Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Has Anti-Bullying Gone Too Far

Late last night, I posted about the over reaction of the federal govenrment to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.  There is no doubt in my mind that sexual assaults happen on college campuses, but not with the frequency the Department of Education would have you believe. 

Today, we visit an issue on the other side of the spectrum--bullying in elementary and secondary schools.  Again, let me acknowledge from the beginning that bullying happens, it is wrong and it is a problem.  But like sexual assaults on college campuses, the problem, I beleive, is not nearly as widespread as the nanny staters would have you believe. 

This morning, I saw this story in the New York Times about New Jersey's tough new anti-bullying law
Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.
In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.

But while many parents and educators welcome the efforts to curb bullying both on campus and online, some superintendents and school board members across New Jersey say the new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, reaches much too far, and complain that they have been given no additional resources to meet its mandates.
The law, known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, is considered the toughest legislation against bullying in the nation. Propelled by public outcry over the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, nearly a year ago, it demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes.
Seriously, a law that puts kindergartners into six hours of anti-bullying seminars instead of, I don't know, reading or math class.  A law that requires bystanders to get involved or potentially face some kind of punishment (NOTE:, As an adult, if I see an assault going on in the street, I have no legal obligation to call the police or intervene, and I cannot be sued if I don't). 

This law is a classic example of an overreaction by government busybodies who have nothing better to do.  Instead of addressing a bullying problem that is smaller in scope than is proably the truth, the New Jersey legislature has enacted a law that dramatically blows out of proportion a real problem, making it a monstrosity of intervention, informing and administration that will cost millions and won't solve the problem.

Bullying takes so many forms, from the low-tech in-your-face milkmoney shakedown, to the high-tech, online and texting shaming that happens.  This law apparently makes no distinction between the two and brands the culprits as beasts or criminals when in fact the former is pretty minor and probably pretty easily handled by both the victim and the schoool.  The latter instance is more complicated and might need some special intervention.  But a massive state law like New Jersey's treats every one of these incidents, from the trifling to the significant, in the same way--ultimately poorly.

The fact of the matter is bullying is going to happen no matter what kind of law is put in place in an effort to "stop bullying."  Bullies should be punished, of course,  and most bullies grow out of their behavior.  Would not a far better use of taxpayer dollars and student's precious time be to teach kids how to handle bullies themselves?  Do we really need a massive governmental program, complete with hundreds of hours of training for adults (at millions of dollars in taxpayer funds) and tedious paperwork and reporting requirements, for school administrators and teachers to address a problem that has existed in schools since the formation of the first schools?  Why not let school administrators, guidance counselors, teachers and oh yeah, parents, address bullying in a manner tailored to the incident. 

Wait....because that is not what government wants.

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