Bullying and the Bus Monitor
Have you watched that video that shows middle school students on a school bus, bullying their bus monitor? I watched it a few days ago. The video is painful, even disgusting, but if you're wondering why people who are bullied don't stand up for themselves and put a stop to the bullying, it's very instructive. If you watch the video, you’ll see that the bus monitor tried to protect herself. She used many of the strategies adults tell children to use. None of them worked to stop the bullying.
- Children are often told to respond with an assertive statement when they are the target of mean comments. In the video, we see and hear children taunting the bus monitor: "You're so fat." The woman, Karen Klein, responds with an assertive statement, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." The insults escalate after she tries this strategy.
- Children are often told to ignore kids who are bullying them. Karen Klein tries ignoring the taunts. She sits in her seat and looks out the window. This strategy doesn't work either, though, and the bullying behaviors escalate further after she tries it. After she turns away, a student actually touches her, poking at her hearing aids, taunting her about her hearing loss.
- Children are often told to stand tall and be firm and assertive when they are the target of mean assaults. When the children who are bullying touch Ms. Klein, she tries a firm and assertive look. This, too, is ineffective in de-escalating the situation. In fact, the insults increase, moving into mean comments about her home, her clothing, and her family.
- Children are often told to "just walk away," when they are targeted for bullying. In the video, we see vividly that this is not always an option. Ms. Klein was stuck on a moving school bus. In school, children often have few choices about where to be. They often cannot "just walk away."
Another notable thing about this incident is something Karen Klein did not do: report the bullying. There was, after all, another adult on the bus that day, but Ms. Klein didn't ask the bus driver for help. She also didn't go to the school administration to file a report afterwards. I don't know Ms. Klein's reasons for thinking she should keep the incident to herself, but her reluctance to report is characteristic of people who've been bullied.
The research shows that children don't report because they're afraid that if the kids who bullied them find out, the bullying will escalate. There's also evidence that children are reluctant to report because they're worried that if parents or teachers know about the bullying they'll think the child is a "loser," and think it's their fault they're being bullied. I can see how either of these ways of thinking could possibly apply to Ms. Klein as well.
It's less dangerous for an onlooker to report—for instance, think of how differently the scene on the bus might have unfolded if a student rider had alerted the bus driver to what was going on, and if the driver had stopped the bus, moved the students away from Ms. Klein, called for back-up, or otherwise taken firm action to stop the brutality. Similarly, if a child had reported the incident to a parent, a teacher, or a school administrator afterwards, the school might have taken steps to create a safe climate on the school bus.
I have lots more things I could say about what happened to Karen Klein on the bus that day. For instance, I could comment on the need for support and training for bus drivers and bus monitors, and I could comment on the need for educators to teach children appropriate bus behaviors. I discuss those issues in the chapter of How to Bullyproof Your Classroom called "Outside of the Classroom," and I will write about them here soon.
For today, though, here's what I hope the video of the bullied bus monitor demonstrates once and for all: Children targeted for mean treatment can't stop the bullying themselves, any more than Karen Klein could stop the way the children were treating her.
Caltha Crowe's new book, How to Bullyproof Your Classroom, offers a practical, proactive approach to bullying prevention. Learn how to create a positive classroom environment and how to respond to mean behavior before it escalates into bullying.
"Teacher-friendly from start to finish!" —Martha Hanley, Grafton, MA
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"Bullying: What Are We Teaching?"
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