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As back to school time approaches, anti-bullying programs and policies are at the top of the agenda in many school districts. “But in our quick fix, short attention span culture, shaking a finger is not enough,” said Debra Chasnoff, President and Senior Producer with GroundSpark, who draws attention to a new way of combating the issue of bullying. “Just like the much-parodied mantra of the ’80s and ’90s to ‘Just Say No’ to drugs, simply saying ‘Stop Bullying’ will never change deeply entrenched cultural attitudes.
GroundSpark http://groundspark.org/, in San Fransisco, Calif., creates visionary films addressing progressive social justice issues and dynamic educational campaigns that move individuals and communities to take action for a more just world. The films are also intended to be used as an educational resource for all grade levels. The Academy-Award winning documentary filmmaker and activist blogged with The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/debra-chasnoff/why-we-cant-just-say-no-t_b_1647250.html recently that she believes that parents, politicians and educators need to join together and do far more than put up posters saying “No Bullies Allowed” or offer speeches and incomplete policies that don’t really do the job. “We need to roll up our sleeves, take some risks, and open up real dialogue in our school communities about these deeply entrenched, and often politically sanctioned, biases.”
This starts, according to Chasnoff, by insisting that the curricula in our schools address anti-gay stigma and the pressures to conform to gender norms. “Until politicians of all political stripes stop vilifying the LGBT population. Until all ‘people of God’ stop telling children they are evil,” she said, adding that all kids are affected by anti-gay prejudice and adults have the responsibility to do something about it.
Chasnoff points out that there has been increasing attention to “so-called zero-tolerance policies” and the frequent announcement of new anti-bullying initiatives, but the “harsh” zero-tolerance policies “fail to take on the complex nature of the motives of those who are doing the bullying. They do nothing to develop compassion and respectful understanding of differences among students or staff. What’s more, the students primarily disciplined by zero tolerance rules are disproportionately LGBT youth, students of color and students with disabilities, ironically the same groups that are often the most targeted. Criminalizing and expelling students who bully, without looking at the underlying causes of their behavior, only creates more pain in their lives and the lives of others.”
Michigan passed legislation PA241, known as “Matt’s Law,” in December. While school districts in our state are required to implement anti-bullying policies, Chasnoff said, “Many programs and policies stop far short of demanding that our schools adopt curricula that are inclusive and respectful of LGBT people. They fail to make a strong enough case that parents and educators could transform school climates dramatically if they took the courageous step of challenging behavioral norms for children based on gender. They rarely ask parents to question their own biased attitudes, which they pass down to their children who then turn against their peers.”
Parents don’t want their child to be bullied nor do they want their child to be a bully or to be a terrified child who witnesses bullying, but some parents don’t have the courage to go on the line for it. “Very conservative parents are way more organized and have way more support from national organizations. We need a strong movement of parents who demand it’s unconscionable that K-12 students or faculty talk badly about LGBT families and students,” she said.
“This is not a whole lot to ask. Talking about gay people with children does not make them gay. Scientific evidence can demonstrate that point,” said Chasnoff. “The secretary of state needs to say this. Superintendents need to say this. From bus drivers to cafeteria aids to biology teachers who believe this has nothing to do with them. They need to say here’s how we’re going to talk about gay people, about community and love. We’re not talking about sexual practices any more than when we’re talking about heterosexual couples.”
And for students filling the hallways and entering classrooms again, Chasnoff offers up some advice. “Promise yourself that you’re going to stand up for somebody if you hear derogatory or homophobic, anti-gay language to put someone else down. Tell them that’s not cool or that’s stupid to say. Find a friend, make a pact. If you ever hear a teacher use it, share it with the principal or have the courage to tell a school counselor that it bothers you.”
According to Chasnoff, there is harassment based on weight and harassment based on appearance, but anti-gay harassment is always at the top of the list. “Take the time to have the conversation to find out what’s really going on versus continuing to talk about the fact that bullying is an issue. Let’s change our stance around bias-related name calling in our schools.”