Perspectives on Name-Calling

Yesterday, when we posted about the first day of No Name-Calling Week on the NIOT Facebook page, one of our Facebook fans said bullying in schools seems to be rising, while another noted the important role adults play in being models of acceptance.

As schools and organizations discuss name-calling this week, here are two interesting perspectives. The first is the preview for Let's Get Real, a film from Groundspark, that features students speaking in their own voices about their name-calling experiences. The second, below the video, comes from our archives, in which a father grapples with the name-calling of his 9-year-old son.

In December 2009, we posted the story of 9-year-old Malik Jones:* In class, a girl "called him a monkey and said he was dirty. Other students started repeating the girl’s words. When Malik touched something, classmates would wipe the spot he had touched." At home, Malik would try to wash his clean dreadlocks, and one day at school, his father Mark was asked to pick him up after Malik threw a tantrum in response to a mocking reference to his face.

Though Mark approached the school about this name-calling and the school promised to address it, Mark remained guarded. He said:

“My son was having an experience in the school that caused psychological trauma for him,” he said. “I want my son to learn that skill set of coping with people who are racist or simply insensitive…but I don't want him to suffer through this.”

In the year since this story, we have heard from the NIOT network similar scenarios of name-calling across the country. When Malik's story was published, the story received a range of responses, which seem particularly relevant sharing this week. 

Several commenters empathized with Malik:

I experienced bullying during elementary school and junior high school and was terrified by those bullying me. I never told my parents or authorities because I feared that if my parents or teachers took action, the bullying would increase.  Instead I kept silent, hid in the bushes near school to avoid before-school harassment, took strange routes, home, etc.

***

I once was a target, I attended a school where I was the only minority. At first it started with words and then it escalated to pushing and then it followed me from school to out of school and the next thing I knew I was extremely afraid to go to school and this devestated me because i was soooo involved in school because all i wanted was to get a college education. This was finally an issue to the administration when pictures of me were posted up at school with racial slurs.

***

Here is what I don't have in common with Malik other then sex: I am not Black, I'm Armenian, and not a darker olive-toned one either, my skin is actually pretty darn fair.  But I had a set of lips, not full ones compared to the general public of today's diversity, but big for the middle class Caucasian kids that had practically none-just thin lines below their noses.  So, they also called me Nigger-lips.  I didn't even know what that meant.

Some offered solutions. This first one comes from a former principal:

This ongoing verbal and emotional abuse of an individual is a classic definition of "bullying" and needs an immediate and successful intervention by the school personnel.  ... I believe a meeting between Malik, the girl making the comments, the teacher and an administrator needs to occur. The girl must be made to understand that her actions constitute "bullying" and if she bully's Malik or anyone else there will be severe consequences for her.  Malik's parents, as well as the girl's parents, should be notified that the meeting occurred and what transpired.  

A teacher at an urban midddle school said:

With all the pressures on teachers to raise test scores on standardized tests, I think some of us forget that students need to feel safe in order to learn.  Not calling another student a monkey is a huge social skill that students need to learn and have reinforced in school, and I think it doesn't happen enough.  (I've had to have the "never call another kid a monkey and here's why" discussion here with 12 year-olds.)

And finally, an anonymous poster pointed to both the severity and complexity of the issue:

Persistent bullying has no easy fix. It needs to be addressed coherently across multiple perspectives in the school. The classroom teacher needs to be proactive with in-class intervention and dilligent with documentation. The teacher should avoid brushing the issue away with a simple 'That's inappropriate' or 'Don't do that' and address the subject, honestly, and in depth to the class at large.

The No Name-Calling Week site also offers to handouts for parents: What to Do If a Child is Being Bullied and How to Talk to Educators at Your Child's School About Bullying.

But what about you? How does Malik's story, or the many young voices in the Let's Get Real preview, strike you? What advice do you have for families grappling with this tough issue?

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