Bullying- an impediment to Achdus

A Twelve year old at the ‘Shabbos park’ asks a group of boys if they want to play with him. He is rejected because because he has a slight behavioral disorder.

A third grader is threatened by a peer and is told that if he is tells anyone he will get his head put into a toilet.

A sixth grade girl walks out of a classroom and is rushed by classmates who start piling books into her empty backpack so that it will overfill and fall down, along with its’ owner.

A boy is shunned during recess and not allowed to play football with the other boys because he “doesn’t throw well”.

On the school bus home a child takes another child’s jacket, throws it on the ground and steps on it.

Bullying is a problem in any school. Even in our own day schools/cheders/yeshivas/girls-only-schools. It shows no bias regardless of the school’s hashkafa.

In our educational intitutions, where even three year olds learn about Rabbi Akiva and the mitzvah of Ve Ahavta Lera’eha Kamoha and six year olds understand that 24,000 students died because they didn’t show respect and kavod HaBre’os to each other, bullying has become an issue.

There are schools that have anti-bullying programs in place. Some school have their special committees to deal with the issue. The school my children attend even has an actual curriculum that starts before first grade and includes a list of required books for summer reading that deal with bullying.

I didn’t attend a yeshiva until I was eighteen. I attended public schools and was not at all athletic or considered ‘gifted’. I was, until the end of eighth grade, rather nerdy. Then things changed. I started listening to some different music and adopted a particular style of dress. My hair went through different styles, shades, and lengths. The summer before eleventh grade I attended a summer program in Israel and returned Torah observant sporting a yarmulka and tzitzis.

For those prone to bullying, I certainly gave them ample opportunity. I was a great target. The only Torah observant teen in a midwestern city with a population of 350,000. I listened to everything but top 40 music, and dressed mostly in black. However, due to the ‘no tolerance’ policies in the schools I attended, I was never really bothered by anyone.

So I wonder, why is bullying an issue in our schools?

It can’t be solely because these bullies have parents who are bullies.
It can’t be solely because our schools are afraid to discipline bullies for fear of potentially turning the bully into an ‘at-risk child’.
It can’t be solely because kids today are never told “no”.
It can’t be solely because today chutzpa is about as common as the flu.

No, not solely, but I believe these are all factors. Like most really important issues, there are no easy answers or band-aid remedies.

Bullying is an impediment to the value of achdus that we hold in such high esteem.

If you have kids, talk with them. If you can get involved in your school, give it a try.

Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead
Just walk beside me and be my friend
And together we will walk in the way of Hashem

While doing research for this post I came across a pretty interesting site called, Stop Bullying Now. Comments, suggestions, and solutions are welcome. Thanks for reading.

11 thoughts on “Bullying- an impediment to Achdus

  1. haKiruv

    Excellent points. I work at a gas-station while I’m going to school, and I get a lot of frustrated moms that come in and talk to me about the problems their daughters are in socially. For instance, some girls steal clothes from stores they can’t afford, so they can compete with the Queen Bees in the school. Also, a boy shot himself in the school parking lot while his buddies looked on. This was in my small community with “nice families”!…all because of social issues kids face today. I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of parent involvement in children’s lives, as well as the simple fact that these are children. There’s an interesting book out, but I’m not sure if it’s any good.

    Wiseman, R. (2002). Queen Bees and Wannabees. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.

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  2. der ewige Jude

    I don’t think there is more bullying today than there was before, I think the difference is that now in our law suit-crazed society, people are afraid to apply the traditional solutions to the problem for fear of being sued. When I attended public school, if you acted up in class you literally got smacked with the yardstick. And when you got picked on, you were encouraged to stand up to the bully and were usually given boxing lessons. Since I can’t imagine anyone be allowed to act like that now, I’m not sure what the solution is.

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  3. Neil Harris

    Hakiruv: “I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of parent involvement in children’s lives”…that is a very key point. Thanks and I read the book, it was good.

    der ewige Jude: Today standing up to a bully (verbally or physically) is looked upon as “agressive behavior” in day schools. In terms of being sued,you may be right. Thanks.

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  4. Anonymous

    Just go to Boro Park or Flatbush on a Sunday afternoon – watch the parents double and triple park their cars, push and shove in the supermarkets, and treat everyone around them with disrespect. Do you think that their children have a fighting chance of growing up to be human beings? Sadly, Bein Adam Lechaveiro has been sorely neglected, particularly as you move farther to the right. I don’t know what the answer is – but a big part of it starts in the home. If you can’t impress the importance of acting like a human being on the parents, don’t even bother with the children.

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  5. Bob Miller

    Neil, can you be sure it was school policies that kept you from being bullied? Maybe your classmates were more civilized than some others.

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  6. Neil Harris

    Anonymous: Let’s try to say away from pointing out various communities. Your point about parents I feel is quite correct. Kavod Habrios is a concept that is lacking in our society no matter if it’s in Brooklyn, Baltimore, or Bloomington, IN.
    Parents showing more sensitivity to others is a great start. Thanks so much for your comment.

    Bob: I had a feeling that someone would ask your excellent question.
    In high school I had an incident when an anti-Semitic remark was directed to me by another student. I dealt with this in non-physical way and didn’t hear from the football player again. This only worked because of a zero tolerance policy.

    My school was mostly middle-class kids. Some were bused in so that there was diversity in the school, others lived locally. There were issues of kids bringing weapons, drug busts and random locker checking with drug dogs, students giving birth to babies…basically as average as it gets. Alot had to do with the principal, whose brother is a former director of the CIA and is currently the Secretary of Defense.
    Moreover, it was the school districts’ policies.

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  7. frumhouse

    Neil,

    This is an issue that has been bothering me fo a long time. Sadly, it is an issue that is bothering many parents these days.

    I went to public school too. There were no bullying policies in place and bullying was rampant. I had some years with no trouble and some years that were awful. But, there is only so much one can expect from a free school with no religious leanings.

    However, I expect a much higher standard when it comes to my kids and their school. We made a conscious choice to send our kids to religious schools where they will learn and live the meaning of chesed and middos and achdus. It is disappointing when the goals of the institution don’t materialize in the experience of the students.

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  8. Neil Harris

    Frumhouse: No institution, yeshiva, or shul is perfect.

    I wonder, why do the “goals of the institution” not materialize?
    Often with institutions that have been around for years, goals blend into mythology, or the message gets distorted over time (like the game of telephone).

    Often times parents expect school to teach middos and manners (to separate things), yet teachers expect the same from the parents.

    If you were to list the pro vs. cons of our school, which would be the longer list?
    Thanks for your comment.

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  9. frumhouse

    Neil,

    For me the list of pros is longer. If it weren’t, my kids wouldn’t continue to be students there.

    I don’t envy the jobs of the school teachers and administrators. Having to instill common values in students who come from a myriad of backgrounds (I’m not even speaking hashkafically, but just the personal viewpoints that each child comes to school with each day) is a daunting task.

    I believe that the intent on the school’s part is good. Trying to implement is a Herculian task. You are correct, the only way the goals for good middos can work is if there is a dual curriculum in play – teachings from home and teachings from school.

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  10. Ari Kinsberg

    neil,

    could it be because for all the lip service we give to derekh erretz, the elements that decide what a person’s future will just don’t care about it. just two examples:

    1) how many first-rate yeshivot really care about anything other than academics (whether it is lomdus in rw schools or gpas in mo schools)

    2) how many shadchanim really evaluate a person’s midot and emphazise this as part of the package? i don’t live in a shidduch world. a couple of years ago a shadchan gave a girl’s mom my number to check up on a guy. i had heard stories, but i was floored by the questions she asked. when i tried to ignore them and tell her how nice the guy was (my wife always said she wanted her sister to marry someone like him), she just was not interested. let’s be honest: if they were honest they would be out of a job.

    i won’t mention any schools or communities by name, but i just wanted to state that i worked one year in yeshivah (mainstream within this particular community) where the boys were far worse than anything my father ever saw during his years in an bad inner-city high school.

    i realize that i have not addressed bullying in specific, but rather a general disinterest in derekh eretz. but i don’t feel you can separate them. fixing the general derekh eretz problem will go a long way toward eradicating bullying.

    i know we must be doing something right (if i may advertise: http://agmk.blogspot.com/2007/05/chaverim-save-day-or-flatbush-is-not.html#links
    ), but we are also doing something very wrong.

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  11. Neil Harris

    Ari, firstly, thanks for your well written comment. (I’ll check your link).

    1) Academics are key for most schools, for sure. It’s often (on a high school level) that the small yeshivas end up producing more ehrlich kids.

    2) Shiduchim are a real issue. I do know plenty of people to have turned down shiduchim because while they looked good on paper and were easy on the eyes, the middos just were not there.

    I am sorry to hear about your experience working in a yeshiva. I have never ever heard of anything like this (just joking).

    I have many friends dedicated to chinuch and I know this is a problem.

    “Fixing the general derekh eretz problem will go a long way toward eradicating bullying.” great line. Thanks.

    Reply

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