School Climate & Safety

Obama: Idea of Bullying as Rite of Passage Must Change

By Nirvi Shah — March 11, 2011 3 min read
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama meet with Sarah and Emily Buder of Mills Valley, Calif., along with students and parents from the Conference on Bullying Prevention on March 10 in the Oval Office.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The White House on Thursday put a spotlight on what it believes has become an epidemic for American schoolchildren: bullying.

President Barack Obama gathered about 150 parents, teachers, bullying victims, researchers, and staff from his education, health and human services, technology, and other departments at the White House to have frank conversations and generate fresh ideas for dealing with the problem—one he said he dealt with as a child.

“With big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune,” he said.

While the remark sparked laughter, the president said the idea that bullying is a rite of passage for American children must change.

He unveiled a website, stopbullying.gov, that offers advice and guidance for kids, parents, teachers, and community members. In addition, his staff said they have new partnerships with MTV and Facebook to counter bullying. The latter was used during the day-long conference as a platform to field questions from all over the country about bullying.

The MTV network will lead a new coalition to fight bullying online, the president said, and launch a series of ads to talk about the damage done when kids are bullied for their race, religion, sexual orientation, or for just being themselves.

And Facebook said it will add two new safety features in the next few weeks: a redesigned safety center with expert resources and information for teenagers and a social reporting system that will allow members to report content that violates Facebook policies so it can be removed and parents and teachers notified.

At one of the small-group sessions, some educators, parents, and administration officials said they hope bullying-prevention measures become a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now called No Child Left Behind, when it is renewed.

“What gets measured gets done,” said Marilee Fitzgerald, acting director of the Department of Defense Education Activity.

The father of Ty Field, an 11-year-old Oklahoman who committed suicide last year after being bullied and then being suspended when he stood up for himself, said the essential lessons schools must teach include four R’s, not three.

“Reading, writing, ‘rithmetic—and respect,” the father, Kirk Smalley, said.

The idea wouldn’t be to punish schools that measure school climate, said Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. But parents need the information, and negative results could actually lead to additional financial support for schools, he said.

Since taking office, bullying has been an issue the president has paid special attention to. Last year, President Obama, the vice president, and others posted videos on YouTube, part of a project called It Gets Better, to inspire struggling lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who may have been the victims of bullying.

Also last year, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and other federal agencies created a task force on bullying. And school districts were sent letters reminding them that not addressing bullying problems could be a violation of students’ civil rights.

In recent days, several national education groups, including both national teachers’ unions, the national PTA, and others have offered their own anti-bullying initiatives. Sens. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Mark Casey, a Republican from Illinois, also reintroduced a bill that would create the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

The legislation would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, implement effective prevention programs to respond to bullying, and require that states report incidents of bullying and harassment to the Education Department.

“I don’t want this to be a nice conversation for a day and then we go back to our business,” said Tom Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Justice. “That’s not what the president wants. He wants ideas. He wants concrete steps.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Opinion ‘We Cannot Stop a Bullet’: A Principal Demands Better Gun Laws
When guns are easily accessible, not even the Secret Service can prevent every threat. Why would we expect teachers to do better?
Tracey Runeare
5 min read
A tangled jumbled line leads from a moment of impact to a clear conclusion: a ban symbol.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School Climate & Safety Roads Around Schools Are Unsafe, Principals Say. Here's What to Do About It
Traffic conditions aren't fully within school leaders' control. But there are still steps schools can take to help students arrive safely.
4 min read
Focus is on a flashing school bus stop sign in the foreground as a group of schoolchildren cross a parking lot with the help of a crossing guard in the distance.
E+
School Climate & Safety Video Should Teachers Carry Guns? How Two Principals Answer This Question
One has two armed school employees. The other thinks arming teachers is a bad idea.
4 min read
People hold signs in the gallery against a bill that would allow some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session in the House chamber on April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.
People hold signs in the gallery against a bill that would allow some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session in the House chamber on April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.
George Walker IV/AP
School Climate & Safety Former Uvalde Police Chief Indicted Over Response to Robb Elementary Shooting
The former chief and another former officer face felony charges of child endangerment and abandonment.
3 min read
Flowers are placed around a welcome sign outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, to honor the victims killed in Tuesday's shooting at the school.
Flowers are placed around a welcome sign outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, to honor the victims killed in the shooting at the school.
Jae C. Hong/AP