5 of 121 DOCUMENTS

	The Boston Globe

	January 30, 2007 Tuesday 

	Thwarting the bullies in our schools

	BYLINE: Jack Levin - Jack Levin is a professor of sociology and
	criminology at Northeastern University.


	LENGTH: 699 words

	THE FATAL STABBING of a student at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High
	School is obviously a tragic event; it is also an opportunity to
	examine the phenomenon of student-on-student violence.

	The essential problem with the public reaction to this horrific
	act of violence is that we can't seem to get past the details of
	this particular crime in this particular school as perpetrated by
	this particular student, when we should instead be focusing on the
	larger picture. Until we are able to get beyond our obsession with
	easy answers, such as suspect John Odgren's Asperger's disorder or
	the psychotropic medications he takes, we will learn little about
	how to prevent violence at school.

	The occurrence of a teen with Asperger's disorder who kills a
	schoolmate is so extraordinary that it may not happen again for
	generations. What will definitely occur time and again are
	episodes of school violence in which one youngster who has been
	teased, bullied, or humiliated kills another for revenge.

	Not revenge aimed at the student whose life he has taken, but at
	students in general. It is almost never a single event that
	inspires an act of extreme violence. Instead, the young killer has
	typically spent months, if not years, being terrorized. He may
	reach the point where even an innocuous gesture from an innocent
	classmate is misunderstood as a threatening response. 
	Some students at Lincoln-Sudbury reported that Odgren had been
	teased for the way he dressed. But his parents suggested that he
	had been thoroughly miserable at his previous school, causing him
	to spend his evenings at home wrapped in a blanket and in tears.

	There is an important lesson here - bullying in the schools should
	be totally unacceptable to students, teachers, parents, and school
	administrators. Let us see bullying for what it is: not a normal
	part of growing up, but a potentially devastating series of events
	for any youngster who is different for a variety of reasons,
	including being overweight, a different race, having an accent, or
	a physical or mental disability. 
	Intervention by an adult is the key. Rather than turning their
	backs on occurrences of bullying in the hallway, lunchroom, or
	playground, teachers, counselors, and school psychologists must

	The easy response is to do nothing; the effective reaction is to
	become sensitive to what happens between students outside the
	classroom and to put a stop to anyone who is harassing another
	person with words or fists. Many schools have adopted antibullying
	programs in which students are taught to empathize with the
	victims of bullying rather than contribute to their victimization.

	The second lesson to learn from the Lincoln-Sudbury tragedy is
	that we must break the culture of silence that so often exists
	among students in a middle or high school setting. In Boston, fear
	of physical retaliation has apparently caused many who witness
	violent criminal activities to ignore their responsibility to
	cooperate with police in identifying killers.

	But in middle-class suburbs, students who overhear a threat in the
	hallway fear the social consequences. Snitching is not viewed as
	being cool, and students do not want to be rejected by their
	peers. Youngsters who prefer not to be labeled as a snitch will
	talk themselves into believing that someone else is bound to
	inform so why should they get involved? 
	The establishment of a tip hotline in Lincoln-Sudbury makes sense,
	but only if informing on schoolmates is positively sanctioned in
	the student culture.

	Across the country, there have been fewer school shootings
	committed by disgruntled students thanks in part to the
	willingness of youngsters to put aside their social anxieties and
	inform a parent, a teacher or a resource officer. 
	In such communities as Marshfield and New Bedford, the culture of
	silence was reduced to the point where students cooperated with
	police to turn in threatening schoolmates before they carried out
	their murderous intentions.

	By reducing bullying and breaking the culture of silence, we will
	dramatically improve the quality of life not only for those
	students who are victims of violence but for all of our children.
	In the process, we may also prevent a slaying or two.

	LOAD-DATE: January 30, 2007



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