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I am writing this in response to recent news about the defeat of the Pine Bush School District in an anti-Semitic bullying lawsuit.1
The gradual decline in racism
Anti-Semitism has been around for about as long as Jews have. (“Anti-Semitism” is really a misnomer, because there are Semites that aren’t Jewish, and Jews that aren’t Semites. But I will stick to the term because it’s common practice.)
I am intimitely familiar with anti-Semitism from my own childhood in the Bronx, where my yarmulke-wearing friends and I were often attacked verbally and physically. A couple of times I was beat up so badly that had the attacks occurred today they would have made the news.
I was also raised with the awareness of the Holocaust, as both of my parents were survivors, and so were most of the parents of my friends and cousins. So please don’t accuse me of insensitivity towards the pain of Jews. I know it better than most, and I still care deeply about the Jewish people. I would love to see anti-Semitism disappear.
Despite my experiences, I grew up free of PTSD and of resentment towards the Gentile world. But I did grow up with an awareness of how normal racism is. As Bertrand Russell so accurately said, “Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed.”
Racism, including anti-Semitism, has declined dramatically in the U.S. since my childhood. However, it hasn’t disappeared completely, and it has been rising a bit in recent years because of anti-Israel activism. Still, it is nothing compared to my childhood years, when the Church was still officially teaching that Jews are destined to go to Hell.
The questionable lawsuit victory
Many of my fellow Jews, as well as anti-bullying advocates in general, undoubtedly consider the defeat of the Pine Bush School District to be a reason for great rejoicing. However, we must think twice before raising our champagne glasses in le’chaim (Jewish version of “cheers”). There are flip sides to almost everything.
The verdict certainly represents a monetary windfall for the lawyers and the bullied kids who will be sharing $4.5 million, one third going to the lawyers. But have we noticed it is not the anti-Semitic students who were sued, but the school district? The millions of dollars will be paid from our own pocketbooks, not those of the racist kids’ parents.
The major beneficiary of the lawsuit is the prosecuting law firm, whose phones are likely ringing like never before with calls from prospective new clients, encouraged by the victory to file lucrative anti-bullying lawsuits against their children’s schools. The settlement is also a financial boon for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose anti-bullying curriculum is now mandated as part of the settlement.
We also need to consider whether the public depiction of Upstate New York as a hotbed of anti-Semitism and its humiliation in court will reduce anti-Semitism or increase it. The hundreds of parents who demonstrated a couple of years ago clearly indicated their dissatisfaction with the intolerant image bestowed upon them by the lawsuit.2
Most importantly, we need to consider whether the resulting intensification of anti-bullying interventions and our taxpayer money needed to fund them will actually benefit our schools and children. The massive anti-bullying industry has worked hard to convince us that it makes our children safer. However, if we bothered to examine the results of the research, we would be appalled. The 2015 annual bullying issue of the American Psychological Association’s research journal, American Psychologist, reveals that researchers are continuing to be stymied as to why anti-bullying programs have been failing. A recent large-scale study found that kids are more likely to be bullied in schools that have anti-bullying programs than in ones that don’t!3
The unfair assault against schools
Years ago, I warned that anti-bullying laws are an unfair assault against schools.4 The laws can’t make bullying magically disappear from schools, but they do make it easy for parents to sue schools for failing to make bullying disappear. The laws require schools to guarantee that every child can attend without fear of other children. How can schools do this when the most intensive and highly revered anti-bullying programs can’t?
Furthermore, the schools in New York State have not been “indifferent” to bullying, as the plaintiffs claimed. NY State has been rigorously fighting bullying for years. Diversity education has been a major part of the school curriculum for a couple of decades. A few years ago New York State passed what it declared to be the toughest anti-bullying law in the country. As the NY Times article reports,
Pine Bush officials had vigorously fought the suit, arguing that they had responded properly by holding anti-bullying assemblies and imposing discipline when it was appropriate.
The schools had indeed been trying hard to combat the racism, but as the superintendent at the time, Philip Steinberg, who is Jewish, told the parents, “…your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.” And he’s right.
Mr. Steinberg also reportedly said, “the lawsuit was a ‘money grab’ and that some of the plaintiff’s claims were ‘embellished.’” If you know how lawyers work, there is probably some truth in that. Lawyers don’t try to win by downplaying their clients’ suffering.
Example: Among the complaints in the lawsuit was that the defendants suffered “discrimination”? By whom? By the school district? Were the students refused admission to its schools? Were they forbidden from riding school buses or eating in the lunchroom? Were they given lower grades, excluded from certain classes or denied diplomas because they were Jewish? Were they treated differently by the school district than any other children?
The flip side of anti-bullying education
Why are anti-bullying programs failing? It’s because the idea of an anti-bullying program sounds so good that no one, not even the researchers, bother to consider their unintended negative consequences.
The flip side of the mandated anti-bully teachings is the unwitting promotion of a self-defeating victim mentality.
Please realize that physical assault and vandalism are crimes, and perpetrators deserve to be punished. But most of the racism kids face is verbal, and even most physical aggression escalates from verbal. It is therefore crucial to consider what we’re teaching kids about words.
The ubiquitous anti-bullying education has been profoundly disempowering kids by informing them that verbal insults are unbearably painful and permanently scarring; that others are to blame for the way they feel; that they are incapable of handling words on their own but need everyone else to protect them; and that if they get insulted, they must inform the authorities, who will then make everyone become nice to them.
As a result, our children are getting even more upset when kids insult them, which in turn encourages the kids to insult them even more. When they tell the authorities, who then get involved investigating, judging, reprimanding and punishing their alleged bullies, then those kids really feel like killing them. If you look at the news stories in which bullying led to serious violence, it was almost always after the school authorities got involved.
A better and cheaper alternative
The good news is that there is a far cheaper, quicker, and more effective way to combat anti-Semitism, and that is by teaching kids to use their brains, the organ we Jews take most pride in. Years ago I wrote a lengthy, detailed manual, The Golden Rule Solution to Racism, that is available for free on my website. It teaches people how to turn racists around without needing anyone’s help. I wrote it specifically using anti-Semitism as the example, as I didn’t want to be accused by any other ethnic group of not understanding their reality. But my hope is that readers will extrapolate its teachings for use with their own groups if they find it relevant.
Not only will the manual save money for the school system (and for us taxpayers), it will raise students’ resilience and self-confidence while actually increasing harmony and understanding between the races. Teachings its lessons take a small fraction of the time that is spent on typical anti-bullying programs.
How can such an ambitious goal be accomplished? Simple. By employing reframing, a well-established psychological tool. Rather than thinking of anyone who makes an anti-Semitic remark as genocidal Nazi enemies, we can treat them like misguided friends.
Let me demonstrate–and please forgive me if the script sounds unrealistic. If I were a professional scriptwriter I’d be working for Hollywood. It’s the underlying idea that counts. A counselor or teacher can role-play in class using situations that students bring up from their own experiences.
The following is an example of how our gut tells us to respond to racist insults:
Anti-Semite: Hey, Jewboy! I just threw a penny down the sewer. Get down on your knees and fish it out!
Jew: Shut your mouth, you anti-Semite!
Anti-Semite: Why should I? All you Jews care about is money!
Jew: That’s a dirty lie! Shut your mouth!
Anti-Semite: Of course it’s true. Everyone knows a Jew would sell his mother for a dollar.
Jew: You are really going too far! Take it back or I’m calling the authorities!
Anti-Semite: And you’re crybabies too! All you do is complain and get your lawyers to sue us!
This will lead to intensified hostilities and perhaps a fistfight.
The following is what might result from using our brains.
Anti-Semite: Hey, Jewboy! I just threw a penny down the sewer. Get down on your knees and fish it out!
Jew: Wow, that’s really hurtful. You know, so many people think the only thing Jews care about is money.
Anti-Semite: Because it’s true, of course.
Jew: The truth is we do tend to care about money. How about you?
Anti-Semite: I guess I do, but just a little. It’s not the most important thing to me.
Anti-Semite: I feel the same way.
Jew: Of course. Money should never be the goal, only the means.
[Former?] Anti-Semite: Well, maybe you Jews aren’t as bad I thought.
Jew: Probably not.
This way is incomparably better, and requires so much less energy. All that’s needed is a change in attitude.
But what if he doesn’t just insult you? What if he breaks your nose?
That’s a crime. Inform the police. But for insults? It’s a cinch to handle them on our own once we are taught how.
If you think kids can’t do it, it’s only because no one is teaching them, and because our anti-bullying education has been leading us to underestimate children’s ability to control their thoughts and emotions. It’s much easier than learning how to read, write, do math, and play chess or basketball.
To receive a PDF version of my Golden Rule Solution to Racism, and two other free manuals, you can register for them by clicking here.