Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy Hardcover – Feb 19 2013
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“Intelligent, rigorous . . . [Emily Bazelon] is a compassionate champion for justice in the domain of childhood’s essential unfairness.”—Andrew Solomon, The New York Times Book Review
“[Bazelon] does not stint on the psychological literature, but the result never feels dense with studies; it’s immersive storytelling with a sturdy base of science underneath, and draws its authority and power from both.”—New York
“A humane and closely reported exploration of the way that hurtful power relationships play out in the contemporary public-school setting . . . As a parent herself, [Bazelon] brings clear, kind analysis to complex and upsetting circumstances.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Bullying isn’t new. But our attempts to respond to it are, as Bazelon explains in her richly detailed, thought-provoking book. . . . Comprehensive in her reporting and balanced in her conclusions, Bazelon extracts from these stories useful lessons for young people, parents and principals alike.”—The Washington Post
“A serious, important book that reads like a page-turner . . . Emily Bazelon is a gifted writer, and this powerful work is sure to place childhood bullying at the heart of the national conversation—right where it belongs.”—Susan Cain, author of Quiet
“Bullying is misunderstood. Not all conflict between kids is bullying. It isn’t always clear who is the bully and who is the victim. Not all—or even most—kids are involved in bullying. And bullying isn’t the only factor in a child’s suicide, ever. Emily Bazelon, who wrote about the subject for Slate in 2010, here expands her reporting in an important, provocative book about what we can—and can’t—do about the problem.”—The Boston Globe
“In Sticks and Stones . . . journalist and editor Emily Bazelon brings a sure hand and investigative heft to her exploration of bullying, which, in the era of social media, includes both digital and old-fashioned physical cruelty.”—Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Emily Bazelon is a senior editor at Slate, a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, and the Truman Capote Fellow at Yale Law School. Before joining Slate, she worked as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. She is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, and lives in New Haven with her husband and two sons. This is her first book.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
To begin with, this book is the story of three bullying incidents. One involves girls, another involves GLBTQ, another involves a teen suicide. Bazelon does her best to interview the supposed bullies and victims in all three cases, as well as the social, scholastic, and legal systems that surrounded each case. She does this admirably and makes the excellent point that bullying isn't always clear-cut. Rather, it's often mixed up in what she calls "teen drama" which is aggression between teens without a power imbalance.
That is also where she falls down from a technical point of view. While I appreciate that she largely follows conventional research, I think it's wrong to deny the possibility of bullying happening between people of relatively equal power. Her often-cited example of Mean Girls (the movie with Lindsay Lohan) demonstrates this quite nicely (albeit as fiction). She is too quick to dismiss "teen drama" as being capable of causing harm on the same scale as bullying. While it's certainly true that bullying can be devastating to victims, so can "teen drama" aggression. That, and an overwhelming focus on "new" forms of bullying such as cyberbullying and gender-related bullying (that I doubt is new) skews this book. There is also a major focus on Olweus's intervention for bullying.Read more ›
The author of this book is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, is married and the mother of two sons. This book is a compilation of some research she did on the subject of bullying and possible solutions towards stemming its increase in our public school system. I believe I saw her 19 March 2013 on the DAILY SHOW quoting what she identified as "an academic" (in the book she identified Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus). This individual's definition of bullying was; "verbal or physical harrassment that occurs repeatedly over time and involves an imbalance of power." Clearly the stories of Monique, Jacob and Flannery which the author spends a lot of time documenting were tragic stories of three more vulnerable young people having suffered the serious effects of bullying. Additionally it seems at least at first the author is very sympathetic towards these individuals.
After reading a number of reviews of this book, it appears there is a great deal of controversy surrounding it. I could not understand what people were struggling with until I read Chapter 6 Flannery. In this chapter, it appears that the author wants to give the perpetrators of bullying a pass because their victims, had either previously or at the time of their bullying, been suffering from emotional problems such as depression and anxiety and thus were more prone to self destructive behavior in the first place. Although she denies it, the author does seem to, at least in strong implication, blame the victims for the bullying they sustained. Ethically I have real problems with this.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
One thing that is quite confusing is the "great equalizing" of bully and bullied. Yes, I imagine many bullies are depressed themselves, and I'm sure many are also suffering from other issues. But the notion that a bully and a bullied child suffer equally is simply wrong. A bullied child learns fear, dreads school, comes to believe that no one can help, and often becomes socially withdrawn. The fact that a bullied child may recover from this (which Bazelton seems to suggest) is nice, but why (in a society where every kid has to win a trophy and every child has to have an equal part in a school play) is protecting children from bullies that one thing that seems to make so many people talk about "equalization?"
Moreover, I found Bazelton's notion that most buillies "grow out of it naturally" is completely wrong. Not sure how many workplaces she's been in, but there are always plenty of grown-up bullies on display. Did they just suddenly decide to become bullies for their 30th or 40th birthday? Probably not -- they probably learned many lessons of intimidation on the playground.
While I was teaching, I found myself in meetings with parents of bullies, and 80% of time those parents said one of two things: "My child is not a bully" (no matter how many notes or proof a teacher offered) or, much sadder, "I know he is a bully but I have no control over him." The idea that parents are not involved in how their children grow is bizarre, and unless a parent of a bully steps in to assist in guiding his or her child, school alone simply cannot help.
But the hypothesis that is truly unsettling to me is the idea that children should somenow not be protected by bullies so they can develop "problem solving skills." Throughout history, there have always been people who have suggested that the only way to deal with a bully is to actually punch them out in public, but other than beating up your bully, exactly how is a child supposed to "problem solve" a bully away? If parents or schools can't stop the bully, and the bully will not stop himself or herself, how exactly is the bullied child supposed to do it?
One thing I do agree with: the idea of "mediation" -- putting the bullied and the bully together to try to talk it out -- is absurb. Again, why is the bullied child forced to carry so much of this burden? Why can't more be done to stop bullying and phase it out of school life?
Bazelton's book is readable and has some interesting insights, but I'm just terribly uncomfortable with some of her research.
The next six chapters are alternating stories of three teens who experienced bullying. The first is about seventh-grader Monique who inadvertently got the same hairstyle as a cousin of one of eighth grade mean girls on her bus and was harassed and humiliated mercilessly for it for months afterwards. Her mother and her grandmother took their concerns over Monique's treatment to the school, but didn't receive satisfying responses or resolution, so they took their grievances up the food chain to the police, the superintendent, the school board and the local government, all without receiving satisfaction. Bazelon's conclusion seems to be that the mother and grandmother were largely responsible for Monique's problems because they made such a stink over it (although she certainly doesn't fault their protective reasons for doing so). Bazelon further concludes that Monique's later problems weren't so much bullying as just "drama" because the second group of girls to harass her were her same age, and that Monique was also partly responsible because she escalated the situation by retaliating. Monique's problems were finally solved, according to Bazelon, in large part by joining a boxing program where she learned to stand up for herself.
The second story is that of Jacob who was bullied for being gay. Again, his school was almost completely unresponsive to his father's complaints. While Bazelon seems more sympathetic to Jacob (although there are hints that he too brought it on himself by being "flamboyant"), she still seems to think that bullying is not such a big deal because most kids - like Jacob - eventually get over it and lead satisfying lives without sinking inexorably into depression or suicidality (although that does happen, and even those who survive carry lasting scars, as Bazelon admits). Nevermind that Jacob was basically forced from his school, it all came out okay in the end and that's all that matters.
The final story is entitled "Flannery", which you might think odd as you realize that it's the story of the "bullycide" of Phoebe Prince in South Hadley, Connecticut and that Flannery was one of those accused of bullying Phoebe. So how does the story of an accused bully get mixed in with stories of kids who were bullied? The discrepancy becomes clear as we read on and learn that Bazelon doesn't believe in "bullycide", especially not in the case of Phoebe Prince. Phoebe wasn't bullied to death; she was a troubled girl with a history of problems who hit on other girls' boyfriends and who, at most, suffered a few days of admittedly unpleasant retaliation. Killing herself had little to do with the treatment she received at school and online, but was rather due to her own psychological problems. At least, that's Bazelon's story and she's sticking to it.
Bazelon knows all this because (a) that's what all the kids at school told her, especially Flannery and the other unfairly accused kids whose lives were utterly ruined by a bunch of normal teenage drama and (b) because of a raft of confidential, personal documents regarding Phoebe and the criminal case that just happened to end up in her possession. Needless to say, Bazelon dismisses the very notion that Phoebe was harassed and attacked for three straight months - it pretty much boils down to a few incidents of rude name calling and one girl throwing an empty soda can at her. And whatever harassment there was couldn't account for Phoebe's problems since such problems predated her arrival in South Hadley (the idea that Phoebe's prior problems might have made her a more vulnerable - and hence appealing - target for the bullies (thereby making their predation even more malicious) never seems to occur to Bazelon). Furthermore, no mention is made of the gang rapes that allegedly happened at the party at Phoebe's house - allegedly instigated by the poor, maligned Sean. The fact of the party itself is just further evidence of Phoebe's instability and attention getting.
Bazelon then flits through some chapters on bullying "solutions" and interventions - especially the Olweus method which she spills a lot of ink promoting but very little actually describing. She throws in a few more examples from her personal research on bullying incidents to show how such methods "work". Most of the interventions sound very behavioral and frankly rather cheesy for high school students, focusing on rewarding kids for good behavior rather than looking at the underlying dynamics and motivation of bullies themselves.
And then we take a trip out to Facebook headquarters (where the representative believes that Facebook has given her a great deal because she gets to leave every day at 5:30 to be with her baby, as long as she works from home from 8:00 to midnight - talk about bullied) to discuss the issue of online bullying. Bazelon is adamant that schools simply can't be expected to deal with bullying and monitoring students' every interaction, but apparently online social network providers can be.
Overall, the book is a disorganized jumble of utterly unhelpful musings and polemics from someone who has clearly never experienced the ongoing hostility, degradation and intentional cruelty of bullying or the powerlessness to respond, nor does she have a great deal of sympathy for those who have. She admits that bullying involves an imbalance of power, but she seems unable (or unwilling) to grasp the significance of that. Expecting bully victims to stand up to their bullies and work out the situation for themselves is rather like expecting rape victims to stand up to their rapists and work it out. I do agree with Bazelon that punishments such as suspensions and expulsions should be the method of very last resort, but still, the focus must be on the perpetrator and it must be made clear that the behavior will not be tolerated; the school will maintain a safe environment for all students and any who cannot or will not respect that are not welcome.
One of the biggest problems with bullying is the lack of adult response, or even adult response which favors the bully. A girl at my school (nearly 30 years ago now) who was harassed (sexually and otherwise) by several boys was told by our vice principal to "kick them where it counts". She actually took the advice, only to find that she was the one suspended for it (by the same vice principal, no less) while nothing ever happened to the boys. Things have gotten better for bullied youth precisely because more adults recognize the problem and do their best to intervene. But to Bazelon, adults getting involved seems to be part of the problem. I'm afraid that Bazelon's book gives - albeit not quite intentionally - fuel to the fire of those who believe that bully victims need to learn to "man up" and fight back, while offering very little - or even scaring away - those who want to support bully victims but who don't know how or feel that their hands are tied.
Bullying is an issue that is very trenchant for me personally. I came across this book and while the topic is one of great interest to me, I was glad I was able to get it without buying it. I got it simply to go over some of the salient points that were raised.
There were a lot of things that bothered me. One was what sounded to me like condoning the bully. As one who was bullied, I know all too well how it feels to have adults condone the bully; blame the victim; dread school and become one who tried to keep under the radar and by no longer saying anything in class. I know all too well how bullying can kill or maim one's self image and how blame the victim comments are just as harmful. I say, NEVER blame the victim. NEVER condone the bully. NEVER make light of what a bully is doing. Ignoring bullies is poor advice and it usually doesn't work. Bullies refuse to be ignored. They just step up their campaign against the peers they have targeted.
A side issue that I'd like to speak to is that we, as a society have reached a point where by creating the false impression of a "level playing field" which doesn't exist. In so doing, we reward mediocrity at best, poor performance at worst by giving everybody a trophy or a certificate or a prize for every little thing (some schools have been known to give out awards for completing routine tasks!) Although well intentioned, many children are not fooled by this effort and many feel that such prizes don't count. I was one who felt this way and whenever I received a "level playing field" prize, I invariably disposed of it. I found such "prizes" condescending. They were insulting. The message I got was, "you can't win a real prize in a real competition, so just settle for this." I was either going to win a real prize that I earned justly and honestly in a real competition or I would do without. Simple as that.
The sad thing is even in this case, bullies will use these fake awards as yet another way of targeting and taunting and tormenting their victims. They can mock what the prize is for; how "pathetic" their target is to the point that the only thing they can win is some piffling trifle being passed off as a prize.
As another reviewer on the U.S. boards stated, I just don't agree that most bullies naturally outgrow their bullying ways. Not so. The internet is full of them. I have learned from others that there are authors who stalk people who pan their works. In some cases, the authors hound the reviewers and say cruel things. Work places also have them. I had one job wherein a clique (yes, cliques do exist among adult groups) would pressure others out of their assigned seating row during a training class. The clique would deposit people's things in the back of the room and refuse to allow anybody to sit in their territory, their turf. There have been instances of people blocking the path of others; of cruel negative comments and trying to get others in trouble. The behaviors follow some into adulthood, sad to say.
Stalkers are major bullies. Internet bullying can include but is not limited to the following:
*trying to out people's identity
*publicly identifying people online
*airing people's business from other sites
*posting embarrassing pictures and rude comments online
*spreading hateful rumors and gossip about people online
*people who own discussion boards who allow and in some cases encourage flame wars
*people who own discussion boards who allow members to attack another or others
Bullies, like pimples can pop up anywhere. They don't disappear once a person graduates from high school. Their venue is not limited to playgrounds and classrooms. From the playground to the work place; social groups; classes; meetings; trips; any group you can think of. I also agree with those who feel that putting the bully and the targeted peer together sounds good in theory, but seldom if ever works in practice. Again, the onus is placed on the shoulders of the child/ren being bullied. All too often bullied children feel they have no recourse. I'm still having trouble with a lot of the hypotheses presented in this book.
It is time to move from the grey to black and white, right and wrong. Bullying is wrong, period. There may be explanations but not excuses. Instead of forcing progressive agenda that many may find objectionable, the focus should be on the act of of the bully, not the persona of the bullied. Assault, for instance, is assault, it is the act of causing physical injury. To me, it is irrelevant who the victim is, male, female, gay, straight, old, young, black, white. It is the act and the intention to cause harm that is criminalized. No one says you have to befriend someone who is weird, ugly or picks their nose. But you have no right to hurt them. Leave them alone or face the consequences when you don't.
There are so many criminal laws in this country, no one can give you an exact count. But there are only ten commandments without exceptions or defenses. We don't need any more laws, especially divisive ones that suggest harm to one class of people is somehow worse than the identical harm to another.
I take issue with the author's contention that bullying victims are glorified. People are correctlly outraged and upset when they actually witness bullying, such as the incident in western New York where an elderly attendant was mercilessly mocked by a group of punks. No one is perfect and last I checked mental illness isn't voluntary and it isn't criminal. I would be surprised if this author wouldn't be offended if someone suggested that a victim of sexual attack asked for it because of the way she was dressed or danced or drank alcohol or did drugs. Shouldn't the bullied be afforded the same consideration?
I understand the argument that the bullies in the Prince case, for instance, did not actually kill the victim. Perhaps they were not phsyically present but the tragic consequences were certainly reasonably foreseeable. They made her life hell and she had to escape. Their unrelenting sadism drove her over the edge and I, for one, have no sympathy for the devils.
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