Teaching mutual respect and cooperation

 A newly realised study on social aggression and relational aggression (bullying) has just been released and maps the often aggressive and cruel peer relationships of 3,722 10th graders. The NYT has an article out today discussing some of the study findings.

Among the interesting findings to me:
1. There is a great deal of ‘in-group’ aggression associated with high status identities:
“Most victimization is occurring in the middle to upper ranges of status,” said the study’s author, Robert Faris, an assistant professor of sociology at U.C. Davis. “What we think often is going on is that this is part of the way kids strive for status. Rather than going after the kids on the margins, they might be targeting kids who are rivals.”

2. The most popular people in school no longer need to do this:
Aggressive behavior peaked at the 98th percentile of popularity and then dropped.

3. This behavior is tightly associated with elevated social status, with lower status people not typically involved in this behavior:
Over all, the research shows that about a third of students are involved in aggressive behavior.

4. And it is going on all the time:
“It does highlight that it’s a typical behavior that’s used in establishing social networks and status,” said Dr. Gallagher, an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry. “Schools and parents need to be tuned into this as a behavior that occurs all the time.

The article quotes Dr. Richard Gallagher who goes on to suggest: “It means that school districts need to have policies that deal with this, and I think it means also that we need to turn to the adolescents for some of the solutions.”

Dr. Gallagher also notes, “The programs that have been successful are the ones that get kids to stop being passive bystanders who go along with teasing or bullying. Efforts have been made to get the popular kids to say, ‘This is not cool.’ ”

Swimmy, by Leo Lionni

Remember that old book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in kindergarten? well, I think we need to remind teachers that kindergarten isn’t the last time you teach students any important concept.

While we have an abundance of policies for addressing ‘bullying’ we are sorely lacking as a profession in practices. This study gives us a glimpse of 10th grade. This age is associated with decreasing ‘bullying’ in most literature yet the findings suggest 1/3 of students are yet actively and persistently engaged in this form of socialization. Seems to me some serious cultural and curriculum concerns need to be addressed for us as a profession.

And no ‘bullying’ is not my favorite analytic term for this social aggression as it misses the mark in so many ways on how ideas about social status related to race, social class, gender, sexuality and physical ability are enmeshed in ‘bullying.’ But one has to take the research where it is and see how it can inform us to move forward in this messy world.


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