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Are our Schools a Safe Place for Students to Grow and Learn?

Cyberbullying and Random Acts of Violence Threaten American Exceptionalism

Cyberbullying in our schools threatens the safety of our students both in and out of school. It creates an environment where learning is negatively affected and potentially devastates the bullied individual. The result may be embarrassment, withdrawal from social and educational activities, attempted suicide and worse. I am tired of hearing schools defend their inaction when cyberbullying attacks occur after school hours and on weekends by claiming they are not responsible because the attacks did not occur on school grounds or during school time. If one student shot another outside of school would they look the other way? I don’t think so (or at least I hope not).

The extent of the phenomenon is hard to quantify. But one 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization founded by two criminologists who defined bullying as "willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers, said one in five middle-school students had been affected. The purpose of this blog is to address what can be done about it. I have blogged before on the behavioral impact of being bullied through the use of social media. Attacks using Facebook, and Instagram, an online photo- and video-sharing service, and other social media threaten to stifle emotional development and growth, two factors so important to becoming a productive member of society.

We need to develop a statement of personal responsibilities for parents and their kids to sign when they first enter the school system. The signed statement of personal responsibilities should be crafted in a way that the school protects the student who has been bullied by establishing procedures that have been agreed to by all stakeholders to handle such matters. It should be drawn up as if it were a contract that is defensible in a court of law.

The statement should be signed by parents and students alike. It should serve as a commitment made by both parties to act responsibly in school and accept the consequences of not doing so including immediate suspension and possible expulsion, depending on the extent of the violation by the student and damage it inflicts on others. The school should sign as well and promise to take action when cyberbullying attacks occur whether in or out of school.

We need to back up the signed statement with education on the responsible use of social media including the dangers of posting compromising photos of oneself that can be used by one kid who wants to bully another. There are ample examples of kids who have been bullied and committed bullying to draw on as part of the classroom learning experience. Kids know this, but it needs to be reinforced that once posted on the Internet, the statement or photo is there for all time. The visual examples should illustrate the danger that can be done to another student in a very personal way. A good teacher should put students in the role of the bullied and the one doing the bullying through role-playing exercises that appeal to one’s sense of right and wrong supported by ethics education that focuses on ‘teachable moments.’

Our school system can’t be blamed for failing to stop the attacks. They occur because of a lack of parental involvement in the lives of their kids, apathy, and failing to set proper boundaries on behavior. Our school system can be blamed for looking the other way when cyberbullying attacks occur whether in or out of school or excusing them as an unfortunate event.

We like to think there is something called ‘American Exceptionalism.’ How can we say America is an exceptional place to be when our kids are under attack every day by senseless violence and mean-spirited cyberbullying attacks? How can we say American is an exceptional place when workplace violence is at epidemic proportions?

How can we say we live in an exceptional country when a recent study shows that The United States has more guns and gun deaths than any other developed country in the world: the U.S. has 88 guns per 100 people and 10 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people — more than any of the other 27 developed countries studied?  Japan, on the other hand, had only .6 guns per 100 people and .06 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, making it the country with both the fewest guns per capita and the fewest gun-related deaths.

We like to think we are an exceptional country because of the freedoms we offer and rights we have. True enough but what happens when one’s ‘freedom,’ and very life, is in danger walking the streets, going to school, seeing a movie, or working at one’s job. We see examples virtually every day of exercicing one's rights in a way that is devastating to others. Kids neet to learn there is a difference between having the right to do something and what is the right thing to do.

Wake up America. Not only are we losing the race for economic superiority to China going forward in the 21st century, but we are traveling down a path of moral destruction that threatens our national psyche and the very soul of our being.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz aka Ethics Sage, on October 21, 2013