Several weeks ago, a boy in a Pennsylvania school district committed suicide after being bullied. He had, apparently, gone to the guidance counselor and complained about the bullies, but the guidance counselors didn’t do anything. They didn’t even tell the parents.
At the school board meeting,parents and concerned citizens stood in front of the school board sharing stories of times they themselves were bullied and demanded that the school put policies in place to prevent things like this happening. Many were frustrated that board members were silent and made no promises.
The saddest thing about this story is that it isn’t an isolated incident. I searched youtube for stories of kids who committed suicide after being bullied in school, and could barely see the screen for all my tears. I was looking for a clip I could share here, but decided against it because they were just too upsetting to watch. There were, sadly, many similar stories.
Here’s the thing, though: Expecting schools to put policies in place to solve the situation isn’t the answer. You can’t make policies against mean people. You can make rules that will punish them, if they get caught. But bullies will work harder to not get caught. They will threaten their victims. “If you tell, things will be worse.”
The biggest problem isn’t the schools’ policies. The biggest problem is that schools are compulsory.
A secondary problem is that schools keep kids and parents separate all day, and reinforces and encourages authoritarian parenting. Both of these things weaken the parent-child relationship.
Bullying will, for one reason or another, both in and out of school, always exist. It happens less outside of school, but it still happens. If a child is forced, by either the law or by his parents, to attend school, then she can’t get away from the bullies. *THAT* is the biggest source of the problem.
I choose not to keep the company of mean people. If someone is a serious bully to the point that he or she is threatening my well-being, I can call the police. I can choose to walk a different route. I can choose a different job. Kids in school are told to “play nice with their friends”, as if everyone their age should automatically be their friend.
I know of a situation where an unschooled child was bullied by another unschooler at an event where a lot of unschoolers were gathered. (No, not attending school doesn’t make you immune to bullies.) Imagine a typical bully-at-the-playground scenario. He told kids which slides they couldn’t go down and told them what clothes they had to wear. He said he was a super hero and they were bad guys. He told them if they told on him, he’d hurt them. When this child defied him and went down the slide anyway, he carried out his promise to hurt him.
Here’s what happened next.
1. Even though the bully told him that he would have it worse if he told, the parents figured it out because they were there. They might not have been right there hovering over the kids as they played, but they were present at the same event and when a kid started crying, they weren’t at the mercy of school staff to call them. They didn’t have to rush a kid through homework and a bed time routine so they could get him up and rush him off to school the next day. Instead, they spent a good part of the evening talking to the child.
2. The parent knew the parent of the bully and was able to talk to her. This way, the parent of the bully was aware of the situation and could start paying attention to possible causes of the behavior in her own child. Because in a bullying situation, the kid being bullied isn’t the only one who has a problem and needs attention. Bullies are often painted as horrible people, but this kid isn’t. They just have their own unique needs that need attention. I’m sure he’ll be just fine, because he has a family who is attentive to what is going on in his life as well.
3. The kid who was bullied didn’t want to go to events where the other child was anymore, so his right to decide that for himself was respected. Unschooled kids choose how, where, when, and with whom they spend their time. Their autonomy is respected.
Imagine if those kids who committed suicide had had the freedom to not place themselves in the presence of the bullies.
4. Because the parent was in the habit of looking at the root cause of behavior issues, when the parent started noticing some symptoms such as anxiety and aggressive behavior in the bullied child, she was able to piece together the connection to the bullying incident and work with the child to get through it.
Don’t look to the schools to solve the bullying problem. They are an institution who can do nothing more than put policies in place, and no policy is going to fully protect a child. The answer is to allow your child freedom and to be involved in his life. More involved than just making him do homework and chores and getting to bed at a certain time. I mean the kind of involved that spends your days and nights with him, that knows him inside and out, that becomes a student of the child to know what kinds of activities will expand his world in a way that will light him up with excitement.
Your child doesn’t need school in order to learn. Nor do you need school to get a break from your kids, if you switch your relationship to a consensual one instead of an authoritarian one. Nor do you need to use school as a babysitter if you explore the world of home based business and arrange your schedule in such a way to allow being with your child a priority.
I think back to the youtube videos of surviving family members of bullied kids who committed suicide, and there is one mother in particular whose tearful face I can’t get out of my head. It’s too late for her and her child, but it’s not too late to say this now, for the sake of those who are bullied and for the sake of those who are bullies themselves…
You don’t have to send your child to school.
And don’t be a bully yourself. Bribing, coercing, and threatening kids perform to a certain level in school is a form of bullying.
School isn’t good for kids, and they deserve better. They deserve the freedom to decide how they spend their days, and with whom they spend them. I beg you: Give your kids the freedom to say no to school.