My editorial piece in today’s Montreal Gazette criticizes the Quebec government for taking the easy way out with its proposed anti-bullying legislation, Bill 56. Designed to appease parents, it also seems to place the blame on schools for not handling this complex issue properly. But lack of funding and resources, coupled with short-sighted, short-term solutions, have made it difficult for schools to deal with the problem of bullying.
Some of my suggestions from the editorial (you can read the full version here):
When the government asks our kids to “right their wrongs” (according to the English slogan to be used in their planned $1 million ad campaign), I would ask Beauchamp to consider doing the same. To give this antibullying legislation hope of succeeding, she needs to consider some of the following things:
Help schools out with antibullying plan templates that have been developed through best practices. Offer them resources assembled by a panel of experts commissioned for this task. Schools can use these to put their plans together, so it doesn’t become a costly (and ineffective) makework exercise for school staff with no training in this area. Templates already exist for school social-media policies, bullying prevention and handling policies.
Put money into support services. Bullying doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Bullies need more than punishment – they need help to understand the consequences of their actions and rehabilitate. They need consistent, patient support from teachers, guidance counsellors and, sometimes, mental-health practitioners to learn impulse control, good judgment, empathy and conflict resolution. The students who are bullied often need help as well. Being labelled a victim can be incredibly disempowering, and it’s likely these children were already vulnerable. Ideally, these support services will be active in prevention: teaching tolerance and conflict resolution, particularly for students identified as at-risk for bullying or being bullied.
Invest in digital citizenship education. Banning Facebook on campus is the equivalent of sticking one’s head in the sand. Since today’s bullies often make use of cellphones, email and social media, students need to be taught how to use these powerful communication tools safely, with respect, dignity and awareness.
Think long-term. Antibullying initiatives are too often knee-jerk responses that don’t take social costs into account: reduced school performance, psychological problems, impact on family members, health-care costs, legal costs and schoolyard bullies who grow up to become workplace bullies. If the government is serious about using our tax dollars to right the wrongs, they need to move from these reactive policy inoculations to innovative long-term thinking.