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."