- What do you consider to be the major public education issues today? Address one in depth, outlining possible causes, effects, and resolutions.
There are many difficulties facing public education today. Insufficient funding leads to large class sizes, which makes differentiation impossible. More and more high stakes testing is creating toxic, anxiety ridden classroom environments. Students are also impacted by societal epidemics like poverty and obesity. The odds really do seem stacked against our kids, but that’s all the more reason for fighting. And while those issues have a great influence on education, the one that I think has the biggest impact on our students directly is bullying.
Before I launch into effects and possible steps to reduce bullying, I think it is very important to define it and educate students and parents about it. Bully is a word that is very often thrown around without understanding the weight of the word. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents say, “That bully stole my child’s pencil.” That is not what true bullying is.
Oftentimes, the word ‘bully’ gets used when people are really trying to say ‘mean’ or ‘rude.’ When a child says something that hurts another child’s feeling inadvertently, that is considered being rude. If they said or did something on purpose to hurt another child’s feelings once or twice, that moves over to being mean. This also includes plain old conflict with others. Everyone has to deal with conflict daily, even adults. Saying or doing rude or mean things is not acceptable, but there needs to be several things happening in order for those behaviors to cross over into bullying. Bullying is defined as intentionally aggressive behavior repeated over time that involves an imbalance of power. This can include verbal, physical, and cyberbullying.
There are numerous causes for bullying. Students may experience aggressive or violent behavior from family members at home and this may manifest into their school lives. Sometimes students really want attention and don’t know appropriate ways to get it, so they resort to preying on other kids. Struggles with executive functioning skills may lead to an inability to regulate emotions and the smallest thing may tip some students over the edge.
There are several ways we can fight this epidemic that rages rampant in our schools today. The first is directly teaching character education. As adults we sometimes forget that things we find to be common sense still need to be explicitly taught to our children. Self-awareness and reflection are hugely important life skills. We need to know to stop and think, ‘How am I feeling about this?’ and understand that however we are feeling is okay. We need to be able to regulate our emotions and know when we need to take a step back from a situation. We need to be able to see things from other points of view and think about how our actions and words are impacting others. We need to be able to handle conflict appropriately, because conflict happens every day. This kind of instruction is not included with my reading basal program or my math teacher guide. But these skills are so vitally important to help kids navigate social skills and conflict.
There are many great resources and curricula for character education. With my kids I use Have You Filled a Bucket Today? We also need to talk to kids about their self worth, because if they are gaining their worth from others and feeling bad about themselves, that can be a recipe for disaster. To use the language I use with my third graders, bullying is about dipping into someone else’s bucket to try to fill your own, making others feel bad to feel better yourself. But that is not how it works. The best way to fill your bucket is to fill other’s buckets.
Overall, I think we can address this serious issue by simply addressing it. Too often it just gets ignored because teachers don’t know how to handle it or don’t have time. Character education gets put on the back burner to make room for standardized test preparation. It is our responsibility to prepare these kids to be fully functioning adults in society, and I can’t think of anything else that would be more important to teach them than how to have good character.