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Bullying as a violation of human rights

January 20, 2012

On January 16, NPR’s Michel Martin interviewed Kerry Kennedy of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, known for its work on topics such as human rights abuses and genocide.  Kennedy (Robert Kennedy’s daughter) was speaking about the Center’s recent decision to include school bullying in its advocacy efforts.   A prime initiative is their Speak Truth to Power curriculum, freely available from rfkcenter.org.  The Center is to be applauded for their strong stance on bullying prevention.

School leaders must deal with bullying regularly; some states require bullying prevention programs and reporting for incidents of bullying.  It is sometimes difficult to defend the efficacy of these programs in and of themselves.  A 2008 meta-analysis of research into bullying intervention programs published in School Psychology Quarterly found minimal and weak evidence that these programs led to an actual reduction in bullying behavior, with the most effectual programs:

… enhancing students social competence, self-esteem, and peer acceptance; in enhancing teachers knowledge of effective practices, feelings of efficacy regarding intervention skills, and actual behavior in responding to incidences of bullying at school; and, to a lesser extent, in reducing participation by students in bully and victim roles … (p. 38)

Questions for school leaders:

  1. How are bullying incidents reported?  Are they tracked over time?
  2. Is or can the effectiveness of local interventions be measured using existing metrics?
  3. What is the policy and practice of dealing with acute or chronic bullying when existing measures prove ineffective in particular instances?
  4. Do staff, leadership, and other students view bullying as a human rights issue, rather than a purely social or developmental issue?  Does this view affect how they react to bullying when confronted by it?
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