Peonies, Frogs, and Wine

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bullying and School Massacres Revisited

A couple of years ago I posted a wikipedia list of school massacres, which tied into a research paper I wrote. I never posted the paper, but here it is. It was written a couple of years ago. Hopefully the formatting translated when I copy and pasted it from my WORD doc. If not, I'll come back later and fix it when there is more time.

This paper about school bullying includes: a definition and description of bullying and includes an historical literature review; examines bullying from a historical perspective; includes a time line; looks at when society begins to implement policy to address school bullying; examines bullying from a macro, mezzo, and micro level of client systems; and describes the role of social work in assessment, intervention, and policy making in regards to school bullying.
I. Definition/Description of School Bullying
School bullying takes place in a school setting. The standard definition of bullying, according to Espelage and Swearer (2003), citing Olweus, is, “a repeated behavior (including both verbal and physical behaviors) that occurs over time in a relationship characterized by an imbalance of strength and power” (p. 368). Their related terminology includes Dodge’s “proactive versus reactive aggression”, where proactive aggression is for direct gain and reactive is more retaliative. Dodge sees most bullying falling under the proactive category (p. 368). Several authors are referred to in Espelage and Swearer’s (2003) article when talking about direct versus indirect aggression, where:
direct (overt) aggression includes physical fighting… and verbal threatening behavior … that is face-to-face confrontation; whereas indirect aggression (covert) includes a third-party in which verbal aggression is accomplished through rumor spreading and name-calling [as well as currently including relational aggression, which is threatening to exclude the target from the group if they don’t go along with the bully’s wishes]. (p. 368)
Historical literature on bullying is scant prior to 1980. According to Eslea (2006, slide numbers 3 & 7): the first mention of bullying in western literature is in 1857, with Tom Hughes’ Tom Brown’s School Days. Next is Burk’s, Teasing and Bullying, in 1897. In 1930, three papers are written on bullying, including, “The social psychology of monkeys”. In 1932, “Bullying amongst birds” is written; and in 1973 Dan Olweus begins a huge Scandinavian project on bullying. In 1978, Olweus’ paper is published in English, and Lowenstein publishes two short papers on bullying. Between 1980 and 1990 a total of forty-three papers on bullying are written. Between 1991 and 1995 a total of one-hundred and fourteen papers are written on bullying. Between 1996 and 2001 a total of three-hundred and ninety-eight papers are written on bullying.
II. School Bullying from a Historical Perspective
Bullying has its roots in ancient belief systems. (Minogue, 2002, 4) hypothesizes that “Western” society has more bullies in its midst because it lacks the social hierarchal/caste system that other, non-westernized nations use[d and continue to use] to mediate between the power levels of individuals.
According to Minogue (2002, 7), “our interest in other people depends less on the formal admiration they accord to our superiority than to the ideas and attitudes they express, which we think might surprise and amuse us.”
A non-research, non-theological-based hypothesis on the origins of bullying is that “boys will be boys” (Soskis, 2001; Starr, 2000.) This almost makes it sound like it is normal developmental behavior for some individuals to make others’ lives miserable while simultaneously it is normal developmental behavior to be the recipient of such efforts.
Soskis (2001, p. 26) suggests that since physical violence by youth has decreased over the years the schools are expanding their definitions of violence to include bullying. Perhaps another correlate to the decreased physical violence is that, because physical violence is less and less tolerated in schools that the violence has “gone underground” to the covert ways of bullying.
In earlier times, in the traditional institutionalized patriarchy of our society, bullying may have been regarded as an acceptable way of the more powerful (i.e. white males) to exert their influence over the less powerful (i.e. non-whites and females). The school setting is a mezzo level of the macro level of governmental institutionalized patriarchy. To those in power, using coercive means to acquire and maintain power is standard practice and unquestioned by the holders. However, with the 1950s and 1960s struggles over civil rights for all citizens, regardless of gender or race, the coercive practices began to be questioned by others – and challenged in court. School bullying today is regarded in a much different light than it was prior to the civil rights movement.
II. Time Line of School Bullying
Up until approximately 12 years ago, virtually no research on bullying behaviors had been undertaken aside from research by a Scandinavian named Olweus.
A U.S. Secret Service report conducted in 2002, according to Espalage and Swearer (2003, p. 367), indicates that “interview-based investigation of the friends, families, and neighbors of 41 school shooters (between 1974-2000) …discovered one commonality among the shooters: 71% had been targets of a bully.”
School massacres occur when the bullying target (called a school shooter above) returns with firearms or other lethal weapons and kills their tormentors. Following is a massacre timeline that begins in 1989 with the first school massacre by an individual who was the target of bullying; and ends in 2005 with the last known school massacre in a western nation.
According to Wikipedia (2006) the first significant incident of bullying taken to a deadly level was in 1989, with the Stockton, CA, Massacre. During the incident, a bullying target became a sniper and climbed up into a tower on a school campus and ended up killing six people, including himself. This massacre was followed in 1989 by the Ecole Polytechnique School Massacre in Quebec, CA, with fifteen dead, including the shooter. In 1996, eighteen were killed, including the killer, in the Dunblane, Scotland, School Massacre. In 1998, two teenagers shot five students in the Jonesboro, Arkansas, School Massacre. In April of 1999, fifteen were killed at the Columbine School Massacre, including the two shooters. In March of 2005, ten were killed, including the killer, at the Red Lake High School Massacre in MN.
In almost every instance of a school massacre the shooters either kill themselves or are killed by law enforcement immediately or shortly after the massacre. Realistically speaking, virtually every one of the shooters knows they are facing their last day on earth. It clearly demonstrates the depth of injury bullying inflicts upon its victims.
Over the past decade, the increasing frequency and severity of school massacres, with significant links between the shooters and a bully victim history, has the public demanding that the United States government and its citizens take the malignant reality of bullying in schools seriously as a social problem.
III. School Bullying from a Systems Perspective
Espelage and Swearer (2003) cite a study done in 2001 by the Journal of the American Medical Association, where:
authors surveyed 15,686 students in Grades 6 through 10 across the U.S. and found that a total of 29.9% of the sample reported frequent involvement in bullying, with 13% as a bully, 10.6% as a victim, and 6% as a bully-victim. (p. 367)
School bullying is perpetuated by myriad socio-ecological factors. Espelage and Swearer (2003) have an impressive list of social-ecological factors that play a role in bullying, including:
1) individual characteristics (race/ethnicity, age, anger, depression, anxiety, empathy); 2) normative beliefs towards bullying (social skill deficit vs. theory of mind); 3) peer-level characteristics in the bullying dynamic (homophily hypothesis, dominance theory, attraction theory); 4) familial characteristics; 5) school factors (school climate, teachers’ attitudes); and 6) community factors. (p. 372-377)
V. Role of Social Work in Assessment, Intervention, and Policy Making around School Bullying
Increasing awareness of the damaging effects of school bullying, combined with the increasing frequency and lethality of school massacres demands that parents, school staff, community members, and policymakers develop appropriate assessment tools, intervention procedures, and adequate policies to address the social problem of school bullying.
A good place to start with the assessment of school bullying behavior might be to look at longstanding myths surrounding the dynamics of bullying behavior. Starr (2000, 6-16) quotes Olweus when she says that, “much of what we have always believed about bullying is wrong – consequently many of our techniques for dealing with bullies and their victims have simply made the problem worse.” Olweus has come up with a list of ten myths of bullying:
1) Bullies suffer from insecurity and low self-esteem. They pick on others to make themselves feel more important; 2) Bullies are looking for attention. Ignore them and the bullying will stop. 3) Boys will be boys. 4) Kids can be cruel about differences. 5) Victims of bullies need to learn to stand up for themselves and deal with the situation. 6) Large schools or classes are conducive to bullying. 7) Most bullying occurs off school grounds. 8) Bullying affects only a small number of students. 9) Teachers know if bullying is a problem in their classes. 10) Victims of bullying need to follow the adage, "Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names can never hurt you."
At the micro systems level, what happens when a bullying target is subjected to innumerable incidences over long periods of time, with no supportive intervention by peers or school staff? Bullying cruelty is visited upon an already compromised individual (Most victims are chosen because they are sensitive, anxious, and unable to retaliate, per 10.) who is legitimately in their learning environment. The target is aware of how important doing well in their academics is to their immediate and long-term future. When one is being bullied, this awareness adds stress upon pained distraction as one’s energies are drained away from an educational focus at school. History has shown that pushing a target over the edge can have disastrous consequences for the bully, the bully’s target, and anyone unlucky enough in the school environment to be in the line of fire when a shooter returns to seek an ending to the torment. More research will need to be done on the retaliative nature of bullying targets becoming shooters. Could school massacre shooters be regarding their final act on earth as the ultimate reciprocal bullying act?
Due to the increasing number of fatalities due to school massacres, in 1999, school anti-bullying policy became a legal requirement across the nation. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s office and other government departments rose to the occasion and put into place several anti-bullying measures. From the State of MI website (2001, 4) the State of Michigan State Board of Education: Policies on Bullying, states that, “public schools and state education programs … should develop a plan designed to prevent bullying, and develop methods to react to bullying when it occurs.” The Michigan Department of Education (2001, pp. 2, 8, 11) drafted a Model Code of Student Conduct. This code has the capacity to be tailored to what particular parameters may suit the needs of any specific school district. Looking at the Table of Contents (p. 2) that lists Level I, Level II, and Level III Violations, bullying/harassment/intimidation is listed as a Level II Violation (p. 8). For comparison purposes, other Level II Violations include:
destruction of property, failure to serve assigned detention, false identification, fighting, forgery, fraud, gambling, gang activity, hazing, improper or reckless operation of a motor vehicle, loitering, profanity and/or obscenity toward staff, sexual harassment, theft or possession of stolen property, and threat/coercion.
The State of Michigan website (2001) includes the Michigan State Board of Education resolution to designate October 14-20, 2001 as “Michigan Safe School Week.”
Safe School Week has a motto of ‘Keeping Our Schools Safe’(1) ; with a goal, “to motivate key educators, and emergency responders, as well as students, parents, and community leaders to advocate school safety”(2); talks about the “substantive policies… with the goal of perpetuating safe school environments conducive to learning for all students” (4); “encourages… promotion, coordination, and judging safe school projects”(5); and to have the Safe School Projects Best of Show winners be displayed in Lansing during Safe School Week(6).
On March 16, 2006, Governor Granholm’s radio address on “Bullying and curriculum legislation” (Watson, 2006) named the “recipe for success” for schools as: excellent teachers; necessary resources for the schools; “every school should be a safe, positive learning environment”; and urges the passing of:
House Bill 5616 and Senate Bill 1156 , bills introduced by Senator Buzz Thomas (D-Detroit) and Representative Glenn Anderson (D-Westland), will require that school districts create and adopt policies that prohibit harassment or bullying at school and that they submit their policies to the Michigan Department of Education. (pp. 1-4)
Washington Attorney General Gregoire (2001, Part III., p. 17) was part of the National Association of Attorney Generals’ four (Mississippi, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Arizona) national listening conferences in 1999. From the conference came the resulting list, compiled by students, teachers, and administrators, on what can be done to neutralize bullying behavior:
parents need guidance and support; 2) schools need policies, procedures and training to prevent bullying; 3) schools need after-school programs; 4) school peer mediation; 5) school mentoring programs; 6) teaching [fundamental core] values to students at school; 7) [more/enough] school counselors; 8) law enforcement officers on school campuses; 9) school I.D. badges; 10) uniforms and dress codes at school; 11) students [and school staff?] breaking the ‘code of silence’ through anonymous tip lines; and 12) school security cameras and metal detectors [note: 9-12 were generally accepted only when they were already in place, but not where they were as yet unknown.]
Bullying behavior is ingrained in patriarchal societies in macro level systems and at school in the mezzo level systems. It is tolerated and minimized due to its historic maintenance of power in the hands of a few. The civil rights era began to question the foundation of patriarchy in society; yet little attention was paid to school bullying until the increasing number of school massacres by targets of bullying. In 1999, school anti-bullying policy across the nation became mandated. It can be regarded as the beginning of official recognition of school bullying as a social problem.


Eslea, M. (2006). Bullying PowerPoint Presentation. Retrieved June 3, 2006, from
Espelage, D., & Swearer, S. (2003). Research on School Bullying and Victimization: What Have We Learned and Where Do We Go from Here? School Psychology Review, 32(3), 365-383.
Gregoire, C., Washington Attorney General (2000). Bruised inside: What our children say about youth violence, what causes it, and what we need to do about it, A Report of the National Association of Attorneys General, April 2000.
Minogue, K. (2002). A short history of bullying, toadying, and snitching: Kenneth Minogue puts America’s fixation with the schoolyard bully in perspective, Women’s Quarterly, Winter. Retrieved June 3, 2006 from
Soskis, B. (2001). Bully Pulpit. New Republic, 224(20), 25.
Starr, L., (2000). Sticks and Stones and Names Can Hurt You: De-Myth-tifying the Classroom Bully! Retrieved June 3, 2006 from
State of Michigan Department of Education (2001). Model code of student conduct, pursuant to Public Act 263 of 2000. Retrieved on June 4, 2006 from _7.pdf
State of Michigan website (2001). State of Michigan state board of education: Policies on Bullying. Retrieved on June 3, 2006 from
Watson, H. (2006). Governor urges legislature to act on anti-bullying legislation. Retrieved on June 3, 2006 from,1607,7-168-23442-138876--,00.html

Wikipedia (2006). Notable School Massacres. Retrieved on June 4, 2006 from

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At 9:55 PM, Blogger Rick said...

My youngest daughter is a member of Peer Conflict Mediation in her high school, which sometimes gets involved with cases of, for lack of a better word, bullying. Sometimes she comes home with some truly sad and disturbing stories.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger ms_lili said...

Bullying is a HUGE issue in schools. From my research paper: "Due to the increasing number of fatalities due to school massacres, in 1999, school anti-bullying policy became a legal requirement across the nation." I see very little -- and I do mean very, very little -- being implemented or enforced as far as anti-bullying policy. Too many times students take bullying for extended periods of times. Some of them "snap" and fight back. Who do you think ends up in court?

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Michele said...

Thanks for posting this paper. My daughter is nine and has been the target of bullying. The school she attends was awarded a grant to implement an anti-bullying program.

At 7:27 PM, Blogger ms_lili said...

The anti-bullying policy is federally mandated to be in place with or without a grant. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication about it open between yourself and your daughter, to document everything, and to report every incidence to school officials -- with an expectation that they give you something in writing explaining what action they took. Once you have built a large enough dossier, you contact the ACLU or an attorney who is experienced in making school systems do what they have been legally required to do (most communities have at least one -- ask around). No child needs to put up with bullying. I'm sorry to hear your daughter has been victimized. What the patriarchal school systems unfortunately seem to fail to acknowledge is that there are subtle forms of bullying that are just as if not more harmful than the blatant forms.


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