Part 1: The problem of defining “Bullying.”
One of the most foundational problems with bullying laws is establishing normative boundaries to define exactly what bullying is. State to State the laws vary as no one can seem to define what bullying is in its essence. This problem is actually more deeply rooted in the quest for the True, the Good and the Beautiful, and must therefore be considered through the smaller components, form and content. Since bullying may take on any number of forms, and the content of that bullying will likely vary case by case, how are we to solve this dilemma?
The problem with Connecticut’s definition of “bullying” is manifold. Primarily is its effort to include every possible form. In this case the form is any possible means of communication. Secondly, it tries to include all possible content. This includes real content such as race and gender but then goes on to include content that is not even objectively real, “based on any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic.” Section 1. Section 10-222d of the law states in part, click here for the entire Connecticut statute on bullying.
“ ‘Bullying’ means (A) the repeated use by one or more students of a written, oral or electronic communication, such as cyber bullying, directed at or referring to another student attending school in the same school district, or (B) a physical act or gesture by one or more students repeatedly directed at another student attending school in the same school district, that: (i) Causes physical or emotional harm to such student or damage to such student’s property, (ii) places such student in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself, or of damage to his or her property, (iii) creates a hostile environment at school for such student, (iv) infringes on the rights of such student at school, or (v)substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school. Bullying shall include, but not be limited to, a written, oral or electronic communication or physical act or gesture based on any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, socioeconomic status, academic status, physical appearance, or mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability, or by association with an individual or group who has or is perceived to have one or more of such characteristics…”
Dr. JoAnn Freiburg, educational consultant with Connecticut State Department of Education stated the problem this way “When everything is bullying, nothing is bullying.” The frustration seems to come from the overwhelming numbers of reports that are being sent to the State department each day. The numbers are increasing as school officials struggle with the overwhelming discipline issues in our public schools. The problem is not an easy one, when you think about it; just about any incident between two students could be ‘perceived’ by one individual as a case of bullying and not ‘perceived’ as bullying by the other. But is bullying simply a matter of individual perspective, or is it a matter of objective fact?
Perhaps we can think more clearly about bullying with the aid of Socrates, one of the brightest thinkers that ever lived, and his search for the meaning of “justice.”
(What is Bullying? part 2)