Sunday, October 03, 2010

a subtle thing

I know that even for most of my readers, what I am about to present is going to be a stretch, but one that is worthy of thought. If you were very small and were placed in a setting in which the contributions and participation of some were exalted and while your own were marginalized, disparaged, ignored or belittled by large people in control of the classroom, it should be regarded as a subtle, but effective form of emotional abuse. I suggest a systemic and widely accepted form of bullying prevalent in American schools.  It is what happens in schools in which multiple intelligences beyond verbal skills and math skills are ignored, and it is the reason that some kids learn to hate school, or express hatred for those who do well in it.

You may have viewed the BBC video I posted earlier in the week, and would have seen where classroom team engagement in learning fosters an appreciation and understanding of diversity. The current competitive focus in schools does not. I can tell you of how classroom competition can lead to school yard bullying from my own experience. I happened to be a new, small, smart kid in 4th grade classroom in Mississippi in the 1950's. Everything was fine until recess when one boy held my arms behind my back while another pummeled me in the gut.

I am reminded of this because we have incidences of bullying in schools, too often leading to physical violence among peers. And yet, intellectual bullying is approved in most schools. Being beat up on the playground is a more obvious expression of bullying, but can we not wonder about more subtle forms? Is there a relationship between intellectual bullying in schools as a model set for more physical and destructive forms on the playground, or on the internet?  You may not buy what I'm saying. That's OK. Argue with me and help me to refine my thoughts. In the meantime, we are all smarter when our hands are engaged in making things, cooking, fixing, planting, making music and investing in the diversity of intellect available to us when we engage in the arts. And our children would healthier, happier, and more respectful of each other if our schools offered multidisciplinary, multiply-intelligent opportunities to engage in teamwork.

Parents have an important role to play in stopping bullying in its tracks. You can find resources in this link: Is your child being bullied?


  1. As a mature aged student teacher I have been doing a fair bit of reading about this sort of thing. I came across an interesting article that referred to "virtual violence," that is intellectual bullying. It doesn't even have to be on purpose to be effective, it can merely be cultural. For example the proposition that girls are not good at manual arts, or that Australian aboriginal kids can't do maths.

    I just wish my fellow students actually cared enough to talk about these things, but in manual arts they are all about the techniques, not the "theory." In my view this sort of thing is key to teaching.

    I'll try and find the article link.


  2. hm. found a link to the title of the paper but not the whole thing.

  3. Here's the file as a pdf:

    or if that doesn't work, here is another:,24639.html?issueID=11505

    It is weird that people think that they can teach math without it being in context. My sister was told in high school (and my mother as well) that she would never be any good in math. But she became a smocking designer whose patterns were sold by McCalls. It was an integration of math and art. Then more recently, she was a professional kitchen designer, using spatial visualization and math. If you can bring things into context, kids get math, because it has become useful to them.

    On the subject of intellectual bullying, most people think it is perfectly acceptable. We watch it on the TV and choose to cheer when someone is slammed. In schools, some teachers think that intellectual bullying is their job because no one calls it into question.

  4. Anonymous4:37 PM

    Having grown up short and skinny (not so skinny any more) I saw both kinds of bullying, and in my time teaching saw the more "subtle" intellectual kind all too often.
    Your sister's experience is terrible and common. All kinds of prejudgments are made, based on nothing real.


  5. I'm 37 and I get it at work every day.