The Real Tragedy of Bullying

This was originally posted on Live Oaks on October 11, 2010. Comments have not been migrated.

An OpEd in Sunday’s Chronicle tells us that we must protect kids from bullying. Citing a growing number of suicides by bullied teenagers, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, write:

The events of the last few weeks have filled many of us with sadness and anger. They should also fill us with determination to do everything we can to stand up for Seth, Tyler, Asher, Billy, Justin and millions of other young people who can’t do it for themselves.

That a teenager would conclude that his life isn’t worth living is certainly sad and tragic. But the cause of these suicides goes beyond the taunts of ignorant peers.

Sebelius and Duncan claim that the victims of bullying cannot stand up for themselves. They argue that society must do so. But they fail to tell us why. Instead, all they offer are assertions, which is itself a symptom of the problem.

A proper educational system would teach children to think logically and to judge critically. A proper educational system would provide children with the intellectual tools required to judge the claims and assertions of others. A proper educational system would prepare children for life as rational, independent individuals.

But this is not what public education does. The public educational system is more concerned with protecting a child’s self-esteem than teaching thinking skills. The public educational system is more concerned with students passing standardized tests than learning how to solve problems. The public educational system is more concerned with teaching children to get along with others than to think independently.

John Dewey, the father of Progressive education, captured the essence of public education in his book, Democracy and Education:

Setting up conditions which stimulate certain visible and tangible ways of acting is the first step. Making the individual a sharer or partner in the associated activity so that he feels its success as his success, its failure as his failure, is the completing step. As soon as he is possessed by the emotional attitude of the group, he will be alert to recognize the special ends at which it aims and the means employed to secure success. His beliefs and ideas, in other words, will take a form similar to those of others in the group. (pages 16- 17)

Dewey’s purpose, and the end result of Progressive education, is to destroy the ability of individuals to think and judge independently. Faced with the taunts and jeers of one’s peers, an independent thinking child would reject such bullying for what it is: The mindless ignorance of Neanderthals. However, a child who cannot think for himself can easily allow such harassment to shape his own self-image. He can easily conclude that he is somehow deficient and his life is worthless.

Bullying is a pathetic activity, but there are far worse actions that an individual can take. And destroying the minds of innocent children is one of them.

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