School lesson: Deflect bullies, prevent violence
May 28, 1999
(CNN) -- Hoping to prevent more school shootings, some U.S. communities are taking a closer look at the fine line between normal adolescent teasing and truly hurtful behavior that could lead to violent retaliation. In the process, the way teachers teach is changing, too.
At New York's Public School 75, the lesson that bullying is not just child's play is taught at a very early age -- kindergarten through third grade. "If you're bullied so much," says one young boy, "one of those days you'll just pop."
Third-grader Zoe Rosenberg, called "short" by some of her classmates, may not have lasting emotional scars from the insult, but at this stage of her young life that doesn't matter.
For her, the emotional hurt is real. "It made me feel unwanted, like I didn't have many friends," she said.
Zoe, her classmates and their teachers are all going through "Quit It," a program for reducing teasing and bullying.
"We feel it's just as important for children to learn how to respect each other as it is for them to read and write," says Merle Froschl, co-founder of Educational Equity Concepts, which developed the "Quit It" curriculum.
Students learn in class how to cope with confrontations and how it feels to be teased, the effects of which, researchers have learned, can be lasting.
"It's more hurtful than being hit or pushed. Those wounds heal. But really mean things that people say to you stay with you," says Columbia University's Marla Brassard.
And, in some cases, the urge for revenge sets in.
In the school shootings that have occurred in the United States in the past three years, almost all of the boys accused of the crimes said they had been teased or rejected by others.
While that doesn't excuse the extreme behavior, it does help explain the hurt, says P.S. 75 Principal Bob O'Brien.
"We know these students have felt excluded," he told CNN. "And if we know those things can happen and we know they're avoidable, why would we not do everything we can to prevent other kids from having that experience?"
Preventing school violence is Trevor Gardner's mission, too. But his approach is different.
A professor at Eastern Michigan University, his class in educational methods helps future teachers learn how to manage a classroom without losing control.
"One of the most critical elements of our management of students in school is that most of them have not learned to make .... appropriate choices," he tells his students, "and we have to teach them. It doesn't just happen."
Gardner's college class includes role-playing where the aspiring instructors pretend to be parents, administrators and teachers -- all of them forced to find a strategy for dealing with disruptive students and so-called "outcasts" who may see violence as a way to lash back.
The professor's recommendation: never give up. "The child may have given up on himself and he realizes you, the authority, gave up on him or her. (When) everybody has given up, that child's future is in jeopardy."
Gardner's students say the course gives them confidence. "We then go into a classroom," says student teacher Meg Emelaw, "we can be educated and say, 'This is what's happening. What do we do about this?'"
Detroit Bureau Chief Ed Garsten and Correspondent Frank Buckley contributed to this report.
$250 million Columbine lawsuit filed
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