The Protectors

Article: ‘Positive discipline’ fails to deal with bullies head-on


Much has been written about bullying and how difficult life can be for some children in school. The suicide of Marjorie Raymond on Nov. 28 in Ste. Anne des Monts and the torment she experienced have highlighted these hardships once again.

But what can be done to end bullying? It’s obvious that it is firmly entrenched in children’s lives, and that no matter what adults try, it remains resilient. Special schools for bullies, exile for victims, campaigns like It Gets Better, tolerance programs, conflict resolution, anti-bullying legislation and bystander education have not done enough to improve the tortured lives of many students. Even Lady Gaga’s anti-bullying video and other celebrity public-service announcements have had little impact.

I’m in my 38th year of teaching high school, and I know exactly whom to blame for the bullying crisis. It will not get better until educational theorists, parents and school-board officials are all indicted for the premeditated crime of raising and nurturing bullies. They need to be held accountable for their reluctance to believe in tough discipline and for their impotence in acting as parents or in loco parentis. Taking some cues from the federal government’s new Safe Streets and Communities Act and getting tough on youth is where schools and parents should be looking for solutions to the bullying problem.

Children want some discipline in their lives. But instead of discipline and consequences, we have bandwagons and dangerous experiments that are forced upon schools, both private and public. Doctors, psychologists and educational theorists conjure up policies and practices that schools are compelled to embrace. In many schools across North America, the “positive discipline” theory has been a train wreck that has handcuffed educators and given birth to generations of students who are undisciplined and feel that they are invincible. “Positive discipline” too often creates and nurtures bullies.

The “positive discipline” theory holds that the best way to change behaviour is to reward the positive, not punish the negative. The emphasis is always on positive reinforcement. Many students expect and need discipline, but instead they meet the love machine of “positive discipline.” Oh, they feel the love all right, and they sweet-talk it right back. What’s not to love about a movement that believes in Oprah-style talk therapy and a “pry for why” philosophy?

“Positive discipline” has usurped old-fashioned rules about behaviour, and created a world where bullies are psycho-babbled at instead of punished. Do bullies really need to be told (softly, delicately and never in a decibel above a compassionate, conversational hum) that it is wrong to pound another student in the face?

Parents are also responsible for the bullying crisis. Parents have to “teach their children well,” and not be afraid of using punishments and negative consequences.

I have witnessed too many parents who are poster boys and girls for what not to do in child-rearing. Their killer instincts when it comes to protecting their children from outsiders dissolve when the enemy lies within the home. Their punishments are fleeting and mercurial. Chances are given again and again. Consequences are forgotten or forgiven. Their children are permitted to wheedle and negotiate. Suggestions by the school are ignored. Their fatal flaw is that they view leniency and abdication as love. They cannot simply say, “Because I said so. That’s why.” Somewhere between the Tiger Mother approach and the permissiveness of many parents lies the demise of bullying.

Don’t blame bullies for the bullying problems that exist. Strong parents and fewer ideological bandwagons infiltrating the schools would help deliver a huge get-well card to all those who are bullied and tormented. As one student wrote: “Children see, children do. Don’t expect anything more from us than what you teach us.”

Freda Lewkowicz teaches at Rosemere High School in Rosemère.

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