States of America today. Our public ministers have created ministerial law awarding THEMSELVES absolute immunity for the DEPRIVATION of any rights, privileges or immunities as secured by the constitution and laws of the United States of America!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is BULLYING on a MASSIVE SCALE!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is insanity!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can PROVE we do not have any individual rights in this country, "Everybody, BUT the innocent victim, has "ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY"" for the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America e.g., “To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Denial of Due Process”.

I say AGAIN Do I have to light myself on fire in the street to get your attention, like the Tunisia suicide protester Mohammed Bouazizi to get the acknowledgment of the Powers that be for the enforcement of OUR "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America" !!!!!

DGJeep"The Earth and everything that's in it" (http://dgjeep.blogspot.com/)
Friday, March 11, 2011, 10:12:48 AM

Posted by: DGJeep | March 11, 2011 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Surely bullying has been an age-old and at times tragic problem. However, I would think that this is the kind of issue that should be dealt with by responsible adults in local communities - from the ground up. I cannot see why it merits the attention of a White House conference, given all the other things that the White House has to do (or should be doing). Aren't there at least a few responsible adults in a handful of venues around the country who can and have dealt with this effectively? I'd rather a president and White House focus on achieving things that they are uniquely positioned to do and leave the rest to the rest of us that are, i would think, pretty responsible adults and parents. In sports, the most effective teams are composed of players who know how to play their positions without running all over the place doing everyone else's job. Can we get the White House to establish a new center of gravity for an increasingly looney conversation on budgets and long term debt? That would be a White House playing its position.

Posted by: mackj2 | March 11, 2011 3:33 PM | Report abuse

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