Re my recent post on differentiated instruction, a reader named Ed posted a compelling response:
Teaching their peers? Are they nuts!I’ve been thinking a lot about bullying lately because it has become such a ubiquitous topic. Are kids really more mean spirited than they were a generation ago? Or do they simply have more opportunities to be mean?
The bullying I received when my teacher tried that because they couldn't find things for me to do.
Plus kids "love" being taught by the geek in the room.
Thanks to smartphones and “social” media like Facebook and Twitter one can bully anyone anytime and anywhere, even those who do all they can to avoid their tormentors, disseminating insults and gossip to a limitless virtual audience of gawking peers. Particularly lethal--literally so--are doctored images and fake Facebook pages.
A far less appreciated source of growing opportunity, as I’ve argued earlier, is the growing time that students spend working in groups at school. Ironically, some bullying experts view cooperative group work as a way to remedy bullying, but given that bullying (especially when it takes the form of teasing and shunning) can be subtle and difficult to detect, and given that teachers cannot supervise multiple groups simultaneously, group activities often have the opposite effect. Particularly problematic, as Ed suggests, are the increasingly fashionable mixed-ability groups.
Today’s anti-bullying measures can backfire in other ways. Socially savvy kids can take advantage of zero tolerance policies and subtly goad a more socially clueless peer into lashing out. The victim rather than the perpetrator is then the one who gets punished. In whole class discussions in which children are supposed to share their experiences with bullying, the victims may be too uncomfortable to do so, especially if those experiences involved subtle, difficult-to-articulate forms of bullying like shunning, and especially if the vicctims expect subtle reprisals from peers once the adults are out of earshot.
It’s the socially aloof kids, of course, who are most often the true victims. Has the rise in autistic spectrum disorders caused bullying to increase? Perhaps, but a rise in the numbers of organically socially savvy kids may be just as responsible. One of the more compelling reasons for the rise in Asperger’s Syndrome, in particular, is the “assortative mating theory.” This holds that, where today’s mobile, densely interconnected humans are concerned, birds of a feather increasingly mate together. That is, instead of marrying the boy down the street, you’re more likely to marry the boy in your chosen field who shares, say, your analytical interests and distaste for small talk; or your social charms and love of parties. One result, commonly cited by such autism researchers as Simon Baron-Cohen, may be a concentration of autism-related genes. The much less commonly cited flipside is a concentration of sociability-related genes. The likely result? A widening spread of children across the spectrum from socially-aloof to socially-savvy. More victims, yes, but also (among the more mean-spirited of the highly socially-savvy), more sophisticated and powerful perpetrators.