Monday, June 11, 2007

It's a duck, dammit.

School is having an anti-bullying week. That is good. For the record, I am very happy with the practical strategies the excellent head and her caring, professional staff have put in place since my child was bullied.

Let's start from me being happy. Look at me sitting in the classroom, see me smile. I am relaxed and "happy" and prepared to listen. Indeed participate. Though I hate to participate in workshops. The only other workshop I ever attended was an anti-racism workshop at my son's previous primary school in the East End of London. Naturally enough, the only parents to attend an anti-racism workshop were those least likely to be racists. When I gently made that blazingly obvious point to the earnest and trendily multi-cultural woman in charge, (sorry, "running" the workshop,) I was told that we could feed back what we learnt to the other parents at the school gate. That is to say, we could hazard which of the young mothers sported a Union Jack hip tattoo underneath her thong and white sweats, then engage her in conversation about her right to wear a burkha. How exactly do you start that conversation: "Hello, you look like you might be a Nazi. How do you feel about Islam?"

We hardly need an anti-racism workshop in our school. There are no ethnic minority children. "Our" children are white; occasionally, they are freckled. Instead then, of raising our awareness of the dangers of racism, parents were invited to a workshop on emotional literacy and bullying. Hah! The problem with politically correct workshops is they turn me into a raving fascist. I am, to all intents and purposes, sitting still. In reality, as I listen to the liberal drivel which is sold to you as fact, I feel my orange plastic moulded chair move further and further to the right, so far and so fast, the world starts rushing by me in the opposite direction in a hasty pudding blur of Jerusalem and fireworks.

The workshop on emotional literacy started off: "When I am included, I feel..." We took it in turns to fill in the gap. I said "happy". I could have said "surprised". Then went on to: "When I am not included, I feel..." I said "gutted" That about covers it.

I drank my tea while the nice lady wrote things on her large pad of paper hanging from the board. Alert. Alert. I picked up my ginger biscuit and put it down again, uneaten. I have to be seriously disturbed not to finish a biscuit. The people who might be involved in a bullying incident include a "receiver". "Receiver"? Why not: "Victim"? She said she would come back to that. That was the moment the chair started travelling really fast through space and time.

We talked through a Lowry painting called "A Fight" where a man is having his hat pulled down over his head by a nasty looking oik while other cloth capped figures looked on. We talked through how the various players might feel; how you could not tell what was happening and who was doing what to whom because we were only catching a moment. Yeah. A moment where a Frankenstein looking bloke was moving forward towards a smaller, fat guy and ramming down his hat over his ears. Maybe, the Frankenstein guy, a Quaker, had snapped after three years of homophobic abuse by the short, fat, godless, debt collector. Maybe it was what passed for playful banter in Salford, around 1935. To me, someone has to start a fight, that is to say, the nasty oik and he was enjoying it. The painting was called "A fight" not "A beating" - fight, implies the other person was also involved in the fisticuffs. That too is loaded.

Then again,I have so much to learn as far as art appreciation and emotional literacy is concerned. Naively, I had thought in a bullying situation, there was a bully and a victim. I checked the handout the nice lady had given me, to make sure I had not misheard. It is explicit. There is a "person (or child) who is bullied" or who is a "target of bullying (rather than "victim")." It goes on: there is a "person doing the bullying, using bullying behaviour (rather than "bully")."

It goes on: "The reason for this choice of words is that bullying does not come about as a result of fixed personality traits in children, leading them to become a "bully" or a "victim" (both terms which can imply a permanence and resistance to change)."

I hesitate to suggest that some bullying comes about because the bully is an obnoxious piece of work. I would also question whether the words "bully" and "victim" imply permanence. People who promote strategies such as this one, have a habit of asserting their own system of beliefs, as if they are the Word of God. When you challenge them, they look at you as if they would really like to shake their heads in sorrow. If pressed, they flick on to page 59, headed "Frequently Asked Questions by Frequently Difficult Mothers" and then drown you in educationese gobbledegook.

The handout continues: "In fact, research suggests that many perfectly nice and popular children use bullying behaviours on occasions, and many are unaware of the devastating impact which their behaviour has on the children they target."

Well that's alright then.

Because you can attach the words "research suggests" to a statement does not make it true. I would also suggest that if they are "targeting" children to bully, I doubt very much whether they are "perfectly nice". These bullying children are being "bullies". If any one of my "perfectly nice" children used bullying behaviour, I would, without hesitation, call the little wretch a bully.

"It would also seem that anyone could become a target of bullying if the context allows this to happen."

"Context" presumably means the enormous, jug-eared 14-year-old who insists on pinning you against the walls and thumping you repeatedly because he thinks you are gay. The jug-eared one, is not a bully, he is demonstrating "bullying behaviour" for his own reasons. Doubtless, remembering that, would make it hurt less.

Then, outrageously, it asserts: "For most children the roles will be dependent on a situation, and they will be, over time and in different contexts, target, witness and person doing the bullying." That is to say, we are all bullies, passive bystanders and sometime victims. Patently and 100% not true. The nice woman assured us that in all likelihood, we had all been guilty of bullying behaviour or at least witnessed bullying. I wanted to groan out loud at this point; I wanted to clutch my face and shriek at her.

Forget God. Who listens to God these days? PC evangelists say these things as if they are stating scientific, provable facts. Not true. When I dared warble: "Not true" and that she could perhaps speak from her own experience but not for anybody else, certainly not for me, her answer was that perhaps I just "hadn't realised" what I had been doing. I did groan out loud then. How do you answer that one? Unless it is to beat her witless with a Lowry painting.

My child was excluded by other children from activities and was on the receiving end of aggression. He was for a time a victim. Point. Par. Ends. The school acted. They did a good job. He is no longer a victim and I am an altogether happier mother. I was not happy sitting in that classroom listening to politically correct drivel, passed on as received wisdom. At the end of it, I was so angry, my paper stick people shook in my hand as I gathered them to me in all their blame free glory. I was not shaking for my child. I was shaking for the children out there whose lives are misery; fat girls and misfit boys who will hang themselves this year or next. They will do that because of bullies. Let's use the B word.

When behaviour and actors in that behaviour are not given their proper names, the names everybody understands, it undermines faith in the rest of the strategy. Blithe, my nice lady assured the parents and teachers gathered before her, we did not want a "blame" scenario. Why not? What is wrong with blame? The flip side of blame is responsibility. Let's be sure and tell the kids. Step up to the mark, accept responsibility for your actions. Own it. Say it out loud; you are the only ones who can. "I'm a bully and you can't touch me for it."


Unknown said...


The blameless society has a lot to answer for. Of course people are to blame; and yes, blame = responsibility.

You are more patient than me. I would have taken her on, verbal guns blazing, right there in front of everyone. But then, I'm not a member of a small community.

Iota said...

Research shows it is frightening how much influence the latest fashion in educational thinking can have (my own personal research, that is). Our local playgroup was a place where pre-schoolers had fun, with a couple of paid playleaders and a duty mum doing activities with them. Then it was decided by the Council that children should be free to make their own choices in play - far too directive if adults join in and do a bit of craft. So now the children play on their own while the playleaders fill in forms and the duty mum wanders about with a clipboard making notes, or serves snack "cafe-style" for 2 hours, since sitting them all down at the same time for snack denies them of their free choice of when to eat. I wonder when research will show that too much choice inflicted on the under-4s turns them into bullies (yes, the B word).

Mopsa said...

I'm amazed you managed to restrain yourself from bullying the workshop leader. You have produced a WitN fable that personifies "holier than thou" beautifully.

annie said...

How beautifully written and how true. It is the same sort of pc rubbish which tells children that taking part is what counts not winning (not what we said when we lost the Ashes) and that no-one is top of the class or cleverer than anyone else, or that spends time monitoring a lunch box for a renegade packet of wotsits. If you look at a lot of the reading books used to teach children in the infants at primary school they are full of pc talk but the stories are so boring it's unlikely anyone would develop an interest in reading.

It's like the emperor's new clothes and it's about time it all stopped.

I am really glad that your son is happier now

I Beatrice said...

I've long suspected it, and now I know it for certain - as a nation we've gone quite mad!

Or perhaps it's not just us, but a worldwide phenomenon?

(But how is it, do you think, that my old friends the All Blacks haven't fallen foul of some Race Relations board?)

Excellent piece though! I especially loved the bit where you looked at some other mother at the gates and said "You look like a Fascist - what are your views on Islam?"

Anonymous said...

Well said! I'll email.

@themill said...

check out
Working at the other end of the state school educational spectrum, but very apposite.

Cal said...

I don't know, I kinda agree with the workshop! Surely once we are labelled as something (whatever that may be) it becomes much harder for us to change and for others to perceive as as being capable of changing.

So once a child is labelled a bully they start living up to that label. But using the language of 'you are exhibiting bullying behaviour' to get into their heads, and the heads of others around them, that they are not intrinsically a bully and they can therefore change their behaviour may help them to change.

It's surely the same when people are seen as 'the swot', 'the geek', 'the dumb blonde'.....hard to change until you move school, job, country...and get a whole new circle of friends and can re-invent yourself.

Unknown said...

I am very much in favour of the concept of emotional literacy (ref my website but I strongly criticise the implementation. The politicians find tackling bullying difficult because bullying is rife in the political world as many politicians are bullies themselves. Also the politicians have low emotional literacy and maybe they should be the first to go onto emotional literacy classes. You can now understand that all the claptrap about bullies being nice people after all, covers the backs of bullying policians and makes them feel less guilty as they bully.


Poppywoman said...

Wow! Love it ! I spent a recent morning listening to the same and 4 hours later was called into my elder son's secondary school to nurse his head wounds, inflicted by 6 lads who completely unprovoked laid into him. Some bullies suffer and need real help but this is a SEPARATE ISSUE and we still need to deal with the fallout from their actions. They need to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, ACCEPT THAT THEY WERE WRONG and APOLOGISE. This makes them better stronger people and gives some home of recociliation with other kids. If adults think that this is too humiliating then what hope do we have.

Unknown said...

Yes, most abusers were themselves abused at some earlier point in their lives, and we are all more than the labels we wear. That said, none of that excuses the bad behavior. Your point on responsibility for one's action is spot on. Actions have consequences, or at least they should have!

I spent an entire semester in a small secondary school (35 graduating members of my class) bullied by virtually the entire class and without anyone I could call a friend. Decades later, I still remember the loneliness bordering on despair. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Illegitimi Non Carborundum!

Swearing Mother said...

Sorry, I just don't believe that it's labelling people as anything in particular that makes them live up to their name - if a child is a bully, they bully because they can get away with it and because they want to. Naming and shaming seems a good idea to me. All my sympathy is reserved for the victim.

And where will this PC-ness end? Will we eventually be afraid to say a person is a rapist because they've only done it once but meant no harm by it? In our polically correct effort to find mitigating circumstances for every anti-social act, justice is being made a fool of.

The PC lobby in just about everything makes me so angry - they are trying to change basic human nature by altering the words by which we are allowed to describe what actually exists. It's lip-service. Pussy-footing around with bullies just gives the impression that what they do is acceptable, and its not. If they don't like the label, then they must change their behaviour.

Devil's Kitchen said...

So once a child is labelled a bully they start living up to that label.

Or, of course, you discipline that child until it starts to understand that as long as it bullies other children, it's life is going to be a living hell.

It's called "learning the consequences of your actions".


Flowerpot said...

I used to work with young offenders - these bullies/bullied ones grown up. We certainly didn't have the answers, neither did they. It was heartbreaking sometimes.

James Higham said...

...participate in workshops...

These words make me first cringe ... then run!

wife in the north said...

James, James, James, are you checking up on me to confirm that mine is indeed the most overrated female blog in the blogosphere? (At least, according to your blogpower awards.) I hope you intend sending me a tincup.

Daniel said...

Dear Mom-in-the-North
Oh don't fret about that workshop; seminars and workshops, workshops and seminars, with all their funny and ironic takes on how to cope; one's just as good as another.

I think it's ok to call a person a bully. I don't think putting a label on it is going to make it a worse or entrenched characteristic.

I think, we are all sort of born a certain way, and that is the way we'll always be.

You know like Bill Shakespeare said, "You can change the name of rose, but you can't do nothing about the smell." (translated into American-ese)

The Draughtsman said...

Y'know, I was starting to feel het up in sympathy. All that PC stuff. PC can mean political correctness it can also mean peurile claptrap. I have in the course of my previous professional life been obliged to attend some of these seminars, none of which EVER succeeed in addressing the real problem they are set up to address.
Come the revolution....
.... nothing will change.
Keep up the good work, WITN.

debio said...

'exhibiting bullying behaviour' - Heaven help us.

So is a murderer merely 'exhibiting killing tendencies'? Oh yes, silly me, it's just an 'Honour Killing'.

We will all wake up just that little bit too late and the bullies and the murderers will rule.

RogerP said...

When I read 'Fretting Again' I thought "Oh Dear she's finally flipped". Then I saw the title 'It's a duck dammit', and I was almost sure. But on reading the latter my faith in your sanity is restored. Bullying is one problem that civilisation has failed to make any progress on at all. All we seem to be able to do is fight fires as they break out. You are right that playing down the significance is bullying is as bad as denying its existence.

The architect said...

In P6 I got picked on by the school bully. After a year of agony I finally snapped and turned on him. We had a huge fight after school behind the bike shed. I threw a lucky punch and broke his nose - blood everywhere etc etc. Next day his dad came to our house to see my mum. She totally lost it and hit him with a hot frying pan full of sausages and black pudding. I will never forget the sight of blood, blood pudding and hot oil arcing accross our kitchen doorstep. That was 1970. So what would I do now? The society I am part of shames me for my kids.

FjordLine said...

iota, research in USA has shown that a choice of more than 2 increases stress levels in children. Really. They gave some kids 2 presents to open, others way more than that, and the ones with more...
I do think we shouldn't be afraid to use the B word, but aren't bullies often people who themselves have been victims, eg in childhood? doesn't make it right, but the bully needs "help" to change their behaviour.

Misssy M said...

Endured similarly irrelevant and obtuse child protection Mandatory Course (God I hate the word "mandatory") at work.

This jerk had us all believing we were child abusers if we shouted at our kids.

Shouting at my kids is one of my hobbies! It's on my CV as such and everything.

Don't judge me, now!

Unknown said...

great post.

whenever catching a glimpse of 'look north', where every other item is about youths beating someone to death, making people prisoners in their own homes, committing crime, or generally making a nuisance of themselves, I often wonder what possibly could be happening in our society that is encouraging such behaviour. this 'workshop' you attended explains a lot: thugs are having their heads stroked while being told "aw, you're alright really".

ChrisJ said...

Your reaction to this workshop is A-OK in fact you are the repository of pure unadulterated wisdom. If I'd been there I would have had to walk out before doing a little bullying myself! What a load of tripe!
(Wish you liked the North, though. Just returned from a week there with its gale force winds, freezing temperatures, pouring rain and sea frets. But I still love it.)
Forty years a teacher, listening to drivel like you,ve just heard, both in England and in the States.
Chris Jones