In the fight against bullying—including vicious name calling, physical assaults, fueling rumors, and anonymous comments made in cyberspace—U.S. schools have been too reactive, and it’s time for a new approach, Deborah Temkin said Wednesday.
She should know: Temkin headed up the U.S. Department of Education’s bullying prevention efforts before joining the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to work on the same issue.
This week, she launched Project Seatbelt—Safe Environments Achieved Through Bullying prevention, Engagement, Leadership, and Teaching respect. The initiative will draw from the research of the Making Caring Common program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. That program works on teaching adults to promote caring, respect, and responsibility in children and teenagers. (It’s even more blunt than that: “Selfishness and narcissism are high among both children and adults,” its website says. “Further, for many adults, happiness and achievement—not concern for others—have become the chief goals of parenting and raising children. We aim to counteract these trends.”)
The whole point of Project SEATBELT, Temkin said, is prevention. “Our work thus far has been reactive,” she said during a presentation at the National Press Club here. “We need to take a step back and prevent bullying.”
Basically, society needs to work hard on producing nicer people for whom bullying behavior would never be an option.
That’s where the seat belt name and analogy come in. Temkin said that inspiration for the title came from Kevin Jacobsen, a New York parent whose younger son Kameron committed suicide after relentless bullying online and at school. Kevin Jacobsen once noted how automatic it has become for children to reach for their seat belts when getting into a car, something he still has to think about doing.
“In the course of a generation, behavior has changed,” Temkin said. And so she hopes her initiative could push the evolution of bullying behavior within one generation, too.
(Sadly, Kevin Jacobsen committed suicide, too, early last year, about a year after his son’s passing.)
The initiative is already at work in Iowa schools that are part of the Safe and Supportive Schools grant program, and will be piloted elsewhere and then be made available nationally, certifying schools that effectively change their climates. Schools would be led through a process that would help determine what strategies would work best in their environment.
This public service announcement about the importance of bullying prevention will run during tonight’s NBA Finals game.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.