Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Ground Rules and Bullies

When I was at school bullying was done at the end of a pair of Doctor Martens behind the school shed. One day I was very upset because of the name calling and a sympathetic family member replied "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me". This was not what I wanted to hear and left me angry with them for a long time. But now looking back and putting things into proportion I think we have become too over-sensitive to words, especially in social media.

Last week a stupid drunken idiot student was jailed for 56 days for tweeting racial hatred against Fabrice Muamba. He has also been expelled from his university where he was a final year student, destroying his career. Some years ago I was at a magistrate's court watching a case where a youth had been carrying a knife on a Friday night and he was not given anything more than a caution. One of these people is a threat to the community and one is a stupid ignorant fool who needs to spend some time in counselling and less time in the pub.

For my discussion board entry about the saboteur I had zero tolerance as this is someone who tries to destroy learning for the group and who makes people feel bad. But I think I was being far too harsh. As others said there is often an underlying cause that you need to try and understand and address. There are students who you cannot reach but they are rare. In most cases you can find something to bring them back into cooperation. The question is about an individual attack. Racism and sexism are not things we can just sweep away by pushing a button. They are often hidden in attitudes. I was always proud of Leicester's race relations history as I come from that part of the country. But I was talking to one of the students from an Asian background whose family had moved from there because it was so racist!

Online we need to have ground rules for within the learning environment and these can be and should be quite strict. We should work hard to stamp out bullying and anyone making anyone else feel bad about themselves in any way. But we also have to strengthen how good people feel about themselves, so that people can deal with criticism, fair or unfair as that is what we all experience. The world is not a just place, and there are a lot of bullies who you will have to work with.

By building this confidence and security inside the learning environment this can be carried outside to the social networks. Here we have no control and the nastier side of human interactions can proliferate. On Daybreak they had everyone's favourite psychologist talking about bullying. The presenters said that because of the anonymity of the web and the inability to see the reaction people act in worse ways and are more likely to bully. Historically this is not really true. We have had no problem trading insults face-to-face and if you look at the barbarism of ancient times this was often at the point of a sword or blade of an axe. Steven Pinker argues that we are improving and becoming less violent and less nasty and I hope he is right

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