Sunday, January 18, 2009

District management embraces a culture of bullying.

These quotes are from a paper presented by Alan McEvoy of Wittenburg University to the Hamilton Fish Institute’s Persistently Safe Schools Conference in Philadelphia, September 11 - 14, 2005. Material is under copyright and needs to be properly credited. While this is a paper addressing teacher-to-student bullying, it is applicable also to teacher-to-teacher or administrator-to-teacher behaviors.

Teachers who bully feel their abusive conduct is justified and will claim provocation by their targets. They often will disguise their behavior as “motivation” or as an appropriate part of the instruction. They also disguise abuse as an appropriate disciplinary response to unacceptable behavior by the target. The target, however, is subjected to deliberate humiliation that can never serve a legitimate educational purpose.

This reflects on the principal/student bullying (removing students from school/dressing them in coveralls) that I witnessed on Monday March 6, 2006. The last two sentences are most appropriate-RR

Similar to peers who bully, teachers who bully may employ a number of methods to deflect anticipated or actual complaints about their offensive conduct. One common method is trying to convince targets that they are paranoid or crazy, that they have misperceived or misrepresented the behavior in question, or that it is all in their mind. It is also common for bullies to impugn the motives or performance of students, colleagues, and supervisors who register a complaint. For example, an abusive teacher may argue that a student who complains is simply trying to excuse his or her “questionable” academic performance. This shifts attention from the teacher’s inappropriate conduct to a discussion of “standards” and to the student’s motivation for complaining. This also has the minimizing effect of suggesting to others that what is at stake is merely a “personal difference,” rather than a systematic abuse of power.

This reflects on the treatment we endured. We were frequently told by administration and others that we had "misunderstood" the "if you don't like it here, go someplace else" comments directed toward me personally (Also the frequent use of the phrase "That's just your perspective" in the pejorative). It also speaks to the general perception that "you have to be crazy" to stand up and speak your mind and voice your objections to administration. Any disagreement with the administrative line leaves an employee open to bullying and possible charges of "insubordination" which in too many cases means simply that you disagree openly with policy.

Bullying by teachers produces a hostile climate that is indefensible on academic grounds; it undermines learning and the ability of students to fulfill academic requirements. In this it shares core attributes with more recognized abuses of power such as sexual harassment, stalking, and hate crimes, each of which is, in fact, a form of bullying…

I once asked the union for a clarification of "hostile workplace" thinking foolishly that I worked in one. I was told that it only had to do with sexual harassment. So bullying was OK but sexual harassment wasn't? The only difference as far as I can see is that the expected result of sexual harassment is having sex under duress; the expected result of bullying is that you mentally break someone in order to establish power over them so that they will do WHATEVER you want them to do; the same techniques are used, the same coercion is used.

Victims of bullying by teachers often feel emotionally distraught and fearful, with no place to turn for help. The victim’s distress is compounded by the inaction outright complicity of the larger group. The function of such inaction is to further enable the bully and to affirm his or her “right” to use professional authority in an arbitrary manner. By not defending the victim, others are confirming his or her selection as an appropriate target, thus endorsing and tacitly legitimizing the abuser’s mistreatment of that individual. Although not every member of the victim’s environment shares the abuser’s values, some do. Many bystanders remain silent or comply to avoid being targeted themselves.

Again, no one in higher authority did anything about our allegations; colleagues refused to walk in the halls with us; and support was given covertly so as to not be found out. Bullying works when no one else stands with the victims. We were frequently told, even by union leaders, that the principal could do anything he wants, leaving no room for dissent. This is very hard for social studies teachers who teach students that dissent has a legitimate and legally supported place in the American constitutional system.

Bullying by teachers raises the specter of school liability. For example, the Supreme Court's ruling in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education 526 U.S. 629 (1999) provided a language and a set of principles that should give educational institutions pause…The court ruled that schools receiving federal funds, at all levels of education, may be held financially responsible where officials are “deliberately indifferent” to harassing behaviors that are “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.” If the Supreme Court found those principles an adequate basis to expand school liability in one arena, why wouldn’t they apply equally to a decision to expand school liability in another arena (i.e., to liability for teacher/student bullying)? [or administrator/teacher bullying?-RR]

I tried to raise this issue with Tam after the Virginia Tech shootings. If the district continued bullying, as I knew it was at the time, the district was leaving itself open to grave legal consequences. Rather than heed my warning, he/they took my concern as evidence that I was myself preparing an attack on MMS and used it as evidence in their issuance of a "no trespass order" against us because our "continued communication" was "deemed threatening and disruptive" as Limon wrote. This is naked use of power in an inappropriate fashion for inappropriate ends. Limon had never learned that the ends do not justify the means, much less that his ends were wrong in the first place.

This is not just us being crazy. This is an academic paper presented to a group of educators and scholars who are interested in keeping schools safe for learning. This includes everybody who works for the district, not just students. This is a big issue for a school district that continues to deny that it has a problem. How many of us have friends or relatives who deny that they have a drinking problem and then go out and engage in destructive behavior while drunk? Well, folks, that's where ESD is. It needs an intervention.

Richard Reuther


Anonymous said...

As a side note, I would point out that I feel that there were at least three "colleagues" who were engaged in teacher/student bullying concurrent with their teacher/teacher bullying of me. These were the trusted allies of the principal; once the principal "left" they were truly afraid for what would happen in the future, perhaps fearful that their participation would be found out and punished. But the next principal picked up where the other one left off and they continued to enjoy their protected status. Happy ending, except for their next victim(s).

Anonymous said...

Mark can I say my sorry for all the bullying I have done back to the district or would that be stupid. I'm so confused, that I need a court date on this one.

Anonymous said...

Well, if we are Christians and follow the Golden Rule, then it follows that those who bully us expect to be bullied back. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." So if the bully bullies, bullying back at the bully is not a sin. It's just the way they show and respect?? So I'm thinkin' that you don't have to say you're sorry. It's the way they want to be treated. They must be feeling really good about being treated the way they want to be treated which is the way they treated you. Or us.