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Do Teachers Perpetuate Bullying?


Wichita teachers are examining their own behaviors to help diminish bullying in schools.

Linda Rhone, an educator from Southwestern College, has developed a study to help ensure teachers are not perpetuating bullying in the classroom.

The project is called “Lessening Bullying through Cultural Competence and Transformative Teaching and Learning.”

Rhone launched the study while working as an assistant professor in education at Newman University and partnering with the Wichita School District. She also received grant funding from the Kansas Health Foundation.

The project included Rhone and other faculty working with 5th grade teachers within the Wichita School District, participating in critical dialogue.

Fifth grade teachers were selected from across the district because, Rhone says, bullying is most extensive in middle schools.

“One of the goals of this project was not only to teach teachers an appropriate use of power," she says, "but also their students before they make the transition to middle school.”

Rhone says most of the anti-bullying campaigns around the country tend to focus on children and how they perpetuate bullying, which including direct forms, such as hitting, kicking, spitting and pushing or indirect forms such as cyber bullying, verbal abuse and gossiping.

“What is not included,” Rhone says, “is how structural and cultural bullying could easily be perpetuated both directly and indirectly.”

Rhone says structural bullying is based on a sense of authority.

“What can help to lessen structure bullying is when we transform the way that parents, teachers and students interact with each other,” she says.

Cultural bullying, she says, is maintained through a lack of cultural competence.

“And it takes place when a teacher singles out a student because of his or her differences whether it be race, social class or language,” says Rhone.

In the United States, Rhone says 84 percent of classroom teachers are white, middle-class females, yet most of their students are black, brown, linguistically diverse or impoverished.

“We are still not having a conversation about the kind of cultural clashes taking place in our classrooms,” Rhone says.

Her project includes the ideas of the late Brazilian social justice educator, Paulo Freire. Rhone used his work to examine bullying practices.

“Schools, many have been compared to very factory-like, very hierarchical type systems where they work from the top down,” she says. "Paulo Freire had a whole different way of seeing education, from the bottom up."

Rhone acknowledges that some critics find Freire’s work controversial, but she is firm in her support of Freire, saying the educator didn’t believe students came to school as blank slates with nothing to share but came to school filled with knowledge ready to teach teachers about themselves.

Rhone’s next step is to work with parents to lessen bullying in the home where adults can examine how they are parenting their children and encourage youth to communicate, and she plans to publish a book on bullying in 2014.