Recently, I was asked to speak with the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes at the Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield to help them launch their new “Step Up” initiative.
This new program reflects the evolution of the anti-bullying movement, the current legislation, and goes beyond an attempt to simply stop bullying behavior. It takes a step forward with the goal of producing a learning environment devoid of “mean-spirited behavior” and a social consciousness among the students that they are all responsible for what behavior passes as acceptable in their school.
The presentation started with one of MLC’s upperclassmen talking about about how he was bullied with racial slurs when he was in the lower grades. He went on to review typical bully behaviors, the causes and the probable effects bullying has on its victims. The last slide of a PowerPoint presentation showed a “Superman” type character and the words “Be a Hero in the Halls.” The whole goal of this program is to empower the students themselves to step up when they see something that’s not right and do something about it.
My discussion with the students focused on how, in general, their behaviors are choices. I tried to show them that it was in their best interests to make behavioral choices that lift each other up rather than tear each other down. The payback of positive behavior certainly outweighs that of negative or mean behavior. I say “in general” because a real part of the problem is that many of these youngsters simply don’t get much in the way of positive role modeling when it comes to interpersonal communication skills.
For many of them, the only role models they have for these skills come from the typical TV fare like "The Simpsons," "South Park" and the like. We can try to explain that these shows are for entertainment purposes and don’t really reflect how we should behave with or talk to each other, but a constant diet of this material can’t help but influence their behaviors.
Then we have the media, the political circus, sports and such. It’s just more of the same, and we can’t even make the case that it’s just entertainment.
Unfortunately, the worst role models for many of these kids are their parents. I often cringe at my martial arts school when hearing what comes out of some parents' mouths when speaking to each other or to their children. I wouldn’t speak that way to my dog!
I make it a point to pull these parents aside and mention that not only is that kind of talk not acceptable at the Academy, but if continued, it would certainly be picked up and mimicked by their children. I get some pretty horrified faces at that realization. For some reason, many parents don’t seem to realize that their children are learning from them on how to treat other people and each other.
It doesn’t take a Herculean effort in the schools to pull this off either. All it seems to take is:
- Some assemblies and occasional class time devoted to the subject of effective and positive communication skills.
- A well-understood and compassionately reinforced set of boundaries around what types of behavior will be accepted.
- A bit of time spent discussing probable outcomes for different ways of handling various situations.
I think this is a welcome change from the typical “anti-bullying” model where punishment is (sometimes) doled out after incidents occur. I have always been an advocate of a more pro-active and preventative approach which seeks to prevent abusive behavior before it happens, regardless of its source or reason. Yay, Metropolitan Learning Center! Hopefully, your example will catch on.