The best way to prevent school bullying and violence

Andrew Campanella President, National School Choice Week
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By the end of the day today, 16 more young Americans will be murdered.

By the end of the year, the number of young murder victims will grow to 5,700.

It’s hard to find those statistics in a news article from the last month. But if you’re looking for reports on bullying, you won’t have to search for long.

As Thomas Sowell brilliantly explained in his recent column, opposing “bullying” is in vogue. Special interest groups have seized the cause, using it as a vehicle to promote their own social and educational agendas with glossy marketing campaigns, a call for a national social curriculum teaching “acceptance,” online videos and endless hand-wringing and finger-pointing.

I’m fine with addressing “bullying,” and I’ll let real experts devise smart strategies for curtailing it at the local level. But while we talk about harassment, let’s not forget about real violence in our communities and in our schools.

After all, when a child is bullied, he can be counseled. When a child is harassed, a caring adult can rally his spirits. But when a child is murdered, there’s little one can do but pray.

Thirty-two percent of high school students are involved in a violent physical fight over the course of just one school year — compared with about 20 percent of students who claimed to be the victims of in-school bullying, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s not to say that “bullying” isn’t scarring. It is, but “sticks and stones” are still worse.

Several years ago, I worked with a group of D.C. students on a civics education project. When asked what one thing they’d do to improve their city, they voted overwhelmingly to have police routinely patrol their schools to crack down on violence and eradicate gangs. These students didn’t care about the police infringing on their civil liberties. They cared about feeling safe enough to learn. Because they couldn’t leave their schools, they’d rather turn those schools into fortresses.

It made me wonder: Why can’t these children leave their schools?

Why can’t they attend the safer, private schools that are just a few miles away?

They’re prevented from escaping violent schools because of the same special interest groups that are outraged over “bullying.” These groups — including the ACLU, the People for the American Way and the national teachers’ unions — spend millions of dollars every year opposing school voucher and education tax credit legislation that would empower parents and would allow children to escape the schools they fear.

In Washington, D.C., these organizations lobbied relentlessly (and unsuccessfully) to prevent the restoration of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. In Arizona, they callously filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of a new school choice program for disabled children. In Indiana, they’ve filed suit against school vouchers. And in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, they’ve circled the wagons against proposals to create new scholarship programs for low-income children in failing (often violent) schools.

In New York, the teachers’ union recently established an “anti-bullying” hotline for students in public schools. In announcing the hotline, the union’s president triumphantly told students that, “You now have a place to go” if you feel unsafe.

Apparently, if you follow the coda of the teachers’ unions, the best “place” for a child experiencing violence or bullying to go is a telephone. God forbid they go to better schools!

Tragically, around the same time the anti-bullying hotline was announced, the same union was helping organize pickets against charter schools in the city — pickets designed to frighten, harass and intimidate parents who opted to attend alternative public schools. Between the argument and the technique, it was a double whammy of a mixed message.

Indeed, these groups are doing exactly what they claim to despise: bullying.

I think Americans agree that we need more than gimmicks to address the problem of violence in our schools. We must act seriously. Increased access to better schools is the best answer, and there’s no longer an acceptable excuse for opposing these policies. If we can save just one of the 16 young people who will die today, before midnight strikes, it’s worth the fight.

Andrew Campanella is the author of four consecutive editions of the “School Choice Yearbook” and has served as senior adviser to the Alliance for School Choice and the American Federation for Children. In November, he will begin work as the vice president of public affairs for National School Choice Week.