Information Age Education
   Issue Number 95
August, 2012   

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

Free Book from Information Age Education

Sylwester, R. and Moursund, D. (August 2012). Creating an appropriate 21st century education. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the PDF file from
, and the Microsoft Word file from

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 practice.

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 contributors’ articles.

Other free books from Information Age Education are available at

Reducing School Bullying Behavior: Part 1

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

Eric Jensen (website: 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 ( 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 inappropriate ways.

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 unimportant.

Michael Rousell

Michael Rousell ( is on the graduate Education faculty of Southern Oregon University. Quoting Rousell:

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 peer pressure.
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.
  1. Explain the intervention to the bullied victim.

  2. Inform the bully(s) that the report was received from someone other than the victim. This helps eliminate retaliatory behavior.

  3. Allow guilty students to correct their behavior honorably. This is typically an appealing option to a formal report that would result in punishment.
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 ( 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 Morrison:
Bully Humor

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 bully humor.

The 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.

Ron Brandt

Ron Brandt is the Emeritus editor of Educational Leadership (

This article began with Eric Jensen’s suggestion that the best way to reduce bullying is to institute programs that enhance the social status of all students.

Ron Brandt begins the selection process by suggesting two excellent sources of solid research-based advice on how to do this, and so to reduce bullying behavior. Check them out (below).

The Cooperative Learning Institute. See

The Casel Group (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning). See

The next newsletter issue will provide many more ideas, books, programs, and staff development possibilities.

Final Remarks

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 bullying.


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.

Reader Comments

We are using the Disqus commenting system to facilitate comments and discussions pertaining to this newsletter. To use Disqus, please click the Login link below and sign in. If you have questions about how to use Disqus, please refer to this help page.
Readers may also send comments via email directly to

About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address, a Website containing free books and articles at, a Blog at, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

For a free subscription to this twice a month newsletter and to see back issues, go to You can change your address or cancel your subscription by clicking on the “Manage your Subscription” link at the bottom of this message.