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Pushing Back Against Bullying

by Scott Bittle

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The federal Department of Education launched a new initiative on bullying this week, sending a "Dear Colleague" letter with advice to schools and colleges, with plans for a White House summit next year.

Prominent people in both political parties are coming together on the issue, including former first lady Laura Bush, who is the latest to endorse the It Gets Better project launched in reaction to a string of tragic deaths involving gays harassed because of their sexual orientation.

Public Agenda's research shows bullying is all too common, and also touches on something deeper in the public's thinking. Nearly three-quarters of Americans consider bullying and harassment a serious problem in their local public schools, though not as serious as illegal drugs and lack of respect for teachers.

More than one-third of Americans (35 percent), including 39 percent of parents, say they were bullied themselves when growing up. But only 8 percent of the public and 10 percent of parents say they were bullied "a lot."

That would be reason enough to take the problem seriously, and there are a lot of good resources out there to do it. But the broader desire among parents and the public for safe, orderly schools is one of the most consistent themes we've found in our research over the last few years.

For example, when we asked about the most pressing problem facing high schools in their community, both parents (63 percent) and the public (56 percent) said "social problems and kids who misbehave" was more important than low academic standards. And when we surveyed high school teachers, fewer than one in five said their students are civil and respectful to each other. Eight in 10 teachers overall said there are persistent troublemakers in their schools who should be removed from regular classrooms. Nearly half complain they've been accused of unfairly disciplining a student.

For the public, orderly schools are fundamental to learning. As educators work to address bullying and other discipline problems, that consensus could make a difference.


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