Bullying, and especially cyber-bullying, have been all over the news for the past month or so. Following a suicide in South Hadley, everyone from parents to news reporters to state legislators have been proposing solutions to the bullying problem in schools. So, since I’ve recently been working on a curriculum to address this very issue, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring, too. Note: my research has been specifically on bullying among girls, although most of what I suggest is applicable to boys as well.
I’m a firm believer in the power of people’s stories. No matter what issue you’re talking about, I believe it’s necessary above all else to center the lived experiences of those most affected. So when I started developing a curriculum designed to address bullying, it’s probably not surprising that I started with strategies for helping students tell their stories. And not just their stories of being victims, but their experiences as bystanders or perpetrators, as well. Because as nice as it sometimes is to believe that there are simple dividing lines between those groups, that just isn’t the case. Instead of just shaming perpetrators and bystanders, it’s crucial to allow them to share their stories and explore why they behaved the way they did. In developing my curriculum, I drew heavily on techniques from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, which is designed to help people explore their own stories of oppression, and is extremely effective in helping students examine their experiences.
I also believe it’s critical that suggestions for solutions come from students, so that’s the other part of my curriculum. They’re the ones who really know what's going on and have a grasp of what’s possible and realistic, so I think we as adults have to defer, to some extent, to students’ lived experiences. That’s why the other part of my curriculum focuses on helping students explore possible strategies for handling conflict and bullying. For that, I again use some Boal, as well as Mantle of the Expert and other process drama activities (Dorothy Heathcote and Jeff Wilhelm were my major resources/influences for those things).
Throughout all of this, I think the role of the teachers and other adults involved is to give students strategies for dealing with the issue themselves. Which, come to think of it, is really how I see the role of teachers in general--to give students strategies and tools and guide them on the path toward knowledge and growth.
Resources: For more on Boal’s techniques, I highly recommend his Games for Actors and Non-Actors; Theatre of the Oppressed; and The Rainbow of Desire. For mantle of the expert and other process drama information, Jeff Wilhelm’s Action Strategies for Deepening Comprehension is a great starting point (it’s geared primarily toward language arts classrooms, but the activities can easily be applied to other contexts).