Bullying, Violence, Zero Tolerance, and Dodge Ball

Thirty percent of students surveyed in grades 6 through 10 have been involved in either bullying or being bullied themselves, according to a study released by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) earlier this month. Widening concern over bullying in schools has its roots in school shootings, many of which were conducted by students who had been the victims of long-term bullying, notes Ben Soskis in this week's New Republic, but the anti-bullying movement may be overreacting. When does behaving childishly (or like a teen-ager) become bullying? The NICHD study itself includes in its definition of bullying all sorts of things that ordinary kids do, such as spreading rumors and shunning other children.  

The same inability to distinguish between childish behavior and the homicidal tendencies has fed a growing movement among phys ed teachers to ban dodge ball, based on evidence from a recent symposium about the game that appears in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, a movement that has been mocked by liberals and conservatives alike in the past week.  Banned in Austin (Texas), dodge ball has been relegated to the "physical education hall of shame," joining musical chairs and duck, duck, goose, which fell into disrepute years ago because they may give rise to self-esteem problems, according to Neil Seeman, writing in the National Review Online. 

The impulse behind these attempts to protect the young from every form of angst and social pain also lies behind zero tolerance policies aimed at reducing school violence. That's the kind of policy responsible for suspending a 5-year old for carrying a plastic axe as part of his Halloween firefighter costume.  In this week's National Review, John Derbyshire argues that such policies are flawed reactions to bleeding-heart judges and softheaded administrators who cannot be trusted to do the right thing, and to the collapse of authority in general.

More at: "Bully Pulpit," by Benjamin Soskis, The New Republic, May 14, 2001; "The Painful Playground," by Marjorie Williams, Washington Post, May 9, 2001;  "Dodge This," by Neil Seeman, National Review Online; "The Problem with 'Zero'," by John Derbyshire, National Review, May 28, 2001 (not available online).

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