Monday, November 18, 2013

On Creating a Bully-free Environment

"Create Story" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
I've been wondering about the roots of bullying and how to create workshops to support a Bully-Free Environment.  I looked at the old and some not-so-old Jane Elliott "Blue-Eyed Brown-Eyed" videos on YouTube to refresh my memory of being bullied, and what bullying is actually doing, sociologically speaking.

As a missionary kid in Taiwan, I attended a school for US Military dependents where there was no bullying.  Jonathan M. Wainwright DOD School seemed to have no issues about race, income, gender or even artists and class clowns. There was no jockeying for power there, either.  The lines were very clear.  You were either an officer's kid at the top of the heap, an enlisted man's kid at the middle or bottom, or a civilian kid who was more or less exempt from the heap experience altogether.  And my observation was there was no real discomfort for children in the heap or out of the heap.

So I had no idea what was waiting for me in the States when my parents left Taiwan for their furlough.  I found myself in a junior high school in a fairly upper middle class suburb of Chicago, and suddenly WOW!  There were so many amazing, somewhat silly cultural rules and regulations that I had no clue about.  There was no handbook for newcomers, so it was a matter of being corrected by the school's dominant-culture-police, i.e. the bullies.  Not a pleasant experience, I can tell you.

Reviewing the "Blue-Eyed Brown-Eyed" videos put it all in perspective.  What we had was a dominant culture concerned about maintaining its power.  To maintain this power the school population was divided between 'us' and 'them' or 'cool' and 'uncool'.  In some sense the boundaries were thought to be a little flexible, in that if you could learn to dress, speak, and act like 'us' the implication was you might be allowed to join the 'cool' group.  This dangling of a hope to join the 'cool' group was a truly powerful tyranny of peer pressure.  So of course obedience was absolute, unless you were unable to follow the rules, for whatever reason.  In that case you were pretty well doomed, treated like a Jane Elliott 'Blue-Eyed' workshop participant, and not just for the day.

Needless to say, after retuning to my beloved DOD school in Taiwan and my beloved roll as happy class nonconformist and artist, I became very interested in cultural rules and regulations, but found their arbitrary and capricious nature a bit too confining to take seriously ever again.  I found joy in creative expression and in making people laugh.  I felt better, happier, stronger when I was using my gifts or talents, so being a curious human the natural path for me was one that combine psychology and the creative processes. 

After pursuing this path for many years it seems to me that if we want our culture to be strong and able to solve its woes (and there are plenty of woes) then we need everybody within the culture to feel strong and able to participate fully.  In fact we might do a little better with more freedoms of expression and more inner satisfaction, rather that the dominant cultural group dictating to the rest of the culture how to live, be, dress, talk, and find satisfaction and joy.  That feels like bullying.

That's why I think workshops that help bring people together to celebrate their resilience, strengths, and awesomeness might be useful in schools. If you gave teachers some fun narrative building skills they could recreate their own awesomeness workshops in the classroom and have as many varied and amazing narratives as there are children in the classroom!  What could a teacher do with a room full of resilience narratives?  What could a school do if it were full of students who had learned about their own awesomeness?

There are some interesting clips on Jane Elliott's work in the below YouTube video on Tyranny and in the comments section I will add links for more videos from the UK, US, Australia, and Canada.  It's worth the effort to understand how bullying works and why we use it, if we want to think about creating bully-free environments.



Lani Gerity said...

Here's the link to the full video on Tyranny. If you have the time, this includes Jane Elliott, Stanley Milgram, and Philip Zimbardo's horrifying research on what human's are capable of:
click here

Lani Gerity said...

Here's the Frontline 55 min. video on Jane Elliott. Click here.

Lani Gerity said...

Here's the UK version with some commentary from two UK psychologists.
Click here.

Lani Gerity said...

Here's a version of Jane Elliott in a US university. Click here.

Lani Gerity said...

Here's Jane Elliott in Australia. Click here.

Lani Gerity said...

And here's a clip from a workshop in Canada with a many First Nations participating. Click here.

Lani Gerity said...

Here's a lovely radio interview with Jane Elliott in Australia. There's discussion of Aboriginal, Asian, and Muslim experiences. Makes me wish I could see the whole film rather than just a clip!
Click here.

Erika C. said...

Lani, I really love this post. You bring so many ideas together for me. I had a similar experience in Junior high school in the suburbs of being bullied. I didn't fit in after living for the early years of my life in NYC. I think even as an adult I still struggle with feelings left over from that time. It helps to put it into a framework like this and to see how your experience has transformed the way your career path has taken you.
I heard from Rebecca Wilkinson that she had more fun than she had had in ages at your puppet workshop. I hope to attend one too some day!!