Can you spot a bully? Bullies are everywhere. They appear in schools, workplaces, on the Internet, with social media connections, in sports and social groups, and even in the home. Bullying comes naturally to human beings. How can we wipe out a natural instinct that appears when an individual wants to dominate others? Most importantly, unacceptable behavior can be learned. Youngsters become accustomed to physical violence in domestic squabbles and view family abuse as normal. Can we even attribute this trait to inherited genes? One can only guess how or why a bully emerges, and having one in school can be a nightmare for many students.
Bullies on school campuses can disrupt learning and make school life miserable. They are alive and well in Waianae schools. Calvin Endo, Educational Committee Chairman of he Waianae Neighborhood Board, has called for more action to prevent bullying in the schools. It is difficult to stop bullying when it looks like harassment. They are similar, and the main difference would be the degree of physical force that is used. The question is: when does harassment end and bullying start? How much suffering must the victim experience to determine whether it is harassment or bullying? This makes it difficult to identify and reduce bullying. The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) reported that school bullying and harassment have declined, but the numbers indicate ongoing misery in school. There were 541 bullying incidents and 1,871 harassments during the 2012-2013 school year (DOE Chips away at bullying issue, HSTA, January 9, 2013).
Bullies pick on smaller and weaker students on campus and usually are disciplined using standard procedures, but that is not the case with “mentally challenged” bullies. In one particular case, the bully was classified as a “special needs” student, but he qualified for placement in a regular class. His unacceptable behavior continued in and out of the classroom. Teachers and office counselors met with him; a classroom aide was assigned to help him study; and his activities accommodated his special requirements. His parents were contacted on the phone many times to ask for help; he was referred to the office for disciplinary action. These efforts brought little change in the student’s behavior, especially during recess and lunch. Follow-through and accountability are necessary to bring about change, and the schools must find strategies to make all of these efforts work effectively. Presently, bullying is a Class B offense with 16 options for disciplinary action, ranging from after-school detention to disciplinary transfer, and are listed in the DOE Chapter 19 rules. Should the state put some teeth into anti-bullying rules and policies by passing a law that treats bullying acts as criminal assaults? Bullying has increased from under 600 incidents in the 2010-2011 year to more than 700 in the last school year 2011-2012 (The Honolulu Magazine, May 20, 2013).
It has been difficult to eradicate aggressive behavior in schools. When parents realize this, they take a different direction. It makes more sense to protect their children rather than try to prevent bullying. Of course, bullying can be lessened or curtailed, but it would require rules, laws, or extensive psychological treatments that are not forthcoming in a timely manner. If their parents can afford it, many ethnic minority students in Hawaii are placed in private schools where there is more control over student behavior. Waianae was a sugar plantation that originally employed 500 Japanese laborers out of 750 workers (Historic Waianae, “A Place of Kings,” Edward J. McGrath Jr., Kenneth M. Brewer, and Bob Krauss, 1973). The Japanese residents, who worked on the plantation, developed the town and enjoyed being the main ethnic group in the schools and community. As the town grew, they became a minority. They quickly realized their children could not enjoy the safety of numbers anymore. As soon as their children passed through primary school or intermediate school, they were able to send them to private schools outside of Waianae. Presently there are few students of Japanese ancestry in Waianae High School. During the school year 2012-2013 only 1.8% of the students were Japanese (Public School Review).
Some schools take bullying lightly. When a community elevates sports and athletic competition above academics, the physically aggressive student is accepted as an asset to the school’s football, basketball, and other sports programs. The bully learns that his physical prowess makes him successful and popular with teachers and students. Regarded as a hero, he often is given special treatment, and any physical encounter with him is regarded as a privilege. On the other hand, there are many “scholar-athletes” who maintain excellent grades as well as a star athlete position, and this image is a positive model for many in school.
Immediate solutions for curbing bullying in schools are not in sight, but Endo will keep pursuing them. He has reached out to the State Board of Education, the State Legislature, community leaders, and parents in the Waianae community. The Department of Education should keep the issue alive by broadcasting the dangers of bullying and harassment in the schools. A pro-active approach to solving bullying in the schools should be renewed every school year. An endless campaign against school bullies reassures parents that the schools are guarding their children’s safety and well-being. And as some state legislators have concluded: we need a uniform system that requires annual reports on bullying from every school, with no exceptions, to be submitted to the legislature for evaluation in order to improve programs, rules and laws to fight bullies. HSTA reported that all school complexes had reported bullying incidents except Nanakuli-Waianae and Hilo-Waiakea in 2013. Following up on statistics by evaluating and interpreting them to discover causes and effects of bullying is a positive strategy for wiping out bullies in schools.