This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
one component of the Information Age Education project. See
and the end of this newsletter. All back issues
of this newsletter are available free online at
This 98-page book contains a series of 19 Information Age Education Newsletters
that explore various elements of the educational issues that will
confront our society during the 21st century. The principal focus of
the series is on the dramatic developments currently occurring in the
cognitive neurosciences and computer technology. These promise to play
an especially significant role in reshaping educational policy and
The authors of the articles are all widely known and respected for
their work in the areas in which they write. They were asked to select
a general issue that they consider important to 21st century education
and to discuss the elements of it that they consider especially
significant to educators. Some authors focus on simply exploring the
issue itself and others also suggest educational applications. David
Moursund added computers-in-education comments to each of the
Bullying and being bullied are lifelong problems for a great many
people, so we need to learn how to deal with them from childhood on.
Parents, teachers, coaches, and others who work with the young need to
develop a protective social environment with their charges—an
environment in which the potential bullied feel safe, and the potential
bullies understand that their continued bullying behavior is
inappropriate and won’t be tolerated.
Since much bullying behavior in schools occurs out of adult
observation, it’s important that adults take the time at the beginning
of the school year to explain bullying behavior, and to teach students
how best to respond when in groups or alone.
A considerable educational literature on bullying has emerged in recent
years—advice, research, and reference materials. This and the following
article in this series should get you started on how you might best
enhance your treatment of the issue—an issue that has recently been
exacerbated because of cyber bullying that uses social networking
Information and Communication Technology systems.
We asked colleagues who work with students and teachers what bullying
advice they might have for prospective and inservice teachers. Here are
some of their responses.
Eric Jensen (website: http://www.jlcbrain.com/) is a widely known
consultant who works with educators on a variety of policy and practice
issues. Quoting Jensen:
My take on bullying is
straight from biology (although it's much more complicated than I'm
going to make it).
Research studies by the renowned stress scientist Robert Sapolsky (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Sapolsky)
reported that an alpha male mountain gorilla doesn’t harass the #2 in
his troupe. He rather picks on a vulnerable animal, perhaps #25. Why?
Less risk of getting hurt, and also less risk of loss of status.
Students sometimes bully others to show that they are "a somebody."
This is often a search for status among peers. When students are
treated fairly and allowed opportunities to gain status among peers,
they don't have to extract it in unfair ways from the vulnerable.
My thinking thus is: When schools give students status in appropriate
ways, potential bullies won't have to take it from others in
When students feel special, they don't have to act special.
We have never heard a school shooter say, "I had so much status at
school, that I had to go shoot others." Going on a school shooting
rampage (or bullying) is done by those who feel marginalized and
Michael Rousell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is on the graduate Education faculty of Southern Oregon University.
I was a secondary school teacher for 30 years. I
learned that many
students are unaware that what they’re doing is in fact malicious
bullying. They seemed to get caught up in escalating meanness through
Stanford psychologist Philip Zambardo (2011) spent decades studying how
inattentively well-behaved people can get seduced into bad behavior.
The following brief three-part intervention was by far the most
dramatically effective way I had to reduce recurring bullying.
Explain the intervention to the bullied victim.
Inform the bully(s) that the report was received from someone
than the victim. This helps eliminate retaliatory behavior.
Allow guilty students to correct their behavior honorably. This
typically an appealing option to a formal report that would result in
The intervention itself is a short commentary without discussion.
Discussions usually result in unproductive blaming of the victim and/or
self-rationalizing. For example:
I received a report that you are bullying X. Someone
other than the
victim reported it. Bullying is a mean and harmful act. I assume that
you are bullying because you think it’s fun or interesting and you
don’t know how much pain you’re causing the victim. If you stop
immediately it signals to me that you’ve been bullying out of
ignorance. In that case, this is our last conversation and I won’t deal
with this further. If this continues, it signals to me that you are
intentionally mean. I treat malice more seriously than I treat
ignorance. The question is whether you’ve acted ignorantly or cruelly.
How you behave after this talk gives me your answer.
Mary Kay Morrison
Mary Kay Morrison (http://www.questforhumor.com) is a consultant who
specializes in the role of humor in school behavior. This is an
adaptation of material that appeared in her recent book, Using Humor to
Maximize Living (R&L Education, 2012. 2nd edition). Quoting
A bullying type of humor can be used to control what happens
in relationships. Bullies who make fun of others are usually expressing
internal fears, because they are unable or unwilling to recognize their
own emotional needs. Bullying humor becomes a weapon when it’s
intentionally used to wound another.
Bullying behavior is frequently portrayed in the media as an
acceptable method to express frustration, hostility, fears, and anger.
Mockery, sarcasm, and jokes that have the express purpose of making fun
of others also abound in media. Our fear of cultural differences is
often expressed in jokes about various ethnic, sexual, and religious
groups. While perhaps clever, these jokes perpetuate the bully mindset
that it’s okay to make fun of individuals or groups.
Research suggests that this type of humor can eventually lead
to violent behavior.
“The devaluation of racial, ethnic or religious groups, sometimes
disguised as humor, is a major contributor to violence and aggression
against these groups. Emotional empathy was negatively correlated only
with the humorousness of negative ethnic stereotype jokes” (Forsyth,
Altermatt, & Forsyth, 1997).
A congressman recently posted this “joke” in Facebook.
“Father Daughter Talk…. My daughter just walked into the room and said,
‘Dad, cancel my allowance, rent my room out, throw all my clothes out,
take my TV, IPhone, IPod and my laptop. Please sell all my jewelry.
Then sell my car, take my house key. And then write me out of your
will.’ Well, she didn’t put it quite like that. She actually said,
‘Dad, this is my new boyfriend, Mohammed from Iran.’”
The response was quite mixed. Several people and editorials protested
that he was profiling and discriminating against Muslims. However many
of his followers claimed that, “This was only a joke.” His supporters
gave responses such as: “It is just humor,” “Lighten up,” and “It’s a
joke people, geez.” I believe however that this is an example of
blatant bullying. It is not really funny unless deep down you
fear and/or dislike Muslims. It is also an instance of folks
trying to “blame” those voicing objection by asserting that the
disapproving comments were from people who did not have a sense of
humor. One of the worst things someone can say about a person is that
they do not have a sense of humor. If it follows bullying, this is
Plight of the Victim
The recipient of bullying feels powerless. The fear of being
made fun of can strip away confidence and the ability to make positive
changes. Victims emerge who blame others for difficulties, acquire a
learned response of helplessness, feel they have no control over their
lives, and operate out of deep fear and anxiety. They do not appear to
enjoy life and constantly remind others of their own difficulties.
Punitive measures originally designed to force improvements tend to
increase cultural toxins. They intensify feelings of fear and
anger, and unresolved anger intensifies bitterness, rage, and even
violence. Deep-seated anger over feelings of inferiority manifests
itself in many ways. Laughing at others becomes a way to feel superior
and can become a weapon in the hands of stressed unhappy individuals.
Control and power are the goals of those who use humor to evoke
feelings of fear and distress in others. Sarcastic, cynical, or mocking
humor results in the recipient feeling helpless and vulnerable. It
should not be tolerated.
The Casel Group (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional
Learning). See http://casel.org/.
The next newsletter issue will provide many more ideas, books, programs, and staff
Note the theme that runs through these suggestions. The school won’t
tolerate bullying behavior, but we’re more interested in helping you to
change your behavior than we are to punish you. The next issue of the IAE Newsletter will identify
additional useful resources, research, and references for stopping
Forsyth, A., Altermatt, E., & Forsyth P. (1997,
August 16). “Humor,
emotional empathy, creativity, and cognitive dissonance.” Paper
presented at the American Psychological Association.
Morrison, M. (2012). Using Humor to Maximize Living.
Lanham, MD: Rowman
and Littlefield Publishers.
Zimbardo, P. (2011). “You can’t be a sweet cucumber
in a vinegar
barrel.” In Brockman, J., ed. The
Mind. New York: Harper Collins.
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About Information Age Education, Inc.
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