Bullying and how to fix it

Trudel Pare, Opinions Editor

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With the recent shooting in Ohio and Upper St. Clair High School’s own bomb threat, it’s important to begin to look at the causes behind these problems in schools today. Our public school systems have become toxic environments for the next generation, and the evidence can be found everywhere in ever increasing rates of suicide, depression, and anxiety among young people. Obama and education experts are focusing on reforming schools’ curriculum, but their true focus should be in reforming ways teachers and counselors target negative social problems, especially in high schools.

In an article on CNN, Jessie Klein describes her experiences writing about and dealing with school shootings as a guidance counselor. Klein claims, “We need to examine problem-schools where kids endure a hostile environment every day.” She states that the atmosphere in schools is too competitive, with kids being taught constantly to step on anyone and anything that gets in the way of success. With this idea in mind, it’s easy to see how rates of social isolation have tripled since the 1980s, and how this is causing a problem; both TJ Lane, the suspected shooter in the recent case in Ohio, and Tyler Clemente, Rutgers suicide victim, were described as loners without many friends or social connections.

We clearly have a problem with bullying and social isolation in our schools, but the problem should not be the question. The real question should be, how can we fix this broken system? Klein states that kids need to be part of so-called compassionate communities, where kids are taught how to create meaningful friendships and avoid bullying and cruel actions. The problem with this solution is that it’s much easier said than done.

We cannot reform the flaws in our school system with a simple change in mindset of a few counselors, administrators, or teachers. We need to attack the system from the top down, creating a less stressful environment for high school students by lessening the pressure from all angles to succeed and get into college. The children that enter our schools do not start out mean, and they are not taught to be mean at home, for the most part. Kids become mean when they are placed into high-pressure situations, which they cannot always handle. If we take away that stressor, we can take away some of the hostility in our schools.

Another aspect in this problem can be fixed by teaching our kids to be brave. At the moment, they are victims of what is known as the Bystander Effect, a psychological phenomenon that keeps kind people from acting out to do the right thing, even when it is obvious and even easy; the person struck by this problem immediately assumes that someone else will act out. This removes individual blame from the person who refuses to act, and confers broader blame on a community when something like a school shooting or suicide results from hundreds of different people deciding in many instances that action should be taken by someone else. With this problem in mind, educators need to focus on making bravery a priority. If we can manage to convince one kid to break this cycle and stand up, others will stand with him.

It is easy to look at a hostile environment in school and blame demographics, home environments, or the weather, or even to overlook it entirely. It’s also easy to look at a school shooting such as the one in Ohio and name the TJ Lane in the situation the only perpetrator. Truly, the blame lies within all of us. Lane was a product of his environment, and his environment was only as kind as the people within it. In order to fix this growing problem in our schools, we need to forget the blame game and come together to create a safe, strong place where our young people can grow up.

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