First of all, I want to thank everyone who left comments to my previous–and first–Psychology Today blog entry. The response was great, and I consider it a good beginning to my mission to use this blog to end society's devastating witch-hunt for bullies.
My good friend, Dr. Steve Sussman, brought to my attention an article from the latest issue (Dec. 2008) of American Psychologist, the official journal of the American Psychological Association (APA). The article is called "Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in Schools? An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations." The APA commissioned this study from its Zero Tolerance Task Force.
Previous scientific studies have shown the ineffectiveness of anti-bully programs, and this current APA report should serve as another nail in the coffin of the anti-bully movement. I say should, but I don't expect it will because people love the idea of hunting down and eradicating bullies and don't want to see anything that challenges their beloved witch-hunt. When it comes to bullying, there seems to be a split in people's minds, and they don't realize that the research on aggression also applies to bullying.
The task force's findings are things that I have been been saying for years, as those of you who are familiar with my writings and presentations are aware of: Zero-Tolerance doesn't work, and causes more harm than good. All of the basic assumptions upon which zero-tolerance policies are based are discredited in this APA report. In fact, the task force found no redeeming qualities to zero-tolerance policies. Click here to read both the summary of the task force report as well as the entire report.
Now, one thing that the task force repeatedly recommends is the use of research-based approaches. Which leads me to a couple of questions. Aggression/violence has been studied for decades by psychologists. With the thousands of research studies that have been conducted, why has the psychological establishment made such little progress in reducing aggression in schools? And why does it ignore the research that shows that success rate of anti-bully programs is dismal–why doesn't it recommend the abandonment of these programs?
The primary reasons, in my opinion, are that when it comes to aggression in school, the psychological establishment 1) is practicing law rather than psychology, and 2) is committed to zero-tolerance! I will explain both reasons, which are closely related.
1) The American Psychological Association (as well as other psychological associations that deal with schools, such as the organization I belong to, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)) is supposed to be taking a scientific, psychological approach to life. Human beings aren't robots or computers. We are living creatures, and any serious student of psychology realizes that aggression is an inevitable part of life and we all need to develop the wisdom to deal with it. Some of us learn to deal with it more successfully, some of less so. But there is no such thing as a life without aggression. That pleasure is reserved for Heaven, and we need to die to get in. Psychology is supposed to teach people to deal with the difficulties of life, not to protect them from the difficulties.
However, when it comes to aggression in school, the APA, NASP and the entire psychological/educational establishment are taking a legal approach. They are treating aggression as a crime. This view holds that children are entitled to a school environment which is free of aggression and it's the school's responsibility to make sure the students don't experience it and to punish the perpetrator. (Please don't be fooled when people talk about administering consequences for aggression; consequences has simply become a euphemism for punishment.) Victims of aggression are considered "innocent" and no responsibility is put on them for any role in the aggression or for the solution. Not once in the entire APA report on zero-tolerance is there a suggestion that kids should to be taught how deal with aggression on their own.
The psychological and the legal approaches to problems are vastly different. I have dealt with this extensively in my newsletters, and if you have the time and inclination to do so, I invite you to read The Bias Shackling Psychology and Why I Don't Blame Victims.
2) In the APA task force report on zero-tolerance, all they deal with is expulsion for aggressors, as though expulsion is the only way of expressing zero-tolerance. But read the opening of the summary of the zero-tolerance task force report:
There can be no doubt that schools have a duty to use all effective means needed to maintain a safe and disciplined learning environment. Beyond the simple responsibility to keep children safe, teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn in a climate marked by chaos and disruption. About this there is no controversy. Abundant controversy has arisen however, over the methods used to achieve that aim.
In other words, the APA accepts unequivocally that schools are not to tolerate any kind of aggression or disruption. The only controversy is regarding the means to deal with the aggression, but not with the premise that it is not to be tolerated. (By the way, how can schools possibly "have a duty to use all effective means to maintain a safe and disciplined learning environment" when the experts have "abundant controversy" over what is effective?)Furthermore, the APA has been unquestioningly supporting and promoting anti-bully poiicies and laws. I challenge you to find any APA article or pubiication that questions their value.
But what is an anti-bully law? It is super-zero-tolerance. When bullying is a crime, schools no longer have an option of how much they should tolerate it. Schools are not to tolerate bullying under any circumstances or they can be sued. The psychological organizations all promote the views of Dan Olweus, the original anti-bully psychologist, even though his program allows for no tolerance of any behavior that can upset anyone else, and they continue to support his approach, which is considered the "gold-standard" despite the fact that one of our country's leading bullying proponents of the Olweus program has declared its failure!
Frankly, it is amazing to me that the APA can use solid scientific research to decry zero-tolerance policies and at the same time promote anti-bully programs and policies that allow for no tolerance of bullying. Don't they see the contradiction in what they're doing? Don't they realize that their current report, which condemns zero-tolerance, should also be a condemnation of anti-bully laws, policies, and of the Olweus-based anti-bully programs? Apparently not! Because everyone loves the idea of going after bullies, and this is not limited to laymen, who we can't expect to know better. Even the psychological experts reject the evidence that is staring them in the face, and they eagerly support the bully witch-hunt, the most popular witch-hunt in the history of humanity.