We received an advance copy of Emily Bazelon’s book “Sticks and Stones, Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy” months ago and set it on the shelf to read when we had time. Then, I heard and interview with Ms. Bazelon on NPR regarding new, strict anti-bullying laws popping up throughout the country. To my surprise, she was concerned about the severity of some of these laws. And, it made sense. In her example of one new law, on the tennis court if a student made a bad shot and a teammate quipped, “You suck at tennis,” a third student could overhear and report the commenting teammate as a bully. According to Ms. Bazelon, laws are needed but students also have to have room to make mistakes and grow.
After the radio interview, I picked up her book and dived in. Through her storytelling and reflecting on my own experiences in the classroom, I was struck by the “realness” of the book. In short, Ms. Bazelon writes about three children with different circumstances. Monique McClain is an African-American girl who is bullied by a clique of girls in her Connecticut school but finally finds a way out. Jacob Lasher is a gay student in New York state who fights against bigotry. Phoebe Prince is an Irish girl who finds herself moved to an unfamiliar town in Massachusetts. She is bullied relentlessly and this story ends in tragedy.
Interestingly, she doesn’t present bullied children, especially the one’s profiled, as 100% blameless. In addition, she uncovers the role of family culture in bullying. In short, bullying starts at home. As a parent and a life-long teacher, I totally agree. Finally, she spars with the social media industry saying the Facebook business model is “habituating kids to giving up their privacy.”
The stories are compelling but I always want to know, “Now what.” Bazelon blends best-practices solutions including student-created anti-bullying ideas. She offers ideas for both parent and schools. In addition, she looks at current legislation with opinions about what works and what doesn’t.
I highly recommend this book not only as a parent but as an educator. If your faculty is learning more about bullying, I suggest picking up a copy of “Sticks and Stones.”
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