We at Literacy Inc. realize that times have indeed changed since our humble beginnings. Aside from tougher economic times, especially for non-profits, we now face the issue of childhood bullying, which seems to be reaching an all-time high. And with it student suicides.
While bullying can result in truancy, imaginary aches and pains, reduced appetite, shame, anxiety, depression and aggression are also frequent side effects. Bullying is a direct attack on the student’s status, their sense of belonging and core identity, and more often than not results in adding to their already low self-esteem. The effects of bullying often continue many years into adulthood and in some extreme cases targets have taken out their anger and despair through school shootings or by committing suicide. For the school, the cost of bullying are countless hours consumed in tackling the problem that seems resistant to change; truancy, reduced student retention, low teacher morale, negative perceptions of the school by the wider community and parent hostility. The school campus becomes a place where many students are marginalized and where no one feels safe. As students become alienated from school, academic performance declines.
Students who reported having been involved in bullying as a perpetrator, victim, or victim-perpetrator were more likely to admit having seriously considered or attempted suicide within the past year.
Just like the new literacy programs implemented by many of the nation’s public middle and high schools have had little to no effect on the illiteracy rate in our students, many anti-bullying programs have experienced little to no effect, as well. There may be evidence of some control over the bullying on the school grounds but it says nothing about what happens to the perpetrator and victim once they’re off of school property.
With this in mind, Literacy Inc. has chosen to implement an integral part to our literacy goals and that is an anti-bullying program that doesn’t focus on the bully. What does an anti-bullying campaign have to do with literacy? In short, if all a student is concerned about when in school is avoiding the resident bully or clan of bullies, the last thing on his or her mind is reading.
And the reason behind not focusing on the bully? Well, let’s face it, telling a bully not to harass someone is like telling grass not grow. However, if the message heard by all is one of breaking the cycle and staying true to ‘you’, slowly but surely issues begin to change. Victimized students hear that they are good enough just as they are, that they don’t have to belong to a click in order to matter, and that if they stay true to themselves and stand firm in that truth, they will succeed in life way beyond their wildest dreams.
Life has a way of taking care of its own. Those who continue to bully do so out of low self-esteem, but they are the only ones who can change that issue. The American Association of Psychologists states that a student whose sole intent appears to be harassing others on a daily basis does so due to low self-esteem. In order for them to know any enjoyment in life they have to see the misery of others. Where Literacy Inc. is concerned, we’re not only out to break the chains of illiteracy but want to break this cycle of bullying, as well.
Our message is simple and our goal is clear – Stay True to You – and grab your Ereader and read. Make something out of your life. Make it matter. Make a difference, not only for you but your future, and the future of your children and their children. Take yourself to a level higher than you ever thought possible so that you can show future generations that no matter what background you came from, no matter where you lived, how much you were bullied, how little money you had, how much abuse you sustained, you rose above it all and made it through to the other side with your head held high and money in your pocket.
Deborah, a former victim of severe bullying, delivers her Stay True to You message around the country, and once the presentation is completed, she gives each student a “Break the Cycle—Stay True to You” silicone wristband as a reminder of her message. A reminder that by staying true to ‘you’ that student can lead the pack. For the time being, it may only be a pack of one, but that’s far better than following a herd of sheep who are running blindly towards the end of a cliff.
We’re not so ignorant or zealous to believe that every victim of bullying will hear and understand the message given during the presentation. But we are confident that it will ring true and one day they will wake up and realize that all of the clicks they fought so hard to be a part of, all of the bullies who caused them so much pain during school are no longer in their lives and no longer matter. They will come to realize that the only person they can change and be accountable for is themselves.
Our world has become an angry place. Angry adults, angry politicians, angry children. We don’t know that anyone can put a finger on exactly when things became so out of control. But we do know unless the cycle is broken, unless each one of us chooses to break that cycle, it will continue until we self-destruct. Middle school and high school are only moments in time in an entire lifetime. They bring us life lessons that are invaluable for the future. Those lessons can be positive or negative; it’s each student’s choice.