April 3, 2021
Toronto Star
By Trish Crawford

Bullying has spread like wildfire, educator says

Latest wave of violence involves children as young as 4 years old, conference told

  OTTAWA�The "cold-blooded" cruelty of youth bullying has been allowed to spread like wildfire over the past 25 years, a North American expert told a conference here yesterday. Speaking to 400 teachers and youth workers at the third international conference on bullying and victimization, U.S. educator Michele Borba defined bullying as "cold-blooded intentional cruelty" that has infiltrated all strata of society.

Borba, the architect of California's state school legislation on bullying, said there have been "four waves of violence" affecting young North Americans since the '80s when the violent behaviour of inner-city adolescent males, who were poor and from black and Hispanic backgrounds, was noted. The violence didn't occur in schools and was targeted at specific individuals.

The "I Am Safe Conference" was told the next wave occurred on school grounds in the 1990s � Columbine, Colo., and Taber, Alta., are two examples � where adolescent white males in non-urban areas randomly killed kids they didn't even know.

By 2000, girls were becoming more and more involved in aggression, including physical violence that was now crossing all gender, ethnic and income lines.

The latest wave of violence involves younger and younger children, including those as young as 3 or 4 years of age, according to a study by Yale University involving thousands of kindergarten students. The study found one in 10 were being suspended for swearing, profanity and hitting.

Parents and educators have continued to think of bullying as "teasing and a rite of passage" but it is much more serious and involves all students because they are either aggressors, victims or bystanders, she said. Bystanders who watch cruelty can ultimately become hardened to it, which allows it to flourish.

Kids today are growing up in a society "where they see images of cruelty and violence every day," said Borba, arguing that more teachers and parents need to intervene early, promote peaceful schools, and institute programs of kindness and caring among students.

Bullies have to be dealt with but restitution, not punishment, should be the goal, she said. As well, she warned, victims left to fend for themselves can become bullies with explosive consequences.

The pair who killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in 1999 had been bullied and excluded at their school, said Craig Scott, a survivor whose sister, Rachel, was one of the first to die.

Scott, who was 15 at the time, is part of an international program called Rachel's Challenge involving survivors of Columbine and other community leaders speaking around the world promoting acts of kindness and inclusion in high schools.

The "challenge" refers to the writings of Rachel, 17 at the time of her death, in which she states, "I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same."

Among the people Rachel befriended at school were newcomers and those with intellectual disabilities, Scott said, and the program is designed to encourage others to follow this example.

A number of books have been written about Rachel who was recognized posthumously for her good citizenship.