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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Kind role models must combat bullying

    Unless you’re one of a blessed few, you have been bullied at some point in your life.

    For many, the worst instances of bullying occurred in middle school, between the ages of about 11 and 13. Boys hit; girls backstabbed. It was awful all around. And the worst part was that none of the grownups seemed to notice, or care. Teachers and administrators insisted that bullying was harmless teasing, that it built character, and warned that nobody likes a crybaby.

    The current age of extreme political correctness has had at least one positive effect: adults have finally begun to catch on. Scores of books have been written on the subject. “”Mean Girls,”” a hugely popular (and awesome) movie released in 2004, was based on Rosalind Wiseman’s “”Queen Bees and Wannabes,”” a book about the terrifying world of adolescent girl cliques. Experts are finally paying attention to bullying and how it affects kids.

    Nationwide, elementary and middle schools are enacting policies to crack down on bullies. Schools take threats and slurs more seriously, and punish the perpetrators more harshly than ever before.

    Recently, some schools have taken their war on bullying in a new direction, attempting to stop the trend before it starts. With this goal in mind, schools have begun implementing anti-bullying lessons into their curriculums.

    Middle schools in über-wealthy Scarsdale, NY are building the vague ideal of “”empathy”” into their classrooms. English classes are focusing on empathetic characters in literature, and clubs are creating activities that encourage empathy and understanding of others. Even the parents are helping out, with the PTA pledging not to allow their children to wear the special sweatshirts distributed as party favors at the “”popular”” crowd’s bar and bat mitzvahs. There are mandated days on which students must sit with a different crowd than usual in the cafeteria, and art projects focused on the “”less fortunate.””

    Other schools, in New York and nationwide, are following suit. Curriculums based on niceties are cropping up, trying to undo generations of the stiff-upper-lip approach to the cruelty of early adolescence. They hope that, by teaching the meaning and practice of empathy, they will also teach students to live kinder, more empathetic lives. It seems to be a warm and fuzzy way to stop bullying at its source.

    These actions, though well-meant, are attempting to do the impossible, to teach something that simply cannot be taught.

    You cannot use a classroom and a curriculum to teach a child to be empathetic. The kids from Scarsdale are proving that. When asked about the new curriculum, Alex Primavera, 12, told a New York Times reporter “”he had been trying not to put down his classmates or call them ‘moron’ and ‘idiot.’ Then he yelled at another student to shut up.””

    For Alex, there was a disconnect between what he was learning in school and how it related to his daily life. Kindness is not an applied science; children don’t learn its abstract meaning and suddenly understand how to be kind people.

    Deciding whether or not characters in Shakespeare are empathetic, or forcing students to participate in short-term service projects, won’t make a child empathetic; it won’t even teach him what empathy looks like. Just like a person does not become a great writer without having read extensively, a child cannot become empathetic without witnessing real-life empathy on a daily basis. To teach kindness, one need only be kind.

    The only way to prevent bullying among children is to show them a world in which the bully is unsuccessful. And in this, sadly, we are failing. Teaching empathy is useless, because too often it is offset by the notion that one can only get ahead by being cruel and cutthroat. In the adult world, bullying is en vogue.

    Our politics are marked by petty partisan backstabbing, our business model is based on stepping on others to get ahead. Young people have no model, no context for empathy. In this, the adult world is failing its children miserably.

    Bullying will not cease to be a part of childhood until adults stop presenting meanness as a viable, much less successful, lifestyle. It’s foolish and utopian to expect a society so obsessed with success at any expense to change dramatically. In the modern American paradigm, the bully usually wins.

    But on an individual level, it’s possible to teach children by example. Every teacher, administrator or parent – in fact, every adult in a child’s life – must live with empathy, kindness and humility, if we ever hope to teach children to do the same. Kids must have empathetic role models who remind them constantly that it is possible to relate to others with consideration and gentleness, and that it is possible to succeed without being cruel.

    ÿHeather Price-Wright is a creative writing and Latin American studies sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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