End Bullying in Schools

President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama have had an enormous amount of face time on television since the Inaugural on Jan. 20.  Just in the last few days we have seen the president ESPN, Jay Leno, and 60 Minutes and Michelle in the White House garden.

Let me softly suggest that the First Couple use their popularity to squelch the insidious and growing problem with schoolyard bullying.

School bullying is reaching epidemic proportions. An estimated 160,000 students in the United States per day are absent from school due to fear of attack or intimidation from bullies. According to a 2002 California student survey, one out of four students are victims of bullying on school property because of their race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, religion or disability.

If 25 percent of America’s children had contracted West Nile Virus we would pour millions, if not billions, of dollars into strategies to eradicate the causal factors. The negative effects from consistent verbal and/or physical attacks from a school bully can cause long-lasting physical and mental health issues leading to violence as a means of getting back. In fact, in a groundbreaking study of school shootings, conducted by the U.S. Secret Service, the shooters commonly had been victims of harassment by peers.

Bullying is one of the most underrated problems in schools today. Far too often educators and parents believe that the bullies are not really causing serious harm, you know the axiom, “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But words do hurt. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates among teenagers have tripled in the last few decades—especially teens dealing with issues of non-conforming gender roles, who are often targeted by bullies.

Using the Bully Pulpit (pun intended) the First Couple can have a monumental impact on the reduction of bullying. At the very least, the President and First Lady can use their popularity with school-age children to inform them about the issue and provide high-level counsel.

They should tell the story about the student who wore a pink polo shirt on the first day of school in Nova Scotia in 2007. Bullies harassed the boy,  called him a homosexual, and threatened to beat him up. Two older students came to his defense and organized a pink T-Shirt Day. The media picked up the story and now we have an organized Pink Shirt Day in schools on February 25 to combat bullying.

Here are some of the things the president and First Lady might say in a conversation with the American people. Steven Spielberg can direct the spots:

• Parents must be vigilant about recognizing the signs of bullying: depression, sadness, non-communication, lower grades, substance abuse, and loss of friends.

• Administrators, teachers, and parents must form a strong alliance to effectively address the issue.

• Lines of communication with parents and children should be nurtured and kept open, even though in the middle-school years parent and child communication about school drops precipitously, especially for boys. Find ways and times to talk regularly with your children about school.

• Parents should inform the school principal if bullying issues are evident—and should expect improvement. If there is no improvement, meeting with district staff must be next, then legal counsel.

• Students must stand up for wrongs in schools and make them right by talking with administrators, teachers, and counselors. 

• Litigation can ensue if bullying is not suppressed.

Let us seize this incredible moment to tackle one more issue.  Si Se Puede.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. Joseph,

    The causal factor?  Pure and simple, it’s largely parental neglect.  Bullies can do what they do because they’re parents just don’t care enough to properly raise their children. 

    Oh, thank you for not suggesting that we throw millions or billions of dollars at this issue. Shades of Vasconcellos, eager and willing to spend wheelbarrows of cash on ill-defined and unmeasurable programs.

  2. Usually, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Peer pressure doesn’t help; rock videos, rap music, and TV shows on cable, and MTV encourage teens to behave badly. We’re facing some really difficult odds in stopping it. Ignorance, fear, culture bias, and racism play a huge part in the problem. We adults haven’t even conquered it, how can we expect our youth to with the example we set for them?

  3. The problem is, that if parents go to the school, the bullies have “rights”, and the victims, most often, apparently do not.

    We need to stop coddling the bullies and their mostly no-count parents (well, maybe parent, since who knows who Daddy is?) and throw their punk asses in CYA, where they will soon find out what it’s like to BE bullied.

    Yeah, yeah, I’ll soon hear about the endless cycle of violence from all the mollycoddlers on this blog.

    Best way to stop a bully—kick his ass.  Most often, your kid just standing up, even if he loses, stops the bully from messing with your kid.  That may be less true in the age of teen gangs, which weren’t too prevalent in my school days.  Gang members are often even weaker mentally/psychologically than lone bullies; but they may have one, often charismatic, leader to look up to, since the rest of their so-called lives are so screwed up.  Gang members are too *ussy to work alone, most often.  They won’t act without superior numbers or firepower.

    Bullies pick on the weak, because they themselves are mentally/psychologically weak.  They don’t want opposition.  They do seem to have a keen insight on who’s vulnerable, though.

  4. 4.  JMO…Exactly right. Everything you said I agree with.  It also extends from the schools to the international scene. Hitler,
    Tojo and Mussolini were all bullies. The U.S. and our allies stood up to them and fought them. Lately the bullies have been Iraq, Libya and Iran.  We must now stand up to Iran as the latest bully.

  5. JMC’s Institute for Urban Sociology.

    Spare the rod, and spoil those minorities!

    In between getting the mustard on the dogs from his stand in downtown San Jose, Johnni Mc, the guy who thinks white people do not get a break, is now advising us to bring back brutality.

    “Chain gangs for nine year olds, that’s the ticket,” JMC likes to say.  “Why me and FinFan used hike twelver miles in the snow, while those other kids got buses, by yiper!”

    JMC is the guy in the Simpson’s video who says to the class, “ask for anything, that’s a paddlin’”

  6. Now see here, FinFan and I used to hike twelve miles up those snowy hills to school, and then in the dusk of late afternoon, we had to walk down those steep hills back to milk the cows and do the chores, and we did not have any equal opportunity types helping us, by gumption!

  7. Why stop at schools? Let’s combat bullying in international relations, politics, colleges, night clubs, gyms, every square inch of Russia, family reunions, churches and religious revivals, sales conferences, hiring events, price negotiations, arms talks, and mall parking?

    Just read your list of awareness issues: “Parents should . . . parents should . . . parents should . . .” followed by LITIGATION. My God, what are you advocating for exactly? Non-conscientious parents will not listen to you because . . . they’re not conscientious. And if classifying the WEDGIE as a MISDEMEANOR is not yet a sign of the end times, it should be.

    I agree with JMO—a bully stopped picking on my brother when the bully’s head was used to crack a bus window. The real character builder was befriending the same guy later. There’s something to be said for solving your own problems sometimes.

    I’m going to chalk this up as you drawing the short straw this week on op-ed topics, JD.

  8. JMO,
    You’re right, bullies run in packs because they’re too weak to fight one on one like we did in the old days. They also use guns and knives because they couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag. 

    JMO said, “They do seem to have a keen insight on who’s vulnerable, though.”

    You are absolutely correct about that too. I took a Rape Prevention course from the Campbell Police Department awhile back. I also took a self-defense course from a Marshal Arts expert. One thing they both said was that criminals, bullies, rapists, and domestic abusers pick their victims based on their demeanor, and whether they see a vulnerability/fear in you.

    The Police also went into great detail about interviews they either sat in on, or studies about crazies, rapists, serial killers, men who abuse women, children, etc., and the one common thread they found is that these sub humans know who is weak, and vulnerable. And once they’ve established that you are, you become their target of rage.

    One other thing you are correct about is that bullies, and criminals are weak, and use force to feel empowered, but if you fight back, you have a better chance of survival because they are looking to make you fearful, not powerful, and taking a stand, and responding back in a powerful way, is not something they will want to deal with.

    Bullies enjoy humiliating others because they are trying to get even with whoever hurt them, and since it can’t be the person who violated them, they’ll pick someone weaker to take it out on. So even if you are stranding in a pool of your own urine terrified, don’t let it show because once you do, you’re dust.

    A great movie by Clint Eastwood is out on just this topic, Grand Torino. Excellent movie! A real must see.

  9. #7-Hot Dog Stand,
    Okay, you’ve had your fun. Enough with the grillin of JMO. This is an important topic, and personal attacks are counterproductive. May be we should cover cyber bullying too!

  10. Hey, anonymous hot dog stand—you can’t even copy down my initals correctly.  Go back to school and try for your GED.  You might get it on the 5th or 6th try.  Then grow a pair, and use your real name.