School bullying: Three strikes and out should not apply

The main reason the three strikes and you’re out rule should not apply to bullies is simple. It does not work. Bullying is not part of a game in which you’re sending the offender to the penalty box or the bull-pen or even out of the game. In fact, the three strikes or zero tolerance rule as it’s known in some parts of the world is as varying and inconsistent as are types of bullying. Not only are those in authority unable to agree on what ‘out’ means, the wide-ranging policies, also called student exclusion in some areas, raise many concerns.

And what happens to the bully that does get suspended or, heaven help us, expelled?

Statistics show that one in five children admit to bullying others. Assuming that even half of those make the grade, that is, end up striking out, and you have one in ten of the average school population being exiled from mainstream schooling to to where? Depending on the age of the bully, the child may end up in alternative schooling, should some be available, where it stands to reason, he or she will end up with other bullies, given that that’s where their parents will be forced to send them also, or, if the child is older, they could well end up in Juvenile Detention, budding delinquents in the making.

Research has shown that most bullying children are in desperate need of positive adult role models and positive pro-social influences. Chances of bullies receiving this much needed modeling seem unlikely if they are tarred with the three strikes rule and written off by those who might be in a position to help them turn their lives around.

A study in Toronto, Ontario done during the mid-nineties by D.J.Pepler and W.M.Craig, showed, fully 85 percent of bullying peers were involved in bullying episodes and that was over a decade ago. More recent studies are not encouraging. If anything, they show the trend to be on the upswing, not in decline and the three strikes rule does nothing to address this part of the cycle.

Internationally recognized speaker and educator, Barbara Coloroso in her book, The Bully, The Bullied, and The Bystander makes some interesting points in the chapter, Caring Schools, Involved Communities especially in the section entitled, Beware: Zero Tolerance Can Equal Zero Thinking. With a few anecdotal examples and her common-sense approach to all things regards parenting, child-care, and educating, Coloroso shows clearly the flaws with the three strikes and zero tolerance rules, as they were first written. The problem with across-the-board rules are they are just that, inclusive, with little or no choice of application, and leave administrators no ‘wiggle room’ or leeway, with which to move or make decisions.

As might be deduced from the title of Coloroso’s book, she believes strongly that no-one is exempt from bullying, no-one. Author William Burroughs said, There are no innocent bystanders, and followed that up with, What were they doing there in the first place? Both of Burroughs’ statements can be found in Coloroso’s book in her chapter entitled Bystanders wherein she also discusses The Bullying Circle developed by one of the world’s leading researchers on bullying, Dan Olweus, Ph.D., of the University of Bergen, Norway. Dr. Olweus’study, in a roundabout way brings up another reason the three strike rule does not work threat of extreme punishment; e.g. the possibility of the bully being suspended or expelled is believed to keep many children and even some adults from reporting bullying.

It’s easy to see why many would like to see the three strikes and you’re out rule remain in place. It’s the easiest solution, or so it must seem. The bully is, by definition, the bad guy and, he or she is hurtful and has been hurtful at least three times. So, get rid of them, wash your hands, end of story. But is it the end of the story? Or are we in fact, just creating bigger and better monsters?

St. Augustine, a fifth century bishop believed that hatred deforms the hater more than the hated. Bearing his hypothesis in mind, it seems counter-productive to be throwing all of the haters out with the three strikes rule, leaving them as hating and angry as ever. With tragedies like Virginia Tech still occurring, now more than ever, it’s time to look to alternate measures for dealing with bullying.