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Bullying Prevention: Israel Kalman on Best Practices

EducationWorld asked a number of authors, college professors and other experts for their take on bullying prevention and whether schools, states and the country are getting it right--or wrong. Below is what Bullies to Buddies Director Israel “Izzy” Kalman shared regarding best practices. See how other experts answered similar questions. Also, don’t miss EducationWorld's additional resources that address school-based bullying.israel kalman

Israel “Izzy” Kalman, MS, NCSP, is director of Bullies to Buddies, Inc., and the author of Why Your Anti-Bully Program Isn’t Working. Bullies to Buddies teaches kids, parents and schools how to deal with bullying and aggression by applying psychological principles.

Most states now have some form of anti-bullying law that requires K-12 schools to put in place various policies and practices to prevent and respond to student bullying. Do you think these laws are making a difference? If they aren't currently, could they, or will they?

These laws have not been working, and they can’t work because they are a Catch-22. The very attempt to enforce them causes hostilities to escalate. Hostilities among students, parents and teachers have reached unprecedented levels, courtesy of anti-bullying laws. 

This is how it happens. Let’s say you and I are kids in school. You call me bad names. I tell the school and they start investigating you, and informing both our parents about the incident. Are you going to admit guilt? No. You are going to try to stay out of trouble and will probably blame me. Will you like me for getting you investigated? No. You will despise me and want to do something worse to me, so the next incident is set into motion. 

bullying prevention

Are your parents going to like me and take my side against you? Not likely. They will probably take your side. My parents are likely to take my side against you. So now our parents become enemies, too.

The school now has to play judge between us. It is hard for a judge to make both sides happy. The judge at best makes one side happy. The two sides still hate each other, and the losing side hates the judge.

In psychology, this process is known as “triangulation.” It is probably the number one cause of hostility among people. And this psychological mistake is being mandated as the right thing to do, and we wonder why bullying is becoming a bigger problem.


What are state anti-bullying laws getting right/wrong when it comes to actual evidence-based best practices for preventing and responding to bullying?

The problem is that the states are trying to follow the best “evidence-based practices.” The truth is that the so-called “best practices” can more accurately be referred to as “worst practices.” There is a monolithic view about bullying in academia that is universally accepted to be true, so no one questions it, and the psychological organizations and researchers refuse to consider any approach that is not consistent with the orthodoxy.

If anything, the research has been showing unequivocally that the “best practices” don't work! But instead of concluding that they should be abandoned, researchers conclude that the reason the practices aren’t working is that they aren’t being implemented intensively enough.


Are there things that K-12 schools have to do to successfully prevent bullying, but that can’t be covered or mandated in a law?

The only reliable way to reduce bullying is by teaching kids how to handle it on their own. But this is contrary to the anti-bullying orthodoxy and to the nature of the laws, which require schools to treat victims as innocent parties who have nothing to do with the situation, and bullies as the guilty parties that need to be punished and/or rehabilitated. Today, if you suggest that victims should be taught how to handle being bullied, you immediately get attacked for “blaming victims.” Thus, the best approach gets knocked down before it can even be considered.


Laws aside, what are K-12 schools currently doing right/wrong when it comes to preventing and responding to bullying? What are some common mistakes that schools make?

Almost everything they’re doing is wrong. There are some schools that actually teach kids how to solve their interpersonal problems. These are doing a better job than the ones that take the typical approach to bullying.


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