No one is more knowledgeable about the causes and consequences of bullying than bullies and their targets. Two anti-bullying books written by middle school students aim to help peers and younger students realize the importance of speaking out against bullying.
Bullying doesnt have to be as dramatic as verbal threats or as violent as shoving an underclassman into a locker. Constant disparaging statements from a peer are enough to render a youngster hurt and discouraged. Often perpetrators dont realize the effects of thoughtless statements about another kids appearance, dress, mannerisms, or interests.
The book project was the idea of local author Bob Knotts, the founder of the Dania Beach, Florida, based Humanity Project. The goal of the Humanity Project is Teaching action for the greater good that also serves our highest individual interests, according to its mission statement. Knotts founded the Humanity Project after he became engaged with the idea that society is messed up because individuals are messed up, he said.
About 50 at-risk sixth and seventh graders from Olsen Middle School in Dania Beach were involved in writing the books during summer school. The basic message is that school belongs to everyone, bullying hurts everyone in school, and it takes everyone to stop it, Knotts said.
One of the books features a self-absorbed, well-to-do character named Lucina who looks down on anyone less privileged than herself. The other book, entitled I Was A BullyBut I Stopped, is about a dyslexic boy named Michael who learns from his abusive father to bully others. Both books include suggestions for activities related to the stories.
Among the goals of the project was to help students redefine bullying. They were having a discussion about what is and isnt bullying and what they can do to change it, said Principal Thomas Correll. Its getting them to recognize the difference between bullying and kidding. If you do it more than once, do it repeatedly, its not goofing around.
Some on-the-spot learning, in fact, took place when bullying occurred while students were writing the anti-bullying books, said Matt Ferrelli, Olsens eexceptional student education consultant, who was the teacher in the book project classes. One student engaged in some trash talk that made another kid feel badly. When you are not on the same level, and it goes on, its bullying, Ferrelli told Education World. It was an opportunity to sit down with this kid [who made the remarks] and say, This is what were talking about.
While the books are not about any particular students situation, Knotts said he knows that some of the kids personal experiences found their way into the stories. They wrote some very soul-searching stories Im very proud of, Knotts told Education World.
What really surprised me most about the books is how the kids took on a lot of self-reflection, added Ferrelli. They looked into themselves, and even though these were fictional characters, it was a chance to reflect on their own experiences as a bully or target of bullying... While its always great to see kids learn to read and do math, I like the interaction and the opportunity to see kids learn real life skills.
Another approach Olsen staff members are using to curb bullying is instructing students in common courtesies, said Ferrelli. A lot of parents do teach those skills, but a lot of kids just dont know how to treat other people; they have to be taught that, just like math and reading, he said. We just realized a lot of kids dont understand respectful behavior, so this year part of the curriculum deals with how to treat people with respect.
Especially for the sixth graders, working on the books was a way to get them to open up about things they wouldnt normally talk about, noted Correll. Many of the seventh graders came away from the experience with more self-assurance, he added. I see a new level of confidence; they were able to see their writing become meaningful, published, and used by others.
Plans also are underway for Olsens drama club to stage one of the books and give performances for younger students.
But while the goal of the project is to reach out to younger students, writing the books also has opened the door for a lot more discussion at Olsen about bullying, noted Correll. As a whole, students are more willing to talk about bullying behavior, and this has made them more aware of the consequences of not telling someone about it.
Education Worlds special theme page about bullying.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Copyright © 2010 Education World
Originally published 10/04/2010