“A good talking” about bullying in UK and US schools
It’s safe to say that the topic of bullying has been around for a long time. In today’s age of media, we are constantly discussing the evolution of bullying, but are not necessarily reaching any worthy milestones. There a number of questions which are banded about; is “bullying” being thrown around too carelessly and are students just acting sensitively to an unavoidable part of growing up? With Betty DeVos securing the role of Secretary of Education in the US, it’s pressing as to how issues such as bullying will be tackled.
It appears that as time goes on and technology progresses, bullying is arguably becoming a more poignant issue, year upon year. Being from the United States and a continual visitor to the United Kingdom, I find it fascinating to explore the differences between these cultures – most significantly, in how their education systems function.
With the uproar of the Netflix Original Series, ’13 Reasons Why’, I was inspired to research deeper into how bullying happens and how it’s handled by faculty members in schools. I’ve reached out to both a educators from the US and the UK, to give an insight into these respective education systems.
After interviewing both educators who teach in different schools in entirely different continents, I’ve gathered two responses which although are different, are very interesting. Here’s why: both parties can agree that bullying is a sensitive topic and should be taken seriously. However, what is defined as bullying and how it’s dealt with draw some interesting differences.
The teacher who I interviewed from the US informed me that punishment for those accused of bullying sometimes depends on the child’s social status and activity in extra-curricular events. It seems that these factors can fog the disciplinarian’s judgement on giving a harsher punishment. She went on to explain that:
“teachers have little to no say in what penalty a student will get…”
and that has to leave it to the principal and/or vice-principal to make that decision. Despite this, it is the teachers themselves who usually witness the bullying incident, with principles not usually working directly in the classroom with students.
It takes a different turn, though, when I asked a UK educator about how punishment has been handled in the schools which she has worked in. In certain cases, police officers have been contacted due to extreme and persistent bullying. This level of action isn’t a common sight in school districts across the US – unless of course the bullying is significantly more violent. But why is this? Perhaps it’s a lack of policy within US schools, or perhaps it’s because the staff may feel that this is an extreme resort.
In the UK, staff use a method called Restorative Justice to resolve an issue regarding bullying; a group of school administration bring in both alleged bully and victim and there they will explore the issue through ‘talk therapy’. Whilst this is likely to be the most common way to approach a situation of bullying in both US and UK schools, many who work for authorities think a “good talking to” is enough to persuade students to get along – this appears to be simply unrealistic.
The most popular form of bullying today takes place in cyberspace. Social media has become an outlet of uncensored hate where young people are able to sit behind the screen of their electronic devices and spew whatever thoughts they have without facing immediate consequence – if any. Students will find themselves being degraded by photos they upload or posts which they make. Perhaps the most common peer on peer war happens simply by posting indirect messages – where a user posts about someone without addressing their name.
Not only can this cause chaos online, but can lead to personal conflict in schools, resulting in confrontation. If this heated brawl happens to be outside of school property, both US and UK teachers explained that there isn’t much that can be done to protect students. As a primary outlet of bullying, it’s incredibly harmful that school administrations aren’t permitted to act at great lengths in this situation. Nevertheless, since 2014, twenty states within the US have policies put in place specifically for cyber-bullying.
Both teachers agree that they don’t believe there is much more that can be done to resolve the issue of in-school bullying. What more can be done than calling the police or warning students that they will be punished if they partake in such behavior towards other students? In other words, it’s highly unlikely that bullying will ever cease to exist. It’s often suggested that how parents behave and handle social situations in front of their children can play a massive role in how they grow to interact with their peers; parents therefore hold the responsibility to ensure that their children understand social ethics.
Each person can feel towards certain situations and groups of people completely differently. If a student believes they are being bullied however, surely it should be taken as if they are genuinely being bullied – until proven otherwise. Often times, adults can jump to the conclusion that young people are dramatic and overreacting when they are genuinely struggling. Children should not be made to feel invalid and it’s crucial that schools provide help to their students.
Written by Brianna Humes