The majority of people I know in the neurodiversity community have been involved in bullying at
one time or another. Whether they were the bully, the bullied, or both, they all have vivid memories of their experiences, both in and outside of school. That’s why I had decided to read the book, Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon.
What I liked most about this book is that she addressed all sides of the issues. From the victims, to the perpetrators the parents and the schools involved. She was even able to get into Facebook headquarters to see how they handled cyber bullying.
The majority of the book centered on three individual cases. One of the girls simply didn’t fit in with the popular clique, one of the boys came out as gay and dressed in a way that others in his community didn’t understand, and the last girl had pre-existing problems with depression and dated multiple boys. In the last case, the girl ended up committing suicide and the media blamed it all on bullying.
Throughout the book, the author explored reasons why bullying started, why the victims were likely to be bullied and the repercussions it had in later years. She also highlighted at the end of the book various schools that were doing work towards solving their own bullying problems.
One of the things I found interesting was that there is a method called the Positive Behavioral and Intervention Supports, or PBIS, which was already used in many special education classrooms.
This method concentrates on positive reinforcement to motivate students to do the right thing. The schools using this method have seen some improvement, showing that it can help all students, not just those who are perceived as disabled or different.
Another factor that worked in one of the schools that she spoke to was a clear-cut method of reporting bullying by children, and a system of warning before action. To vital parts of the system were anonymity and the idea throughout the schools populace that notifying adult was okay. There were no “snitches”.
Her writing style and storytelling made the book a very quick read. However, I wish she would have addressed the problems that the disability community faces on a fairly regular basis.
I found that when the subject of bullying comes up, gender roles, sexuality and appearance are usually the only three forms that are addressed. In the notes at the end of the book, she did mention that disabled individuals are extremely likely to experience pulling of some type in their life. She also mentioned in the body of the book that ADHD could cause some kids to act out, and in passing that Asperger’s has been linked to suicide before.
When it comes to bullying, all groups should be represented. The child who needs accommodations or must leave the classroom for a period of time every day has just as much right to a peaceful conductive learning atmosphere as anyone else.
Part of the issue with singling out particular groups of people is that somebody is always left out. It also leads to the false conclusion that something like bullying only happens to these groups, when in fact it affects everyone.
Throughout the book, I noticed patterns of ignorance power struggles, jealousy and misunderstandings. These all extended way past the student level as well. When adults became involved, the problem often got worse. This is less because the students reported it in the first place, and more because a lot of the adults just didn’t know how to handle it. In many cases, the adults also felt attacked, as in the case of at least one set of parents and various school districts.
Some of the adults’ responses seem to mirror the bullying that went on with their kids. This is especially telling, because the shows where the kids learned it.
Sticks and Stones was a very good book, and it did highlight some of the problems that need to be solved. It also offered some solutions and showed how various programs helped. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a must-read, but if you have the chance to pick it up I’d suggest doing so.