This is a guest post written by Dr. Patrick Michel, HFM BOCES District Superintendent. It first appeared on the HFM Paladin.
Respect. In some ways it’s sad that being respectful has to become the object of a law. Respect for each another ought to be the norm, a given, the built-in “way we roll.” However, to read the news, look at statistics, simply look around our own community, I can understand why the Dignity for All Students Act had to be enacted.
One set of bullying stats shows that about 77 percent of students have admitted to being the victim of one type of bullying or another. Cyber-bullying is particularly damaging. More than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.
And by every measure, bullying among school-age children and young adults is increasing. Statistics are one thing, but when the numbers become real people, through stories in the media or because it touches someone you know, the reality hits hard.
Why are we allowing this to happen? Why is it so difficult to treat others the way we would want to be treated?
The new Dignity Act creates a framework of rules and new accountability standards for public schools aiming to protect the most vulnerable among us. The law says that it is wrong to discriminate or harass someone based on their “actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex.” We all fit in that group somewhere.
The law also directs schools to adjust our curriculum to talk more about tolerance, diversity and respect. The goal here is to change the thinking of those who choose to bully – to exert their power over a weaker victim.
Finally, the law wants us to communicate better about all these topics with our stakeholders. That includes students, parents, leaders in the school and community, and our staff. We want – and need – the larger community to know we are trying to do something. We will be talking about these issues during the year.
But this touches on a greater truth.
I’ll argue that one new law, or 20 new laws, won’t solve this problem. Like most laws, it will help keep honest people honest. But it won’t cure discrimination and bullying. We may put a lid on the worst offenders, or at least take away the schoolyard and classroom from their “turf.”
During this election year, watch the news, and listen to the tenor of the debate. Read the online comments following just about any news story. Intolerant, boorish, biased behavior and coarse, disrespectful language define us as a society more often than not. Is it any wonder our children, steeped in this sewage, victimize each other on the slightest pretext? It’s often the model with which they are raised.
Until we are ready to be better as people, and be better as a community, the problem of disrespect and intolerance will continue.
The Dignity For All Students Act is a goad, a reminder that we ought to be better than this. We are better than this. So while we will meet the requirements of the new law, can we commit to take care of each other, to lift up our colleagues and our students, to protect and esteem their dignity in all things? Let’s make respect for everyone “the way we roll” at HFM BOCES.