Really good post! I find it very ironic that so many teachers are getting higher degrees, then delegating their jobs to the group or to parents as in our whole languge guided reading program.
I think that one of the other reasons bullying is so widespread now is that adults condone it in some forms, even when they observe it. I am in the middle of an argument with a local school insider who thinks social exclusion is ok, just human nature, no big deal. My own kids have experienced times when a group of popular kids will pretend to be friendly and then deliberately exclude the nerds who want to join in their games (and the situation I am arguing over is with girls who exclude another girl at school and in Girl Scouts). If the adult in charge did something to interrupt the bullying and make life unpleasant for the instigators (sitting out, writing assignment, go inside, chores, stop game etc) to show this matters and is unacceptable (but please don't tell the bullies how effective their bullying is at huting other kids - i think it just encourages them to keep doing it).
You're spot-on about a lot of "anti-bullying" measures and group work. While they're not usually marketed as "anti-bullying" specifically, a lot of "student-centered", social-emotional curriculum intended to help students get along backfires in the same way. Two years ago my school tried to implement "restorative justice", which consisted in part of having a class once a week where everybody sat in a big circle, the teacher "facilitated", and the students took turns contributing to the conversation (or "passing" on the opportunity to do so).
In theory this was supposed to be a democratizing way to give everybody a voice. In practice, because the teacher was providing less structure, the already-existing social hierarchies and tensions were exacerbated. A few kids totally dominated (which some teachers managed to interpret as "meaningful dialogue"), but most kids declined to put themselves out there by participating.
The idea that you are likely to be able to solve social problems between students by giving student interactions less structure is...dubious.
Re: ASD, though, I'm more persuaded by the evidence for diagnostic substitution theories than assortive mating theories, e.g.:
I think that the deliberately heterogeneous, in both academic and social/emotional areas, classrooms and the forced groupwork within them have widened the opportunities for all kinds of undesirable behavior -from shunning to bullying. Forcing very different kids into close proximity and requiring constant interaction among them is a recipe for frustration, which can pop out in all kinds of negative behaviors, particularly in an environment that has been stressing self-esteem over self-control for decades.
The underlying idea is that "diversity" of all kinds is highly desirable, because it will be encountered in the later workplace. It may be, but such interactions are likely to be reflective of differing hierarchical status. The handicapped bagger at the supermarket does not interact, as an equal, with the checkout supervisor and the checkout supervisor does not interact, as an equal, with the store manager, even though they may all be close in age. Expecting them all to interact eagerly and effectively, as equals, despite obvious (but unacknowledged) differences, in ES and MS is asking an awful lot. The potential for problems is significant.
I should have added that the potential problems with the current model can exist even among kids of similar ability levels, but very different personalities. The very outgoing girl that will become a sales manager is very different from the quiet introvert who will run the IT department - and forcing them into constant interaction in MS (likely to be a social minefied, anyway) is likely to be unhappy all around. I'd like to go back to the days when schools/teachers left kids alone to do their own work and chose their own peer group, without all the social engineering.
A friend of mine whose kids go to public school suggested that the apparent increase in bullying may be the result of definitional spread. At her kids' school, if two little boys get into a fight or a child who is angry at a friend yells some insults, those incidents are labeled "bullying." Factors that I think of as central to the concept, such as a power imbalance, repeated attacks, or attacks for sheer amusement, are no longer considered necessary for the label.
I definitely agree that children who are socially skilled and have good impulse control can goad less skilled, less controlled children into an attack. I see that as a sibling dynamic all the time. So much so that when my daughter wails that her little brother hit her, my automatic response is "and what were you doing to him?"
I agree with 1crosbycat that some adults condone bullying, and therefore don't do enough to stop it.
During my last semester of college, an education major friend and I were discussing homeschooling, and she mentioned that she thought I would have been better off in public school as a child (I was homeschooled, then attended private school for high school) because I would have been bullied for my introversion and nerdiness, so I would have learned to have more "typical" interests for a teenager.(Apparently conlanging, mythology, and Steampunk aren't normal or appropriate interests for a college student.)
I don't remember what I said to her, but to this day I'm amazed not only that she thought bullying was okay but that she thought that part of her job as a teacher was to dictate the bounds of her students' interests and hobbies.
I think a lot of teachers see it as their job to at least influence students' social choices. I got along with my fourth grade teacher, but she felt strongly that I needed to run around and socialize during recess, not read my book. It got to the point that she was checking my hands and pockets when I left the classroom (but not the lining of my coat as I had a hole in one pocket...)
My local elementary school is very proud of their anti-bullying program, but it is very clearly just organized around protecting gay or possibly gay students (it was written by the LGBTQ parent organization for one thing). Introverts need not apply.
Katharine Beals, PhD, is the author of "Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World: Strategies for Helping Bright, Quirky, Socially Awkward Children to Thrive at Home and at School" (Shambhala/Trumpeter)
Katharine is an educator and the mother of three left-brain children. She has taught math, computer science, social studies, expository writing, linguistics, and English as a second language to students of all ages, both in the U.S. and overseas. She is also the architect of the GrammarTrainer, a linguistic software program for language impaired children.
She is currently a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and an adjunct professor at the Drexel University School of Education.
This site uses left-brain and right-brainnot as physiological terms for the actual left and right hemispheres of the brain, but as they are employed in the everyday vernacular. They appear here in the same spirit in which people use type A and type B (themselves the relics of a debunked theory about blood type and character type): an informal shorthand for certain bundles of personality traits.