Views & Voices

Bullying: Putting Your Money Where Their Mouth Is


When we say that we want bullying to stop, what we’re in large part saying is that we want bullying to stop happening in our children’s schools. Which means we want teachers to put a stop to bullying.

While teachers are obliged to stop bullying in their individual classrooms, stopping it beyond that — in the hallways, the cafeteria, during recess, after school — isn’t part of their job.

Teachers aren’t paid to get involved in the personal lives of their students. To do so is to invite trouble — literally. For one, the parents of bullies tend to be bullies. The teacher who attempts to control or censure a bully outside the classroom knows how likely it is that shorty thereafter that kid’s parents will be in their face, hollering — and usually doing so in the principal’s office. And principals just love it when their teachers bring down upon them the wrath of a kid’s parents.

Also, a junior-high or high school bully can be a terribly frightening person. These can be big, mean kids—who are usually perfectly aware of which teachers, for instance, drive which cars. It’s safe to include teachers in the ranks of those who are not eager to become the focus of the anger of a hormonal teenage psychopath.

Teachers are teachers, not life coaches. That’s what parents are for.

But bullying at schools must stop; that’s where most of it happens. If we don’t stop bullying in our schools, then we don’t stop tragedies such as Jamey Rodemeyer.

So what to do?

Like all problems, solving this one takes, first and foremost, resolve. We must determine that, come hell or high water, we will stop bullying in our schools. That we will do what it takes. That we will spend the money necessary to identify, create, initiate and see through whatever programs we must to stop this seemingly intractable problem.

Whoops. Money.

End of resolve.

Schools don’t have money. And they sure don’t have it to spend on teaching kids how to properly socialize. Schools need things like classroom supplies and roof repair.

The Jamey Rodemeyers of the world are on their own.

They are, that is, unless we redefine the problem of school bullying. What if it were true that it cost ten times the money not to stop school bullying than it would to stop it? What if we understood that we literally cannot afford not to stop bullying in our schools?

Well, guess what? It does cost ten time more money not to stop bullying in schools than it would to prevent it.

Consider my home state of California. In California, it costs $47,000 a year to keep a prisoner. California state prisons hold 144,000 inmates. So the state of California is spending $6,768,000,000 per year on prisoners.

The kinds of people who grow up to become criminals are the kinds of people who as kids were bullies. Not every prisoner was a childhood bully, of course. But let’s say that twenty percent of them were. I think it’s reasonable to say that one out of five prison inmates were, as kids, known by their teachers and other kids to be recalcitrant bullies.

Twenty percent of $6,768,000,000 is $1,353,600,000.

$1,353,600,000 is how much it’s costing California per year to care for prisoners who wouldn’t be in prison if, when they were kids, they had received the kind of attention bullies need in order to be cured of their desire to cause suffering in others.

Ten percent of $1,353,600,000 is $135,360,000.

If the state of California spent $135,360,000 per year to stop bullying in its schools, it would save ten times that in costs spent caring for people who will end up in its prison system because it was too shortsighted to spend that money.

There are 1,341 middle schools in California. Middle schools are the ideal place to implement programs designed to address and solve the problem of kids bullying other kids.

$135,360,000 divided amongst 1,341 middle schools means each school would get $100,940 per year to spend on the prevention of bullying.

For that amount you could train all your teachers and staff on how to identify and prevent bullying, implement solid anti-bullying programs and teaching models, and have on staff at least one full-time person whose job it is to handle All Things Bullying, including community outreach, and the training of adult volunteers to patrol all over the school making sure no student is ever being bullied or picked upon.

Imagine the money and resources that would be saved if kids who were bullies learned to stop being bullies before they grew up, went out into the world, and continued their anti-social behavior. Adult criminals—muggers, thugs, perpetrators of assault and battery, wife abusers—don’t just wake up one morning and decide they get off hurting others. They’ve always hurt others. As kids they tortured animals, and stole things, and picked on weaker kids: they were the bullies. And they got away with being bullies, because no adults at their school had the training or motivation to help them unlearn the terrible things they learned somewhere along the line of their young lives.

Well, now the adults at their school—now all we adults—have the motivation to stop bullying in schools: money. Once you make the simple connection between the kinds of kids who bully and the kinds of adults who end up in prison, you realize that not investing in programs that prevent bullying in schools isn’t just a moral failure. It’s a financial failure.

Tomorrow society will easily save ten times what it spends today on the prevention of bullying in schools. There’s simply no excuse not to do it.

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