An Anti-Bullying Curriculum that Makes my Blood Boil


I never thought anti-bullying curriculum in schools did much.  But I thought they were benign, powerless, useless.  And pretty much all equal.  I didn’t think they created bullies and victims.

Boy, I was wrong.

Look at what a Nebraska School sent home with 5th graders.  Seriously, don’t “tattle” on your abuser. That’s what it said. It was part of a handout that talks about turning “bullies2buddies.”  You can learn more at the bullies2buddies website, but I warn you that the advice there is among the worst possible advice.

Here’s his “rules” to not be bullied (you can see longer descriptions in the picture in the article):

  1. Refuse to get mad
  2. Treat the person being mean as if they are trying to help you
  3. Do not be afraid
  4. Do not verbally defend yourself
  5. Do not attack
  6. If someone physically hurts you, just show you are hurt
  7. Do not tell on bullies
  8. Don’t be a sore loser
  9. Learn to laugh at yourself and not get “hooked” by put-downs

These rules are remarkably similar to Izzy Kalman’s rules. In fact, I’d say they are identical.  You can learn how these rules apply to racism from Izzy himself at his website.  For instance, Rule 7, “Do not tell on bullies,” is included in his “Chapter 8” of The Golden Rule Solution to Racism.

He starts this chapter by talking about how, if you call child protective services when neighbors are “only yelling” at their children, not real abuse, you’ll make your neighbors hate you. Of course “only yelling” is a huge part of him – in rule 6, “If someone physically hurts you, just show you are hurt” (don’t tattle unless they send you to the hospital because you don’t really hurt – seriously, that’s what this guy is advocating) you see his differentiation between physical and all other types of pain. Frankly, that’s bullshit. Pain is pain, and all pain is real.

I know why I wanted to kill myself as a kid. It wasn’t physical pain. I had kids burn me, cut me, punch me, etc, but it was the humiliation that most hurt me. Constant, unending humiliation. I felt that I was at fault. That if I could defend myself, not do stupid stuff, not laugh wrong (seriously, this was a suggestion by a shrink to a suicidal kid – learn laugh “properly” rather than how I was doing it), then I could free myself from the humiliation. When I realized that nothing I could do would stop the abuse, hopelessness and despair – and extreme depression followed. It wasn’t the physical pain. It was the attempt at destroying my soul.

The chapter then launches into an anti-government diatribe (the phrase “Evil Empire” is included, a phrase that probably doesn’t resonate with all that many teachers or parents these days, who didn’t really live through the cold war), followed by some real gems. Keep in mind, this is about ending racism.

When people are doing or saying things against Jews – as long as there is no immediate threat to our bodies or property – about the worst thing to do is rush to report them to the authorities. Instead, we should talk to them directly, not with anger, but as to friends. Ask them sincerely why they are doing or saying it. If there is something wrong about their motivation or understanding, let them know what their mistake is. If they insist on continuing to do what you believe is wrong, talk to them again, but without anger. Pain, yes; anger, no.

First, he again distinguishes “real” racism (your body or property is in danger) from the rest of racism. Note that verbal abuse or illegal acts – such as a boss refusing to promote a Jew – don’t seem to be real to this man. I don’t think that was an oversight in his writing.

When there is antisemitism, particularly in a place with rules against it (like a school or business), it is not necessary for you to be a “friend” to convince them of the error of their ways. While lots of people disagree on how to address hate, it is not appropriate to expect the targets of the hate (Jewish people in his example) to befriend the person spewing hate. And, remember, this is in context to someone calling child protective services when there is not actual abuse. Basically, if you don’t befriend, and you seek protection at work, school, or from your government, you’re crying wolf.

He has all sorts of hogwash like this – I could spend days yelling at my computer about it. One thing is for sure: I would have a hard time being a friend of this man.

Lest  you think it is just one isolated person, I believe the Lincoln (Nebraska) School District got this crap as a result of their anti-bullying program. Their program included participation of Brooks Gibbs.

Meet Brooks Gibbs:

That’s his marketing video.

It’s sickening.  His basic philosophy is “If you’re nice to the bullies, they’ll be nice to you.” He teaches that God wants us to passively accept abuse. He teaches a form of victim blaming. That’s dangerous. It’s deadly.

How is this connected to Izzy, who made these awful rules about how to avoid being be a victim?  Well, they believe pretty much the same awful hogwash. He teaches the Kalman – as in Izzy Kalman – bullying prevention program.

Check out his Lesson 5 – Physical bullying, from the above link.

Let me transcribe some of the horrible advice:

If someone causes you physical pain, they push you, first don’t make a big deal out of it.

Because most people don’t want to hurt you unless you are hurting them.

See, most students don’t want to actually send you to the hospital.

When someone pushes you, they are just trying to get you upset.

Very rarely does someone just come up and punch you in the face as hard as they can for no reason. That’s called a sociopath who doesn’t have a feelings and they don’t care about your pain. In fact they get pleasure from it.

Most kids aren’t sociopaths, in fact sociopaths are less than 2% of the population and most of them are in prison or in hospital. You see the students you hang out with every day who might physically bully you are just really trying to get you upset.

He goes on, and claims that the physical bullying only occurs because of an exchange of verbal insults back and forth, which escalate into a confrontation. That may be how bar fights start, but it isn’t bullying.  I’m not going to comment on the sociopath statements about them being in hospitals or prison, but I will say he should learn before he teaches.

He goes on to talk about how you need to understand why a kid wants to physically bully you (which, if it was adults, would be called battery).

Can you imagine asking an abused wife to “understand your husband, so that you can break the cycle of bullying?” No, you hopefully help her find a safe place.

It’s all like this. And, again, it’s not just Mark Gibbs, hired with our tax dollars by some random Nebraska school district (actually the second largest district in the state). First, Mr. Gibbs’ client list is scary. It truly scares me that professional educators would hire people spewing this crap. But, second, this is part of a wider movement – the idea that “kids will be kids” and it’s really the victims that need to be taught “social skills” to deal with bullying.

I went through that, probably before Mr. Gibbs was born. And what he is preaching (yes, literally, although it’s stealth in his public school stuff) is no different than my experience. It doesn’t work, it can’t work. I literally have years of experience with this crap. You don’t “bully-proof” your kid anymore than you “abuse-proof” a woman to avoid being a battered wife. You deal with the problem. The problem is not the autistic kid who is different and doesn’t know when the adult does or doesn’t want to be bothered with his problems (these programs seem to be sold on the premise that it will reduce staff workload on bullying – look at the first expected outcome for schools of Izzy’s program). It’s not that the kid tells an adult when he’s punched. It’s the behavior of the bullies.

So, now I know something I didn’t know yesterday. You have to make sure anti-bullying programs see the bully as the problem rather than the victim as the problem. I would never have thought that was a concern until today.

My advice for schools and parents? Don’t just avoid, but RUN from any program that claims to show that the majority of experts are wrong. If it is an explicit claim, you better show them the door. In the best case, you’ll look unprofessional and incompetent – like Lincoln Public Schools. In the worst case, your student who has already contemplated suicide will be taught that the problem is himself. No student should be taught that.

Stupid Responses to a Harassment Complaint

I was thinking about two different responses I have seen to a harassment complaint – in both, I was a third party.  One was a great response that recognized the harm done, while the other seemingly blamed the victim.  Ironically, the great response was from a group I had less than full respect for, while the poor response was by someone I have great respect for – I guess that shows that properly responding to a complaint isn’t necessarily a skill that all people have.  I use strong language here because I do think there are appropriate places for strong language.  This is one of them.

I’m talking about this in employment context, but it also applies to other organizations – even groups of friends when someone might confide in you about a wrong someone did.

Before I get into too much detail on what not to do, I’ll tell a somewhat anonymity story of the good response.

Doing the Right Thing

One of my past coworkers was in an interracial marriage and had a picture of him and his wife on his desk.  I’m sure I saw the picture at times, but it was nothing remarkable to me – just a family picture, a fairly common item in an office environment.  Someone I worked with, however, didn’t agree that this was a common office item – and left a note telling the worker, essentially, that he disapproved of the man’s “nigger bride.”  Obviously, highly, highly, highly offensive and a demonstration of true asshole status on the part of the note-writer.

My coworker, we’ll call him Bob, went to HR and reported the incident.  HR immediately took the issue very seriously and recognized it for what it was – not just a potential lawsuit (yes, it was that, at least if not handled properly), but, way more importantly, something that had the potential to greatly affect the ability of people in the office to work together to accomplish the company’s goals.    And, even more importantly – something that was incredibly hurtful and potentially frightening.  I don’t know if Bob was scared or not, but it certainly would have made me look at my coworkers differently.

HR’s response was, with Bob’s permission, to call each of us who had access to Bob’s office into HR in private, and to interview us to see if we had any idea who might have done such a thing.  Obviously one of us did it (it was a locked, secure office environment), and they no doubt interviewed the asshole.  I was shocked when I heard what happened, and, although I couldn’t give any useful information to HR, I did let Bob know what I thought of the person who did it and offered any support I could provide.

They never did find the racist asshole.  Nor did they substantiate the discrimination complaint – there simply wasn’t evidence beyond one piece of paper.  But even without substantiating the complaint, it was taken seriously as a real complaint, where a real harm was done.  Bob wasn’t lectured on how to respond to people, how some people might be bothered by a picture of an interracial couple, or that he needed to lock his door better.  Maybe someone intended it as a joke, but that still wouldn’t have made it acceptable behavior and the joker still would have been a racist asshole.  Regardless of the reason for the person doing it, Bob was a victim.  And, through a proper investigative process, other coworkers who learned of the event were able to offer support for Bob – to show him he wasn’t alone in his anger and upset.

A Stupid Response

I’ll talk about someone else who raised a complaint.  The complaint was about verbal sexual harassment.  When the harassment was reported, the first response was, “Are you sure that it was intended that way, and wasn’t just someone who innocently said the wrong thing or didn’t understand that their words could be taken that way?”  In other words, the very first thing that was said by authority was, “you could be wrong.”  Not, “I’m sorry.”  Not, “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”  Not, “we don’t tolerate that behavior.”  No, it was an excuse for the harasser.  This was followed by a lecture on “ways to respond” to such talk.

Never was an investigation discussed, nor was permission sought to interview other people, such as the people present at the time of the incident (who could substantiate the claim, potentially).  Certainly nobody expected this manager to fire the harasser on the spot just on the basis of one person’s unsubstantiated word (after all, it could be an attempt to smear someone else who really is innocent).  But they did expect that a complaint would be taken seriously and not dismissed immediately, and that, even if the complaint couldn’t actually be substantiated (which is very far from being proven false), the victim would receive at least understanding of her feelings of betrayal, powerlessness, and vulnerability.  But, no, she was told that it might help if she learned ways to respond to people doing that.

Maybe it would help if she learned ways to respond.  But that’s not a decent response to a victim.  They aren’t reporting it to be lectured.  They are reporting it because they want your help responding to the wrong committed against them, not told that they themselves are responsible for people doing bad things to them.  And not conducting interviews with the witnesses missed a great opportunity to make sure that the workplace stayed supportive – and that the support was obvious.  By interviewing witnesses, it could be made clear that people in power see this as serious and that there was a victim of what might have seemed to be innocent words to some.  With this new insight, the witnesses would recognize this behavior in the future for what it is and perhaps act on their own to stop it when they see it.

In addition to being told she could learn to respond to bad behavior by others, she was also offered a chance for engagement with the harasser.  Of course this is terrifying to a victim and probably the last thing that is needed.  Most people don’t want to confront the people who did harm to them.  Instead they want appropriate authorities, when an act of evil is reported, to investigate it and deal with the situation.  They don’t want to build understanding with their harasser.

The harasser is still employed, while the victim left (because of her treatment).  The victim absolutely has a claim against the employer legally, but, more important, the organization has shown itself to not give a damn about their employees.  At least not when it counts.

Here’s my recommendations, should anyone report harassment or bullying to you:

  • Don’t lecture the victim, even if you haven’t verified the story.  Especially if you haven’t verified the story.
  • If it’s important to the victim, it’s important.  Period.  Don’t dismiss, make light of it, or tell the victim that it might not “really” have been bad.
  • Actually investigate.  Seek permission to talk to witnesses and people who might be able to shed light on the events.
  • Use the investigative process to show how seriously you take the allegations.  Use it as a teaching moment for all in how not to respond and why to speak up when evil is observed.  It’s also a chance for people to learn that there was a victim, so they can offer their support to the victim.
  • Unsubstantiated is not the same as not true.  Make sure the victim knows that you see the difference.
  • Even seemingly innocent or joking behavior can be harassment.  That’s no excuse for mistreatment of others.
  • Don’t go so far in maintaining an impression of impartiality that you fail to demonstrate empathy.  Let the victim know you understand and see what is wrong.  You don’t have to punish someone without substantiation, but at the same time you don’t need to throw that into the victim’s face.

Racism and Accusations of Racism

Button that reads "Once you VOTE BLACK you NEVER go back - OBAMA 2012I hate political crap during election years.  You hear from party loyalists on both sides about how great their candidate is and how the other guy is the spawn of Satan (both Presidential candidates, literally, have been called the anti-Christ).

But the racism allegations were too much for me to pass on by. (note that this post is US-centric, since that’s the political system I know something about)

The botton shown next to this article, “Once you vote black you never go back – Obama 2012” was sold to attendees at the 2012 by an enterprising guy that runs a storefront selling a variety of similar merchandise.

While that button is decidedly off-message for a Presidential candidate (google “once you go black you never go back” if you don’t believe me), and has caused the right to stir up allegations of racism…well, it’s not quite so simple.  Sure, many people would love a society in which any reference to race was simply irrelevant.  But a humorous button is hardly the same thing as the systematic racism that has affected blacks since the founding of the nation (and well before).

For instance, here’s some historical differences between blacks and whites:

  • Blacks were slaves.  Whites were slave masters.
  • Black marriages were “until death or distance do you part.” White marriages were “until death do you part.”  (the reason for this was that slaves could be sold, and they might be useful to the new owner for breeding)
  • Blacks often had to sit at the back of the bus.  Whites could still decide to sit at the back of the bus, making a black stand.
  • It took the Voting Rights Act in 1964 to make good progress towards equal access to polls for blacks.  White men could vote since the founding of the country, white women could vote in 1920.
  • In 2009, the average net worth of a black household was $5,677.  The average net worth of  a white household was $113,149.
  • We’ve had 1 black president.  We’ve had 43 white presidents.

That’s a bit of difference here.  Certainly, slavery is gone, but sadly many of the problems of slavery remain.  Yet many right-wing (and nearly always white) people in my social circles are insisting that race shouldn’t matter in the election, and bringing up race is just trying to bring up racism.

But, first, the buttons.  It’s clear that whites don’t have much to seriously fear about a bunch of buttons telling us that we won’t go back to voting for white people after voting for a black one.  I suspect us white people will still have a reasonable chance of getting elected.  So, white people: grow up and get some humor.  But if the button was reversed, “once you vote white, you won’t go back,” not only would it not roll off the tongue quite as nicely, but that would be racist.  The difference is that blacks are disenfranchised at the polls and far fewer blacks are in office than one would expect based on the share they represent in the general population.  In other words, blacks already find it much more difficult than a white to get elected.  So, no, the button is not racist.

As for bringing up race, it sure sounds like we haven’t moved past that as a country.  When Martin Luther King Jr’s words, “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  It should be noted that segregated schools are still constitutionally mandated in Alabama – a constitutional amendment that would have removed that hate from the state’s constitution failed in 2004.  (note that the segregated school requirement of the constitution is unenforceable due to Brown v Board of Education, but would become enforceable immediately should Brown ever be overturned – a hope some apparently have)  They are going to try again this year to remove some bigotry from their constitution.  Let’s hope they’ve changed a bit.

And, to answer some of my Republican friends, No, it’s not reasonable to claim Martin Luther King Jr. as a Republican.  But I’m not getting into that now.

Meanwhile, we have both Democrats and Republicans comparing things they don’t like to Nazi symbols and acts.

For instance, who could have known you could offend both Germans and Jews in about a paragraph?

Not that it’s not a good idea to give students loans, it certainly is a good idea to give them loans. But if you can ignore the Constitution to do something good today, tomorrow you will be ignoring the Constitution to do something bad. You could. There are more people in our, in America today of German ancestry than any other… . The Holocaust that occurred in Germany — how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope.

That was a “charming” statement, both equating people with German heritage as potential mass murderers (only if student loans are given by government!) and completely missing the point about the nature of the Holocaust and it’s effect on Jews and others, has been walked back a bit.  Representative Bartlett (Republican, not that it matters) has sort of apologized.

There’s real racism, and real reason for outrage.  But it’s not a bunch of off-message buttons at the Democratic convention.

Standing for What is Right – Governor Carr

In the US, we often say we want politicians with ethics, who will do the right thing.  In WWII, the US state of Colorado had one of these politicians – Governor Carr.  He’s been ignored (for the most part) in history, primarily because he did the right thing.

In WWII, Japanese-American US citizens were feared by others.  They were forcibly moved from their homes if they leaved near the coast and often ended up in, essentially, concentration camps (not in the Nazi sense, but still plenty bad).  Many lost everything in this process.  There was little outrage among the public, with one exception – Governor Carr.  He spoke eloquently about the rights of these citizens.  But as a result, this governor, who was at one point a rising Republican star who could be expected to get his party’s nomination for President, destroyed his career.  Ethics were not what the US wanted.  The US wanted a politician that shared their bigotry and bias.

History has vindicated Governor Carr.  Not one incident of sabotage could be attributed to Japanese-American US citizens.  These citizens even fought in the European theater and became an extremely highly decorated unit, likely as a result of their need to prove that they really were loyal – something that should never have been required of them.  That the US put our own citizens in prison camps, with horrible conditions, for no reason other than their race and national origin, while simultaneously fighting a racist regime in Germany shows the depth of hypocrisy (we were joined by Canada, who did the same to their citizens).  It’s a sad chapter in history.

One thing we can learn from Governor Carr, however: do the right thing, even if it costs you.  I’d rather be the rejected politician that Carr became than the person who thought it was okay to corral and fence in my neighbors.

Below is a four-part speech by a man who wrote a book about Governor Carr – it has some fascinating and horrifying parts that show what scared people can do to their neighbors.

Chicken Sandwiches, Interracial Marriage, Autism Speaks, and Popularity Contests

It’s lunchtime, so, having some time, I thought it would be good to talk about, well, lunch.  This week, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people lost out in the USA.  Their fellow citizens showed that, given the choice between supporting equal rights and eating a chicken sandwich, the sandwich will win.  It was kind of a modern version of the Two Minutes Hate, just with chicken instead of a telescreen (and, as John Stewart says, in the clip below, finally a type of protest that Americans can manage – eating fast food).

But that’s not what is interesting – or even most depressing – to me.  Both sides of the gay marriage issue have taken sides, with the Human Rights Campaign and others now promoting a Starbucks Appreciation Day (Starbucks has publicly stated their support of same-sex marriage).  Essentially, people seem to have a need to show that more people support a their own view than support the other sides’ view(s).

Autistic people who have campaigned against Autism Speaks know the dangers of this.  I would guess that for every person who has spoken out or taken direct action against Autism Speaks, that there have been 1,000 people who have walked in one of the Autism Speaks “Autism Walks.”  The majority is uninformed and wrong when it comes to Autism Speaks.

This isn’t just an autistic issue, either, where a minority finds itself oppressed by a majority that supports causes counter to their own goals.  People referring to themselves as “Jerry’s Orphans” have spoken out about the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s annual telethon (featuring “Jerry’s Kids” – that is, children with muscular dystrophy that were used by the former telethon host, Jerry Lewis, to invoke feelings of pity and loss towards disabled people with muscular dystrophy).  Yet, the MDA’s telethon continues to get popular support, as does the MDA itself (I cringe every time I see firemen standing in the middle of the street holding out boots for me to donate to the MDA).  Popularity doesn’t make something right.

Nor is it even just a disability issue.  You may know that while interracial marriage became legal for the entire USA in 1967, thanks to a landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia.  What you may not know is that, in 1968, one year after the legalization throughout the nation (it was legal most places other than the south before 1967, which makes this number more shocking), only 20% of the US population support interracial marriage (67% opposed).  Even as late as 1983, most people in the US opposed interracial marriage – 50% – while only 43% supported it.  In fact it wasn’t until 1997 that a majority of the population was willing to indicate they supported interracial marriage, according to Gallop polls (there were polls in 1994 where only 48% supported interracial marriage, and then again in 1997 where, finally, over 50% – 64% actually – supported it).  What is interesting is that the shift occurred fairly quickly, but if eating at certain restaurants was the key to getting people the right to marry, they would have lost for a long time.  Fortunately we have a good court system that was willing to undo some past prejudice, and not decide whether people have rights based on popularity.

Minorities – whether autistic, people with muscular dystrophy, or interracial couples – don’t get rights by popularity.  It’s decidedly unpopular to extend rights to anyone that doesn’t already have them.  It stays unpopular for years, even decades, after the rights are granted.  Eventually things change, but true courage involves standing up for those rights before your friends and family do so.  It’s not about standing in a Starbucks line with a bunch of like-minded folks, or keeping people from standing in a Chick Fil A line with a bunch of like-minded people.  It’s about doing what the people around you are not doing. We should be teaching people to do the right thing, even if others aren’t doing it with them.  It’s never popular to challenge the status quo.

I’m off to salvage what is left of my lunch hour!  And, no, I’m not in the mood for Chicken.