By James Poulos.
America is shocked — and fascinated — by bullying in California.
In recent days, several local stories relating to the issue have been picked up by the national news media. Together, they illustrate three important developments. First, policymakers are struggling to determine how to address threats, intimidation and violence at school.
Second, bullying is moving toward center stage in America’s culture wars.
Finally, attitudes on bullying are sharpening and diverging — with California as a leading barometer of public opinion.
Earlier this month, Carson City made waves with its proposed plan to ban bullying altogether. Unanimously approved for a vote by the City Council, the sweeping measure could have charged offenders as young as 5 years old with a misdemeanor offense — and would have protected victims as old as 25 years.
As The Los Angeles Times reported, the proposal emphasized “the vulnerability of gay, overweight, disabled and gifted children to bullying.” The ordinance would have gone beyond punishing physical attacks, including “hurtful, rude and mean text messages,” as well as simple “rumors or lies” sent via “email or social networks.”
With state law restricted to school discipline for bullying, Carson City seemed on track to set the tone for a new wave of local regulations. But despite the City Council’s earlier approval, and dramatic statements of support from bullied witnesses, the measure recently went down to defeat.
In fact, opposition to harsher bullying regulation is on the rise in California as well. While Carson City’s attempt at criminalizing bullying found a cross-county audience, national news outlets bred controversy around remarks made at another California city council meeting.
In the town of Porterville, Mayor Cameron Hamilton recently told his City Council that bullying victims needed to buck up. “All most people need to do is grow a pair and stick up for their damn selves,” he said. Reportedly, Hamilton was expressing his opposition to a student-led initiative to establish off-campus help centers for middle schoolers struggling with bullies.
Although the so-called “safe zone” proposal has since been withdrawn, some organizations have bridled at the mayor’s attitude, which strikes them as indicative of a broader lack of concern for targeted groups. The Gay Porterville organization, for instance, expressed concern over a do-it-yourself approach to bullying prevention.
One member, Melissa McCurrey, hinted at the culture-war quality of the disagreement. “My feelings were really hurt,” she told a local ABC affiliate, adding that “it kind of felt like a little bit of a witch hunt” when the proposal was defeated.
On one side of the debate, supporters of bullying regulation believe that a culture of toughness and self-reliance is part of the problem. On the other, opponents of bullying regulation believe that bureaucratic, legal remedies and penalties impose their own kind of unwelcome pressure.
Yet at least some voices on the anti-regulatory side take an expansive view of the private legal protections that should be used to fight bullying. Fox News contributor Keith Ablow, for instance, told viewers that Mayor Hamilton was wrong – because parents ought to confront school administrators “with lawyers in tow, if needed,” demanding school discipline be enforced.
Meanwhile, national news reports have zeroed in on another California case that dramatizes the bullying debate. In Santa Rosa, mom Delia Garcia-Bratcher allegedly grabbed her daughter’s tormentor by the throat, leading to her arrest on felony child abuse charges.
Garcia-Bratcher was released on $30,000 bail. But bully related frustration and fear appears to be growing for California parents, students, administrators and policymakers alike. That’s despite the formation of anti-bullying groups at schools, bullying awareness campaigns, and anti-bullying programs that even exploit technology, such as Kern County’s Safe School Ambassadors app.
As one Kern County student explained, a prison mentality toward policing bullying can backfire by creating a prison mentality among students. Students don’t want to get caught snitching, said Alexis Caudillo, a Bakersfield High School senior. “People might mess with them even more.”
Stanford economist Thomas Sowell recently wrote, “Not all of this is the educators’ fault. The courts have created a legal climate where any swift and decisive action against bullies can lead to lawsuits. The net results are indecision, half-hearted gestures, and pious public pronouncements by school officials, none of which is going to stop bullies.
“When judges create new ‘rights’ for bullies out of thin air, just as they do for criminals, and prescribe ‘due process’ for school discipline, just as if schools were little courtrooms, then nothing is likely to happen promptly or decisively.”
Which means that, in California especially, nothing likely will happen soon to resolve the bullying crisis.
Originally posted at CalWatchdog.