Wednesday, February 6, 2013

HB 1871: Bullying Is Bad

Virginia House Bill 1871 crosses over from the House of Delegates to the Senate today and will, if enacted, define "bullying," as distinct from ordinary "teasing" or "horseplay," in terms of a "real or perceived power imbalance" between bullies and victims. And require teachers to Do Something About It. Teachers are so good at keeping children from making one another miserable.

When I was in elementary school we had a good working definition of "bullying." It wasn't precise, but it was clear; the mental picture associated with the word "bully" was a big kid beating up a little kid. That is something teachers can and should be required to Do Something About.

I remember being called as a witness in one case that involved what I still understand "bullying" to be. My brother, then in grade four, had intervened in an altercation between boys in grade three. My brother was a big strong healthy nine-year-old. The third grade boy he was trying to protect was a normal-sized healthy eight-year-old. The third grade boy he punched was a flunker, ten years old; if no longer quite as big as I was at twelve, he'd been bigger during the three years we'd known each other. Who was the bully? A teacher seriously tried to make the case that my brother was the bully, because the bigger third grade boy "is retarded." Not in a way that kept him from beating up smaller kids, I said; I would've thought twice about fighting with him myself. Anyway, this was the kind of interaction among children that justified some sort of interference by adults.

But when Delegate McClellan's definition of "bullying," quote, "includes cyber bullying" (absence of hyphen hers)...I confess, Gentle Readers, I am puzzled. How much damage can children do to each other over the Internet? How, without constant espionage, can teachers prevent children from writing or saying nasty things about each other? It may be hard to draw the line between protection and overprotection, but surely children can learn to defend themselves from the attacks of schoolmates who aren't even in the same building? I can see why this well-intentioned bill has been classified as "nannyism"...just a little editing, and it'd be a good bill.