Author: Gail Dore
Publisher: Struik Lifestyle (Penguin Random House) ISBN: 978-1-43230-364-8
Reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers
The form of violence known commonly as bullying is pervasive throughout all cultures and at all levels of every society. We can all cite stories of a bully who at some point played a part in our own lives.
With regard to schools, one need only do a quick internet search to come up with some frightening statistics. Whilst many teachers also suffer torment, it is the treatment of children, who after all have the expectation of a safe environment at school, which continues to grab headlines.
Chilling case studies
Gail Dore, author of the new Bully-proof published by Struik Lifestyle (Penguin Random House), is well-placed to speak on the subject from a 21st century perspective. A trained life skills facilitator, family counsellor and drama teacher, she saw first- hand how children literally ‘played out’ their experiences of bullying on stage. Her anti-bullying campaign continues to be successfully implemented throughout Gauteng.
Dore begins her book with a key question: “What is the true cost of bullying?” Not one to shy away from some horrific realities, she presents some startling case studies. A young boy has a stick forcibly shoved up his rectum by some class ‘mates’ behind the proverbial bicycle shed. After recovery in hospital, he is forced to sit in class in front of one of the culprits.
A young girl enters high school to find that she has been deemed ‘fat’ by her peers, who throw diet pills in her face and then subject her to a vicious ongoing cyberbullying attack.
Dore illustrates that death is often part of modern bullying. She quotes the case of a gang of bullies that regularly intimidated learners at a high school on the East Rand in Gauteng. Not satisfied with robbing a young learner of his clothes, the gang leader shot him four times.
Another young girl, a victim of weight-related jeers and jibes, tried to end her life by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. Now an adult, she suffers what Dore calls “crippling depression”.
The cloak of invisibility and the culture of silence
Dore refers to “bullycide” a term recently coined by international researchers probing the startling global rise in teen suicides and suicide attempts as a result of bullying. This phenomenon in itself is a complex one, she explains, as are the reasons for bullying and the lifelong consequences for all involved.
Like me, many who read Dore’s excellent book will shake their heads in disbelief when told that school authorities did nothing in “such-and-such a bullying incident”. Equally baffling and disingenuous are the school principals who flatly deny that any bullying ever happens in ‘their’ school. In one instance I witnessed a savvy parent pull her miserable child from just such a place just in time.
Says Dore, “This type of blanket denial often stems from the erroneous belief that bullying in a school is somehow an indictment of the competency and professionalism of its staff.” In some cases this may be so, but generally speaking, Dore continues, “The most common reason for denial is a lack of sufficient knowledge and understanding of the nature of bullying… Bullies wear many disguises… what might appear to an adult as nothing more than a scuffle or a case of good- natured teasing, may have a very different meaning to the children involved.”
Dore goes on to expose (many readers will shudder as they remember or recognise this fact) ‘the cloak of invisibility’ that is at the heart of almost all bullying in schools, using a classic example:
The teacher turns her back to the class and starts to write on the board. Immediately, a note begins to make its way around the classroom. The note reads: “Hey, pig-face… just wait for break. You’re going to meet the mud. Today is the day!”
Here I must make the point that cyberbullying has only strengthened the code of silence that enables bullying. I recently read a frightening book for young adults in which a girl is thus tormented: in the school toilet, the sound of her urination is recorded and ‘shared’ with the whole school. She is named and shamed. How many teachers, busy with their own tragedies and triumphs, would even begin to fathom such cruelty?
Find out all the facts
Dore is superb at laying out the necessary facts without cluttering her text with too many references or research statistics (these can all be found in an appendix at the end of the book). She identifies for the reader different methods of bullying, current debates regarding how some children become bullies, various sorts of bullies (the obvious bully, the discreet bully, the social bully, the bully-victim, the impulsive bully, the gang of bullies), and the kind of child most likely to become a victim.
Dore premises her book on the fact that bullying thrives in a culture of silence, and in chapter seven she describes the complicit elements that enable such silence: the witness, the onlooker, the bystander torn between telling and fear, and the school environment itself.
Chapter eight is useful for parents anxious to ‘bully-proof ’ their children, and chapter nine is an instructive look at bullying and the law in this country.
It is part two of Bully-proof, however, that is essential reading for all teachers: Dore herself is quick to advocate a whole- school anti-bullying campaign and provides a series of strategies to “empower teachers to take action”.
Once teachers have been suitably prepped, says Dore, it’s time to get learners to stand together. Again, her suggested methods are logical and do-able in any school. Next, she turns her attention to the parent body, and provides what seems to me a foolproof recipe (complete with what tools to use in your presentation) for getting everybody on board to root out the scourge of bullying.
Keeping the campaign alive and visible is the only way to keep bullying at bay long term, advises Dore in her conclusion. Poster competitions, ‘Design-a-T-shirt’ challenges, anti- bullying assemblies, drama festivals and walks against bullying are all great ways to do this.
Dore’s appendices include recommended reading lists for all ages and stages, posters to use during workshops, questionnaires to use to ‘take your school’s temperature’ and ways to collate and analyse the data.
Says Dore: “The fact that bullying occurs in every school across the country is lamentable, but the increase in reports of bullying incidents in the media is a good thing. People are noticing, people are talking about it and people are looking for ways to make it stop.”
Category: Summer 2015