JAMES GARBARINO: We've set this part of the program in a school bathroom. Why? Because our research shows this is one of the dangerous areas for kids. This is where they're likely to be cornered, where they're likely to be afraid to go. Some kids tell us they won't go to the bathroom the whole day at school because they're afraid of what might happen here.
As we begin to really get into the issue of bullying, harassment, and emotional violence, of course, there's a temptation to think this is a simple problem. Just find the bullies, get rid of them, and it's over. But I want to begin by emphasizing how complex this is and how important it is that we avoid simple and easy understandings of the problem, as well as simple and easy solutions to it. You know, we have a tendency to look for the easy and the simple in our society.
The great satirical humorist of the 1920s, H.L. Mencken, once wrote, "For every complex problem, there is a simple solution, which is almost invariably wrong." And that's part of what our research shows us, that simple answers, simple questions don't really do it.
Maybe I can sort of make this point with a parable. A parable, of course, is a teaching story. And I think this is one that has a lot to teach us as we seek to zero in on what's going on here and avoid the obvious easy solutions. It's called the "Parable of the Lamppost."
And in the "Parable of the Lamppost," a friend of ours-- we'll call him Joe-- is on his way home from a meeting one night. As he walks down the street, he finds his friend George on his hands and knees, on the street, under a lamppost. And Joe, being a good American, stops and says, George what's the problem? And George says, well, Joe, you know, I lost my car keys. I live 35 miles away, and can't go home until I find them. Well, says, Joe let me help you. And like a good American, he rolls up his sleeves, and he gets down on the street and begins searching around looking for the keys.
Well, some time passes, and they haven't found the key. So Joe says, wait a minute, George. Maybe we need a more systematic approach. Maybe we need a public health approach. So from his pocket, he pulls out a piece of chalk, and he draws a grid there on the street under the lamppost. And he labels the boxes A through Z and 1 through 26.
Now, he says, we can search systematically. So they do-- box A1, box A2, box A3, box A4, box A5-- all the way until they get to box Z26. And they haven't found the car keys.
Well, says Joe, maybe we need a more behavioral approach. So from his other pocket, he pulls out a bag of M&Ms. He says, George, now I'm going to feed you these M&Ms to get your behavior under control. And pretty soon, he's got George moving right and left and back and forth, and it's very impressive. But they haven't found the keys.
Well, says Joe, now maybe what we need is a more psychoanalytic, psychodynamic approach. So he begins to ask George about early experiences of loss in his life. And soon George is remembering when he was four years old he lost his teddy bear, and how these feelings of loss are flooding back to him now with the loss of his car keys. And he gets great insight, but he still can't go home.
Well, says Joe, maybe we need an educational approach. So from his bag, he pulls out a book entitled The History of the Key in Western Civilization. And they read about how the great filmmaker Ingmar Bergman used the key as a symbol in his films, and how Woody Allen picked up on that in his films, and they have this fascinating discussion. Still no keys.
Well, says Joe, maybe we need a support group. So he gets out his cell phone, and he calls other people who've lost their car keys. And they tell George about how they felt when they lost their keys. And soon George is feeling OK about losing his keys, but he still can't go home.
Well, says Joe, maybe we need a campaign to find the keys. So from his bag, he takes out a banner. He puts it up. It says, "Find the keys." He gives out key-shaped blue ribbons, and they put them on T-shirts that say, "Find the keys." And they link arms, and they chant, "Find the keys. Find the keys." And they feel really empowered, but they still haven't found the keys.
Finally, Joe says, all right, George. Let's take a really radical approach. Where exactly were you when you dropped the keys? And George says, oh, I was about 150 yards up the road when I dropped the keys. So Joe says, but George, why are we looking here? And George says, well, because the light is much better here.
Now, that really has something to tell us about how we look at these problems. The problem is not going to be solved if we simply look in the easy places. We have to be willing to go up the road into the dark places.
You know, we have a lot of examples in our history of taking this lamppost approach-- the idea that take troubled kids to prison for a day, and they'll be so scared, they'll be scared straight. Tell kids, just say no-- even the DARE program, bringing police officers to school to talk about drugs. They seem like a good idea. They seem like an easy solution. But the research shows they really don't do it.
And some of this derives from our own willingness to really go and look where the issues are, but issues that make us uncomfortable. Let me give you an example. Anybody who has really studied the problem of youth violence clearly recognizes that the problem of youth violence is tied to the problem of homophobia-- bias, and discrimination, and negative treatment of kids who are gay and lesbian.
Now, a recent study provides some very specific data about how integral this problem of homophobia is to the problem of youth violence in general, and particularly, the problem of kids being bullied and harassed at school. The study found when comparing lesbian and gay youth with heterosexual youth, that for example, about 25% of the gay and lesbian kids said they missed school during the past month because they felt unsafe at school, 25%. That's opposed to 5% of the heterosexual youth. When it came to being threatened with a weapon at school, almost 33% of the lesbian and gay kids said they'd been threatened with a weapon at school, as opposed to 7% of the heterosexual kids. When it came to having their property damaged at school, 51% of the gay and lesbian kids said this had happened to them, as opposed to about 29% of the heterosexual kids.
Now, when it came to having gotten in a fight during the past 12 months, only 8% of the gay and lesbian kids said they'd been in a fight, as opposed to almost 38% of the heterosexual kids. But when it came to being in a fight which required medical attention, medical treatment-- which probably means being beat up-- lesbian and gay kids said, 14% said they had been so attacked, as opposed to 4% of the heterosexual kids.
So it's pretty clear, if you're willing to look at the data-- if you're willing to open your eyes-- that the problem of homophobia-- the harassment, the bullying, the emotional violence directed against gay and lesbian kids-- is essential to understanding the problem of bullying and harassment in general, the problem of youth violence in schools in general. And we have to be willing to do that.
Let me give you an example. In the last year, I was asked to speak at a statewide safe schools conference. It was a Governor's Conference. The governor said, everybody in our state, we want you to come out and work together to reduce school violence. And the secretary of education of the state sent out a blanket invitation. He said, I want every group in our state who is working on this issue to come, be represented, have a booth, give out your materials, and participate.
Well, one of the groups that submitted an application to participate was a group called PFLAG, parents and friends of lesbian and gay kids. A very important group because they're trying to help people understand-- they're trying to support lesbian and gay kids. And from what you've just heard, you know that dealing with homophobia is one of the essential elements of dealing with bullying and violence at school.
Well, the secretary of education rejected PFLAG's application. He said, your goals aren't consistent with ours. Well, what he really was saying was we can't deal with issues of homophobia in public because it makes us uncomfortable, and it taps into the bias of a lot of people.
Well, I made a stink about it at the conference. And the governor, I think, heard the message. And so he reached out and invited PFLAG to participate. So the story has a sort of happy resolution. But it does point to the importance of the parable of the lamppost.
We have to be willing to go up the road, to look in the places that we don't ordinarily want to look, to not say we can solve these problems with a banner or a slogan, or just by treating one kid, but to look at the whole system, the whole culture. And that's what we're going to try to do in this program.
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While there are fewer than 100 child fatalities each year at school, literally millions of kids suffer from physical and emotional violence in the form of bullying, harassment, stalking, intimidation, humiliation, and fear. Beyond the rare events of gun shots at school are the common events of psychological stabbings- the millions of kids who suffer emotional daggers to their hearts at school. Sticks and stones and bullets may break their bones, and words can break their hearts.
This presentation offers a guide for parents, professionals, and other concerned adults seeking to help their adolescents, their schools, and their communities overcome this problem. The presentation focuses on how the social system of the school plays a decisive role in the process of bullying, sexual harassment, and emotional violence in the lives of teenagers. It is based upon James Garbarino and Ellen deLara's
And Words Can Hurt Forever: How to Protect Adolescents from Bullying, Harassment, and Emotional Violence (NY: The Free Press, 2002).
This video is part 2 of 7 in the Protecting adolescents from bullying, sexual harassment, and emotional violence series.