A great deal of thought goes into trying to come up with ways to prevent bullying. Some people believe charging perpetrators with a crime and holding them accountable in the courts might work. Others believe children should be taught to fight back and stand up to a bully. Others, that it’s safer to ignore the abuse and walk away.
Eric Dawson, leader of Peace First, believes the best way to end bullying is to build empathy in all children, to teach them how to be peacemakers and to also give educators the ability to integrate this type of learning into the school curriculum and social culture. As a fellow of Ashoka, an organization that envisions a world in which everyone can create change, Dawson hopes to do just that with students: to enable them to feel and act on empathy for one another and those around them, giving them, in Dawson’s words, “the belief that they can effect change in their proximal world—that they can reverse the cycle.”
Toward that goal, all students in his Peace First program between pre-kindergarten and fifth grade, spend one hour each week on lessons focused on learning how to resolve conflicts, to help one another, and to make changes in their schools and communities. Peace First also works with teachers and support staff to develop ways to celebrate peacemaking, to help them be more supportive, and to recognize positive, normal behavior. In other words, “kids will be kids” or “just stay away from him” are no longer acceptable responses when possessing knowledge of bullying on the playground or in the classroom.
Dawson’s approach seems to be working. There has been a 60 percent reduction in violence and a 70- to 80-percent increase in positive behavior in schools participating in the Peace First program. Children are beginning to step in and break up fights, include others in their activities, and help one another. With 95 percent of the students reporting that they understand how others feel, it’s clear that empathy has increased.
Victims of bullying often see themselves as weak and helpless. Teaching kids they can make a difference and giving them the knowledge of how to do so, puts the power into their hands. It improves their self-image and teaches them they aren’t helpless. Apparently, Eric Dawson’s Peace First program is having good results and is an effective way to decrease bullying behavior.
Fortunately, Peace First is not the only organization trying to make a difference in the bullying arena. Other innovative people, teachers, and principals understand that effective learning can’t occur in a school atmosphere that reverberates with fear. They, too, are working to build empathy in their students and in those who surround them.
Another organization, Ashoka Changemakers, is calling on parents, teachers, innovators, and students to let Changemakers know about any program the schools have developed that can advance empathy in their environment. Changemakers is currently asking people to enter their best ideas in their Activating Empathy competition, with prizes of up to $110,000 available to fund the winning programs. Unfortunately, the competition is accepting entries only until March 30, 2012, so you’ll have to hurry. It might be worth it. Even if your idea doesn’t win, everyone will benefit from spreading the word about worthwhile programs that are effectively decreasing bullying in our schools.
Finally, for those of you in the Southern California area, this coming Saturday, Voices of Women (VOW), the Race Human Relations and Advocacy Program of the San Diego Unified School District, and the United Women of East Africa are offering a free workshop called STRATEGIES FOR SAFE SCHOOLS & ANTI-BULLYING. A panel of experts will address bullying in schools, how to prevent it, and how to replace it with harmony and conciliation.
Saturday March 31, 2012 from 9:30am-1:00pm
at the San Diego Workforce Partnership
3910 University Avenue in the 3rd Floor Conference Room
San Diego, CA 92105
With all the efforts being aimed at the eradication of bullying, surely, together, we can make a difference.
For another take on using empathy to fight bullying, read my post Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing–and Crying.