Bullying is an issue of social injustice and imbalance of power. School is a microcosm of our democratic system where teachers, parents, students create their own society with a fundamental goal of education. This society needs to be fair for young people to grow up with a belief in a just world and in themselves. Bullying stops this process.
In the Literature Review on Bullying 2005, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, cited that:
Bullying is the most common form of violence in our society. Studies have found that approximately 30 percent of students in grades 6-10 are involved in bullying as a perpetrator, victim or both.’ Bullying tends to peak in middle school and drop off by grades 11 and 12. (pp1)
A survey commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more age 8 to 15 years old students picked teasing and bullying as ‘big problems; (more) than drugs or alcohol, racism, AIDS, or pressure to have sex.’
As an educator and author, I often ask groups of children - ‘How many of you have seen bullying at school?’ Most students will raise their hand. Then I ask – ‘Have any of you been bullied?’ There can be up to 50 percent of students raising their hands. The most controversial question is - ‘How many of you have bullied someone else?’ Depending on the trust level they have established with me, more than 30 percent will raise their hands.
Most students will have at school, been bullied or been the bully or witnessed bullying or have been involved at some level. Often bullying starts as a game that gets out of control. It can be caused by a joke that goes wrong. It can be based on self-protection, ego, peer pressure, any number of personal and social reasons.
Bullying causes low self-esteem, anxiety and depression in victims. Bullied students often start to under perform academically, increase sick days, drop out, lose friends, are afraid to go to school and can become severely distressed. Bullying supports the aggressive behaviour of bullies with detrimental effects on the bullies. Often they become less popular and unable to communicate effectively.
Unresolved bullying at school can have long term effects with victims taking low self esteem and depression into adulthood, bullies taking aggression into the workplace and personal life and bystanders experiencing depression, anger and fear.
Story Journey and I Am Jack
Story journey is a successful strategy in countering bullying where relating to a story, being emotionally engaged facilitates communication, questioning and learning. Readers become fellow travellers in story journey and are empowered to work out their own solutions to bullying, rather than having solutions imposed on them. By taking students and parents, on a journey with Jack, attitudes, feelings and strategies about bullying can be explored in a non threatening way.
Stan Davis anti-school bullying advocate, author of ‘Schools Where Everyone Belongs and Empowering Bystanders in Bullying’ prevention says:
‘I Am Jack is a rare treasure. This endearing and realistic book presents the authentic voice of a young person who is bullied; bystanders, friends, and family members who help him; and educators who protect and support him. Every person in this story has a positive role in stopping bullying behaviour. I recommend this book highly.’
Life Education Australia commends ‘I Am Jack’. Lorraine Wiseman Curriculum Director says :
‘In the context of family and school life, ‘I Am Jack’ sensitively explores how bullying attacks the very basis of a child's self esteem. Bullying isolates and victimises children. ‘I Am Jack’ shows them that they are not alone and that they can win against bullying.
…It gives adults and children a remarkable understanding into an area that challenges children's belief in themselves.’
‘I Am Jack’ was written when my son was bullied at school. It reaches into real experience, taking adults and children on Jack’s journey with its humour, sadness, realities, opening effective discussion by students, teachers and parents.
A successful teaching unit using ‘I Am Jack’ was conducted with a middle school class. The teacher working with the librarian, created a unit of work to achieve reading and literacy outcomes and address bullying. The result was a successful unit of work on bullying opening pathways to teachers and students to work towards a safe school.
Through ‘I Am Jack’, students and teachers become problem solvers making their own decisions about social justice. They discuss, question and develop strategies to counter bullying. Through emotional engagement with ‘I Am Jack’ and a discovery approach, the students engage in anti-bullying choices. Students develop strategies such as group reporting of bullying, ensuring students are not isolated through exclusion, choosing not to follow a bully. They realize that their actions determine if bullying occurrs in their school and life.
‘I Am Jack’ can be viewed as a warm family narrative for literacy and literature purposes. For those who are bullied, it offers insight into how bullying develops and strategies to counter it. For students who watch while others are victimised, it empowers them to act. For the bullies it challenges them to consider their behaviours. ‘I Am Jack’ supports parents as their children’s advocates. It re-emphasises to teachers the signs of bullying and strategies to counter it. It opens essential communication and establishes that society can work towards a fair and safe school with the support of family, friends, teachers and the children.