Don’t crack down too hard on school bullies – they could grow up to become the country’s leader

It looks like Australia has opened another gap on us.

But in more than one respect the matter at issue is not quite as the NZ Herald headline suggested.

It says “Kiwi schools falling behind in bullying”.

Alf was taken aback: does this mean other countries are better at bullying than we are?

And if so, is that bad for us – or good for us, in these namby-pamby times when poofs are getting married and brats who beat up their teachers are dealt with leniently but teachers who dish out a bit of corporal punishment are sacked?

But the bloody heading is misleading.

For starters, we are not falling behind with our bullying.

We are falling behind with measures in schools to combat bullying.

Here’s what the story says –

Kiwi schools are falling behind Australian schools in developing anti-bullying policies, research has found.

A joint study by Otago University and the Australian Catholic University revealed that only one-third of New Zealand schools had an anti-bullying policy in late 2009, compared with 75 per cent of schools in the Australian state of Victoria.

Oh, and keen observers will note that we are not falling behind Australian schools in developing anti-bullying policies. We are falling behind schools in just one Australian state.

We may be well ahead of other states.

Keen observers also will point out that this stuff is more than two years out of date. But under your wonderful National Government we are fast closing all sorts of trans-Tasman gaps, except maybe with wages, GDP growth per capita and a few trifling matters like that.

The study found the average Kiwi school’s policies covered only 29 per cent of a standardised list of anti-bullying measures.

This compared with 50 per cent in the average Victorian school.

“Few policies from New Zealand and Victoria stated how a teacher should respond to an incident of bullying, and even fewer mentioned the role of any other school staff,” the study found.

“New Zealand school policies rated poorly on how they would support victims and bullies, and rarely mentioned follow-up of the incident.”

Dunno why they pay researchers to spend their time digging up these sorts of figures, although maybe if the researchers weren’t doing this they would be unemployed and on the dole.

On the other hand that would be no bad thing because the dole would be a smaller drain on the public purse – Alf imagines – than whatever we pay university social scientists.

In this case Otago researcher Dr Louise Marsh led the New Zealand end of the study.

She said the results reflected differing philosophies in the two countries, which by no means came as a surprise to Alf, because Aussies come from criminal stock whereas Kiwis do not.

“Anti-bullying policies are mandatory in Australia, but New Zealand schools are not specifically required by legislation to have them,” she said.

And now we get to the nub of the bullying thing, comparatively speaking.

When it comes to establishing whether we are better or worse at bullying than the Aussies, the bloody researchers don’t know.

The researchers had not been able to establish whether Victorian schools had lower rates of bullying and higher feelings of self-worth among the students than New Zealand schools.

“What I saw as a key difference was that the Australian Government provided help and resources to schools to assist them in developing these policies and deal with bullying incidents,” Dr Marsh said.

NZ schools were not taking bullying any less seriously than Australian schools, but they needed more Government assistance in dealing with it.

Good grief.

This is all about pitching for more money from taxpayers without establishing whether our kids are bullied more or less than kids in schools in Victoria, or whether their self-worth is higher or lower…

Inevitably, the NZ Herald has dug up the report last year on bullying at Hutt Valley High School.

Remember that?

Ombudsman David McGee recommended making anti-bullying programmes compulsory for all schools.

Although this has not been done, Prime Minister John Key has ordered the Education Review Office to develop “indicators of student wellbeing,” including bullying.

These are to be published early next year.

Bloody hell, “Indicators of student wellbeing” are apt to have Alf smirking somewhat about the school system going downhill fast.

He wants to know if the modern generation of brats can read, write and tot up a few numbers and get the right answer.

Oh, and the Herald tells us about resources for schools, including sample surveys, being published this week on a new website, wellbeingatschool.org.nz.

They have had a natter with the Ministry of Education’s northern regional manager, Murray Williams.

He said the website had been designed to help schools, teachers and parents deal with and prevent bullying.

He also banged on about the ministry continuing to work with schools which have come up with “alternative ways” to help improve behaviour and therefore reduce the amount of bullying.

It sounds suspiciously like schooling has become like health, and we can get conventional treatment or “alternative” treatment, such as drinking lots of herb tea and that sort of malarkey.

So what goes on under these “alternative” programmes.

Alf groaned at the answer.

Such programmes include restorative justice systems, having peer-mediators monitoring the playground at lunchtimes and other creative ideas.

“I know one school where [the code] is written on the walls and murals around the playground.

“There are messages on different walls and in those areas children see that this is the area that you have to do this – be kind, for example.”

Alf has had some difficulty trying to translate that remark into something he can understand.

Obviously it gives new meaning to “the writing is on the wall”.

But is Williams seriously telling us the message on the wall in one part of the school might say – for example – “be kind”.

And in that area, the kids are expected to do as advised by the message and be kind to others?

But if this be so, can they stop being kind when they go to another area?

Alf has an immediate retort: it is a serious indictment of the kids’ parental upbringing if they have to read a message on a school wall before they are kind to others.

Moreover, these messages seem more likely to foster bullying than deter it. Beyond the “be kind” zone it seems likely the brats will feel free to belt the crap out of each other.

And what happens to the conditioning of these kids if someone slips into the school ground at dark of night to replace “be kind” with “be a basher” or some such?

These and other questions…

But let’s not despair about bullying and bullies.

Being a bully can help a bloke up the career ladder.

Alf draws attention to news that US Republican nominee Mitt Romney has apologised for high school pranks that “may have gone too far”.

This is his response to an incident he does not remember (the John Banks problem) about an alleged assault on a student who was presumed to be gay.

Mrs Grumble is delighting in the notion that this was a prank.

She reckons the Americans are a nation of pranksters, actually.

And all that stuff about them pissing on Muslim prisoners and water-boarding and burning their sacred books and so on in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan is seriously misunderstood. These have been nothing more than jolly japes.

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