Bullying… and Bullying

With the firing of the Rutgers University basketball coach for bullying, the media and educational concern over bullying by teachers and coaches has intensified.  In the case of the Rutgers  coach, there’s substantial video evidence that he did indeed bully his players, not to mention engage in abusive and unprofessional behavior.  Likewise, there is a real problem in the educational system in students bullying other students.  Unfortunately, all the publicity about “bullying” is threatening to create a situation that may become in time, if not already, another serious problem.

 As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the tendency for students and educators to insist on teachers and professors providing “positive feedback” to students, regardless of whether such positivity is warranted, is already resulting in what I called the “Rah, Rah Cheerleader Effect.”  Now, more and more often, some students are deciding that any form of observation of their failings or any constructive criticism, even of the most egregious failure on the part of the student, is a form of “bullying.” 

 There is a clear distinction, at least in my mind, and, I suspect, in the minds of experienced and knowledgeable teachers and professors, between the abusive bullying behavior exemplified in the Rutgers basketball video and a quiet but firmly delivered statement about a student’s failure to do an assignment, to follow directions, or the errors committed by the student.  Yet all too many students today, in this era of political correctness and “anything negative will scar a child for life” equate almost anything that even suggests negativity with “bullying.”

 Human beings learn from their mistakes, and students are going to be handicapped in both future studies and in life if teachers and professors are restrained from honestly evaluating students because of a fear of being called “bullies.” Given the wide reliance on anonymous student evaluations by virtually all colleges and universities, this is anything but an unfounded fear, and what is worst about it all is that the teachers and professors who demand the most in achievement and excellence are the ones already getting comments about their being bullies. Studies of student evaluations already indicate that, in general, the most demanding professors get lower student evaluations than less academically demanding professors. For example, a recent controlled study at the U.S. Air Force Academy found that students who studied with more demanding professors got lower grades, gave lower student evaluations… and learned more.

 At a time when there is a real problem with bullying, especially student-student bullying, the last thing education needs is the problem of deciding that an honest assessment of a failure to meet academic standards is a form of bullying.   

4 thoughts on “Bullying… and Bullying”

  1. sarf says:

    Personally, I am of the opinion that bullying is considered mostly a P.R. problem for most schools, no matter at what level. Actual bullying is not considered a problem by most people in charge (administrator/board level and above) until something happens outside of the school – whether it is a blog post or a reporter coming around and asking questions.
    While individual teachers may attempt to intervene in intra-student bullying (or indulge in bullying of students themselves), they are a very small minority.

    With that said, the watering down of the word bullying is to be expected with the prevailing attitudes about what people consider their due – people will use whatever means they deem acceptable to remedy situations they consider unacceptable – and since the standards for both have changed quite a bit, they are using tools that were once reserved for serious problems for rather less serious ones… which of course makes everyone worse off in the long run.

    In Sweden, for instance, there has been a tremendous watering down of the word “kränkning” (roughly translated to affront/insult/violation, usually a major – if not physical – version). The word was usually used as a synonym for a major – usually intentional – humiliation – now a student can be “kränkt” just by having a poor grade on an assignment.
    Or – as in one well-published example – a Swedish probationary teacher suing their supervisor for “kränkning” when the supervisor pointed out that they were dyslexic and could neither read nor write! The probationary teacher felt that they should have an assistant to help out with such unimportant parts of their work.

  2. Steve says:

    In reading your essay I feel that you imply that all physical aggression is bullying but that verbal aggression may be constructive criticism. I feel that they both may be bullying, or not.

    You may think that I feel that demanding professors are bullies. I do not. I also do not feel that the child that wins a fight, or the athlete who wins a contest, or the parent who spanks a child are bullies.

    Bullying is a pattern of aggression, not a disagreement or a single confrontation.

    1. You’re putting words in my mouth. I agree. Verbal aggression can be brutal, but constructive verbal criticism, or even a harsh but accurate critique of faults, performance, or behavior [but NOT an attack on an individual] is not bullying, and far too many students inaccurately equate such verbal criticism with bullying.

  3. Frank says:

    There was an expression some years back: “the school of hard knocks.” It was used primarily to described how someone could receive an “education” via life experiences, many of which were problems (knocks) from which they had to recover and learn. “Pick yourself up and dust yourself off” so to speak.

    I think that, when the “great generation” came back from WW II and tried to give us “boomers” the best possible education, an ultra-liberal naivete became institutionalized and, several generations later, we are seeing the effects with examples being “no one should win the game so that no one loses,” “there should be no grades because that causes the fear of failure,” or “grades should be a constant reward”…all carrot, no stick.

    I’m not advocating being totally insensitive, but, I think that we have elevated “PC” to the point of shear pabulum, and the best we can expect is boredom and apathy.

    I think we need to start giving our current school aged generation the proper respect by being willing to pay the price for good teachers, the price in money and our own parenting time and by giving them enough room to do their jobs. Every once and awhile, a bad teacher will invariably “slip through” and, you know what, little Johnny or Mary will live through it…just like we all have done. A pretty tame “knock” when you think about it, and learning to deal with unfair and negative authority is another life skill that will serve well in the future.

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