Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Sticks and stones will break my bones
but words will never hurt me.

These are the words we were taught as children.

We were assured that no matter what we were told about ourselves or perhaps other family members, no matter how many ugly names we were called,  no matter who said what, that we should not worry about it.  

We were told to ignore disparaging remarks, to disregard words that hurt us, to dry our tears, and move on with our lives.

Our local newspaper ran an article in Sunday's paper about new cyberbullying websites that many high schools in the area are seeing pop up-- and repop up as soon as they are taken down.  

These new sticks and stones are called crush or confession sites.

Bullying is not new.

If we are old enough, we may remember the devastating effects resulting from face-to-face physical bullying.  I was called names periodically and tormented in elementary school because of the ugly corrective shoes I had to wear. (I still hate saddle shoes.) After an extended period of this from one particular boy, my mother made a trip to the bully's house -   back alley street, lots of folks in the house when we got there, but she spoke her piece and demanded the bullying stop...... and it did. (Yeah--I have a bold mother.)

She was not particularly thrilled when soon after I became friends with my bully.  He actually has turned out to be a fairly nice grown man.

Cyberbullying is not new either.

It has been occurring since the beginning of Internet time.  But it used to mean that one or more folks posted mean comments on a particular site.  The perpetraters could usually be identified and then duly dealt with.

This is not in any way to minimize the effect of this type of torment.  Devastating effects have resulted-- lowered self-esteem and confidence, loneliness, fear, dropping out, and... suicide.  We have all read the news stories of those who have been targets of these cruel electronic attacks.

What makes these new crush or confession sites so much more effective or hurtful or even dangerous, however,  is the anonymity factor and the speed at which they proliferate.

Bullies often feel emboldened and protected under the cloak of anonymity.
I can say what I want and no one will know it is me.  
I can go along with the crowd.  

The Columbus Dispatch article dealt with this notion of hiding in this faceless realm:

“It just confirms for me that they feel like they can say almost anything if they’re not really saying it,” said Principal Mike Ulring of Dublin Coffman High School. “Faceless communication, to me, is just dangerous.”This breed of website is also particularly difficult for schools to trace back to individual students, as some have done in the past to punish bullies who try to hide behind screens. In this case, students add a layer of anonymity by submitting comments to an account set up with ask.fm, a website based in Latvia that is designed to be anonymous. Whoever runs the ask.fm account then channels the posts to a Twitter page that has no personal information.
Click here to read more of this article which ran on Sunday, May 12.2013. 

According to the article, offensive, sexual, and in some, cases illegal behavior, is the norm on these sites,  with some school sites having over 1500 followers.

 So what do we do?

What is the antidote to this disease of cruelty plaguing our schools and our larger society?

We can't stand by uninvolved, unseeing, uncaring.
We can not be silent witnesses--face-to face or online.

And to care at all, we must be able to put ourselves in someone else's shoes.

This video by spoken word poet Shane Koyczan  is one of the best anti-bullying resources I have found and may be an excellent place to begin.

And, likewise this next video, asks you to stand in someone else's shoes--to have empathy. 
We can't beat bullying without it. We can't see others compassionately until we are hearing what they hear, feeling what they feel, wearing their shoes, walking in their day.

Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth offer strategies to integrate 
kindness and empathy in your classroom or other groups.
Their book, Bullying Hurts: Teaching Kindness Through Read Alouds and Guided Conversations promotes the philosophy that carefully selected literature and guided conversation can create a climate in which bullying is discouraged and kindness and empathy prevail.

And finally, concrete suggestions are offered for starting conversations and dealing with issues of bullying, in the article  Using Literature and Digital Storytelling to Create a Safe Place to Address Bullying by Kevin Cordi and Kimberly Masturzo (Voices from the Middle, Volume 20 Number 3, March 2013).   Several examples of excellent literature selections are given, along with steps to lead your students into telling their own stories or taking action through digital storytelling.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Have you been bullied?  In your childhood? As an adult? 

Reflect on your experience, remembering as many details as your can about the location, the people involved--those who helped, as well as those who hurt, the feelings you recall, the actions you took (or did not take), the results, and so forth.

Write a poem, personal or persuasive essay, or story about your experience.

You may also want to create a digital story telling about your experience.

I invite your to share your work here in this space.

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