Who Cares About Education? ... going in the wrong direction
Bullying: Home, School and Community
Delwyn Tattum and Graham Herbert (eds), 1997
London, David Fulton Publishers
184pp paperback £13.99 ISBN 1-85346-445-7
Review by Derek Gillard
© copyright Derek Gillard 1998
Bullying in schools has been the focus of much attention for ten years or so and many books on the subject have been published. Delwyn Tattum himself has written several, including the booklet Bullying - A Positive Response (1990) which was a relatively early, and extremely valuable, contribution to the debate.
So the basic issues - raising awareness, assessing the extent of the problem, devising and implementing strategies to tackle bullying - have all been discussed at some length.
Any new book must, therefore, bring a new perspective to the matter. This is just such a book. It has two basic premises.
First, it makes the point that schools are only a part of the wider community, and that therefore any serious attempt to deal with bullying must involve that community. 'The complex nature of bullying cannot be divorced from the social interactions, the relationships and the patterns of behaviour of a whole community' (p.vii). Of course schools are an important element - perhaps the single most important one, since they are where young people come together in large numbers for a sizeable proportion of their time. Schools are now expected to explain to parents how they tackle the problem - having a bullying policy is no longer seen as an admission of failure.
However, schools are finding it increasingly difficult to tackle social problems, because of the twin pressures of government interference in education and the lack of resources.
This situation is further aggravated in schools by factors such as the increasingly centralised control of narrowly focused curricula and assessments and tests conducted in a context of competitive league tables seemingly as much obsessed with failure as with anything else (p.139).So it cannot all be left to the schools. The home, the workplace, the armed forces, prisons etc are all places where bullying can - and does - take place. They must therefore be involved in any coherent attempt to tackle the problem. 'The behaviour of the individual cannot be taken out of the social context in which that behaviour takes place' (p.v).
The outcomes of inappropriate parenting are described.
Aggressive pre-school children are often very hard to cope with at home and within the nursery. By the time they reach primary education they have already learned that aggressive acts such as pushing, shoving and snatching are ideal for satisfying their short-term needs and objectives (p.13).The book provides invaluable material from projects which involved parents, and suggests that the importance of working with parents is still not sufficiently appreciated. Rather, there is a 'retrospective retribution' (p.28) culture which results, for example, in politicians seeking to punish parents for the behaviour of their children. 'Parents should be advised to take an interest in the social life of their child in school - not just academic progress' (p.39).
The book's second premise is that preventative measures are more important than reactive crisis management. 'Approaches that focus on bullies and victims and that rely on extra policing by teachers and other adults are exacerbating the problem ... Schools can work with all children to create a community that is intolerant of bullying' (p.76).
So measures which promote self-esteem and empathy are important. Peer mediation should be 'included in the School Development Plan and be written into school policies on Behaviour management, Anti-bullying, Pastoral care, etc' (p.80). The necessary skills should be in the curriculum. The authors quote Robinson and Maines: 'When a pupil gets a Maths problem wrong, our first strategy is to teach. When it is the behaviour that is wrong, we tend to criticise or punish' (p.79). The result of this is that 'Some, perhaps many, bullies are well into adulthood before they make a link between their bullying activity and the painful feelings of their victims' (p.14).
The book is in three parts, dealing with Home, Home and school, and Home, school and community. Each has an introduction by Delwyn Tattum. The fourteen chapters, by twenty-four contributors, include interesting accounts of a wide range of projects run by schools, play groups, Family Service Units, the police and Young Offender Institutions. There is much valuable information here presented in a very readable style.
Bullying is cyclic in nature. Bad parenting produces the aggressive child, who becomes the bully, the criminal and the violent father, and so the cycle begins again. Yet no one is born a bully. 'Human beings are born with the natural capacity to be kind towards others' (p.42). Anything we can do to break the bullying cycle is worth doing. This book makes a valuable contribution to that work.
This review was first published in Forum 40(3) Autumn 1998 118-119.