BATH – Bullying is a bone in America’s throat, as shown by the brutal behavior of nine teenagers that led to the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince in South Hadley, Mass.

One Maine educator likened bullying to black flies: “You’ll never be able to stamp it out.”

This describes solutions to date: Try to contain it; hire consultants, hold training sessions; be more vigilant. Massachusetts legislators highlight our impotence by proposing a law to make bullying a crime.

It is amazing how the bad behavior of youth has become accepted by schools as something we cannot change, only seek to contain or control.

Once school shootings like Columbine began, the response focused solely on issues of security; who has tried to deal with the attitudes that led to the shootings?

We now have decades of yearly surveys that indicate the vast majority of American youths cheat at school and now that a third steal from stores. Again our response was to crack down on the cheating, not to deal with the attitude behind it.

However, today the annual survey on cheating and now stealing seems to be accepted by society as a necessary evil. As one student remarked, “Cheating is necessary to give you the edge you need to succeed in life.”

There are other youth attitudinal problems that should concern us — like the survey that indicates that of youths 18-25, only 20 percent could be classified as “purposeful.”

These attitudes and behaviors are detrimental and unacceptable, and if left unaddressed, they can have serious effects upon children’s lives and our society as a whole.

We don’t need to contain these counterproductive attitudes and behaviors. We need to change them. This will mean changing the way we raise and educate our children.

Our children are born with animalistic self-gratification, self-protection and self-centered survival instincts — the real source of all these unacceptable attitudes and behaviors. Our job as parents and teachers is to help them transcend these lesser instincts in order to enable them to find their higher human self.

We are fortunate to live in a nation that uniquely supports this effort. America is committed to develop the individual; its Bill of Rights protects the dignity and worth of everyone. We are the land of the free.

But unfortunately, we unwittingly developed an educational system that does not respect this birthright. It primarily evaluates students by their academic proficiency.

This narrow window into human potential disrespects the dignity and worth of most students. Note the majority of students do not like school, and 30 percent drop out.

And it primarily motivates students by competition, which primarily motivates a capitalist society of healthy, mature adults. Curiosity primarily motivates the development of healthy, growing children, which then increasingly allows competition to serve as an additional motivation.

One survey of 24,000 home-schooled students found them scoring by 9th grade four grade levels above both public and private school students on standardized tests. Clearly their motivation was curiosity, not competition.

Since our educational system is basically disrespecting most students, and further putting them in competition with each other before they are prepared to handle this pressure, kids revert to their animalistic instincts in dealing with each other. The same “pecking orders” exist in nature.

Since adults demonstrate they are not capable of dealing with bullying or cheating, bullies and the primitive youth culture gain power because kids know adults can’t respond.

Having founded a network of private and public Hyde Schools (the newest school will open in Brooklyn, N.Y., this September) devoted to the premise that each student is gifted with a unique potential, supported by curriculum devoted to the development of character — “Courage, Integrity, Concern, Curiosity and Leadership” — I know this higher human self can be developed in every student. Here is how:

1. Put self-discovery first; what the student can do, second.

2. Bring family and school together. Parents and teachers also need to become students of the process.

3. Students need to take responsibility for each other and take active leadership roles at home and school.

4. Make character development active at home and school. Once a student can internalize integrity, he or she will have it for life.

What I propose here is transformational change, which is very difficult, but it is doable. How long are we going to tolerate this decline in the American character?

Better to change now by choice rather than change later because we have been forced into it.


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