Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon

Sticks and Stones:  Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon is  a well-balanced look at bullying, the implications it has for the individual, for the community within the school environment and beyond, and what bullying says about our society in general.  That bullying is not a new phenomenon is evident; that the means of bullying has changed is also apparent.  With the internet comes new forms of abuse and attack.  Bullying is no longer limited to the schoolyard or playground for now it can come into the home via texts and social media sources, like facebook and others.  The role of media, how "bullycide" romanticizes (or sensationalizes, if you will) the issue of bullying over all.

Bazelon dares to ask the questions about bullying that immediately come to mind:

  • Where and how does bullying begin?
  • What can be done to empower the individual and diffuse the situation where bullying occus?
  • Where and how should bullying be handled? 
  • What tools are needed and  how effective are they?
By beginning with the stories of three children who experience bullying for differing “reasons” the author puts a face on the victims and their bullies.  The reader follows the timeline of the bullying from its beginnings to the conclusion in a series of chapters that leave off and then pick up again each story.  The author delves into the backstory of the victims and their bullies and it quickly becomes obvious that bullying is a complex issue, one that is not easily explained and as convoluted as the experience of being bullied itself.

Throughout the book, the author manages to be compassionate while pulling no punches.  She is relentless in her pursuit of the truth.  She is not interested in justice so much as solutions.  Her judgment of those who can protect the children involved—including the bullies—is not limited to the schools and/or the parents.  Judges who interpret and apply the law in ways that contradict, facebook with its inadequate sense of accountability, and a police force that cannot enforce laws that have not been defined. 

The issue of bullying is complicated.  Obviously.   Bazelon’s research goes into the roots of psychological/sociological research and resources, looking at how they are applied in different school environments and how well they succeed.  The strength of the book lies in its ability to neither revictimize the victims nor vilify the bullies.  The emotional strength of the book lies in a delicate balance of journalistic integrity and a mother’s own need for compassionate resolution.

I have deep feelings about bullying, especially cyberbullying, and this book measured up to my rather high expectations.  Had the author offered a simplistic solution, I’d have called her and the book out for being inadequate to an obviously large task.  Instead, I have the privilege of saying that this book is one I would highly recommend and should be read by anyone whose life crosses that of a child—every parent, educator, etc.  Statistically, as the author points out, bullying occurs in a small proportion of the community in general.  Hopefully, nobody would need to read this but the advice given, particularly to parents, about what should be done to empower children, is invaluable and, ideally, will prove to be unnecessary.

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