Five-year-old Suzie heads off to kindergarten in rural Minnesota. She settles into her class routine full of activity, discovery, and friendship.
Then the day takes a turn. As part of newly mandated diversity training, Suzie’s teacher brings out Heather Has Two Mommies for some light mid-morning reading. A typically precocious kindergartener, Suzie pipes up during the story to correct the teacher’s telling. “God gave us a mommy and a daddy,” she exclaims.
Though no student takes exception to Suzie’s remark, the teacher cringes and becomes keenly aware of her state-mandated role to report any incident which could be construed as bullying. So Suzie gets pulled out of class and taken to the principal’s office, where she’s met by a counselor.
There begins a process of formative intervention and remedial discipline. More than correction for objectively inappropriate behavior, this intervention focuses on changing who Suzie is, on correcting her values to ensure that she accepts each of her classmates and values their diverse backgrounds.
Confused, disturbed, and teary-eyed, Suzie comes away from the experience convinced she has done something wrong. Worse, she feels the very sense of rejection which her accusers claim to deplore. She learns her lesson, that the values taught at home are not welcome in school. A bit of her innocence dies. She grows more guarded, less expressive, and unfairly subdued.
Such a tale may be among the tamest of experiences awaiting children in Minnesota, if a task force of social engineers commissioned by Governor Mark Dayton succeeds in lobbying for legislation which has already been approved by the state House. House File 826, misleadingly titled the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, serves as a trial balloon modeling what its supporters would like to implement nationally – a radical transformation of schools from institutions of academic achievement into political reeducation camps which correct Orwellian Wrong Think.
Sold colloquially as an “anti-bullying bill,” the proposed legislation actually institutionalizes bullying, targeting political minorities with suppressive badgering. The bill would repeal existing anti-bullying statutes which have proven effective. It would create an invasive, overbearing, and unfunded new state bureaucracy to impose politically correct values upon students, teachers, parents, staff, and anyone serving in or around the educational system. It would affect both public and private schools. In a state which already has one of the worst achievement gaps between white and black students in the nation, the bill would burden struggling districts with new mandates diverting precious resources away from academics. Teachers and staff will become thought police and value mediators, shifting their disciplinary focus from correcting inappropriate behavior to remediating students’ belief systems. As with any state bureaucracy, reams of new data will be generated and follow students throughout their academic career, if not the rest of their lives.
Understanding the proposed legislation requires more than simply reading the bill. We must consider the political and historical context, as well as the expressed agenda of its supporters. One of the bill’s authors sat on a task force commissioned by Governor Dayton to address alleged bullying. A report came out of that task force, and much of its language has been transplanted word-for-word into the subsequent bill.
When considering whether new legislation is required to prevent bullying in schools, one may be inclined to ask: what kind of bullying is currently acceptable? Assault remains a crime. Schools enforce rules against inappropriate conduct. So what else needs to be done?
Page 18 of the task force report lets us know:
Effective strategies will promote values, attitudes, and behaviors that acknowledge the cultural diversity of students; optimize relevance to students from multiple cultures in the school community; understand the nature of human sexuality; strengthen students’ skills necessary to engage in healthy interactions; and build on the varied cultural resources of families and communities.
The articulated purpose of the executive order instituting the Prevention of School Bullying Task Force was to “ensure that all students in Minnesota schools are provided with a safe and welcoming environment wherein each student is accepted and valued in order to maximize each student’s learning potential.” From this we learn all we need to know.
To accept is to choose. To value is to judge. These acts occur inside an individual’s heart and mind. As warm and fuzzy as unconditional acceptance may seem, such a goal ignores objective reality. The mind cannot be compelled to consent, only badgered into acquiescence. What Governor Dayton thus proposes is the police of thought, the subjugation of judgment, and an imposition of official state attitudes. By definition, the promotion of certain values and attitudes occurs at the expense of others.
What does a state-defined “nature of human sexuality” look like? Does it match what you teach at home? Does it match what is taught in your house of worship? Whose job is it to teach children the nature of human sexuality anyway? Certainly, teachers may have a role. But shouldn’t parents determine what that role is?
While the task force report and the bill informed by it pay lip service to protecting all children, a review of the actors involved in crafting these documents (p. 31), along with a close examination of the text, reveals that the effort focuses specifically upon “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.”
This raises vital questions. Does a transgender student have a greater right of expression than his or her sexually unambiguous peer? What of religious orientation? What of Christian identity or expression? Are they to be protected with as much vigor under this new law, or targeted for remediation?
From page 20 of the report detailing “Formative Interventions and Discipline”:
The goals of responding to bullying behavior are to stop the aggressive behavior, support the students who have been harmed, and teach that bullying is harmful and not allowed, in order to help all involved young people learn—and change—from the experience. [Emphasis added.]
The best way to prevent bullying behaviors is through the implementation of a whole school climate program. Because bullying is a relationship problem that requires relationship solutions (Pepler & Craig, 2006), responses to bullying should promote healthy relationships.
Formative discipline is defined as activities that not only provide a clear message that bullying is unacceptable, but also develops respect and empathy for others, helps students make amends and associates power with kindness and pro-social activities (PREVNet, 2011).
When the school climate is founded on restorative principles rather than solely punitive policies, misbehavior is understood as a violation of relationships, not rules; thus repair of relationships and support (rather than isolation through suspension or expulsion) of the wrongdoer is likely to reduce bullying (Smith, 2008).
Is repairing relationships really what we need teachers and administrative staff focused on? What if your student does not desire a relationship with his classmate? What’s wrong with limiting interaction to academics? What’s wrong with letting student’s retain their own judgments regarding the value of particular relationships? Are we forcing everyone to be friends now?
Expanding bullying beyond an objective definition of physical harm or other violations of individual rights, the bill targets any action deemed detrimental to the “emotional health of one or more student(s).” What is emotional health? How is it measured? What evidence indicates its compromise? And will the emotional health of all students be equally valued in the implementation of this law?
The definition of harassment expands to include any act judged “unwelcome if the student or employee did not request or invite it and considered the conduct to be undesirable or offensive.” So simply offending someone is harassment now. What if the “harasser” becomes offended by the charge of harassment? Does the universe implode?
All of this proceeds from Governor Dayton’s ludicrous notion that people have a “right” to be “accepted” and “valued.” That idea ignores the objective definition of each word. We all have the same rights as our neighbors, to proceed unharmed and exercise our freedom of conscience without fear of tyrannical reprisal. Respecting those rights means tolerating the unique value judgments of each individual, including whether they choose to accept you, condemn you, or ignore you. To mandate unconditional acceptance is to oppress individual judgment, to police thought, and to remove consent from relationships. The serious proposal of such a course by those wielding political power ought to garner our rapt attention.
A real solution to bullying requires identification of the real problem. While Governor Dayton’s task force seeks to conflate bullying with offending someone’s delicate sensibilities, actual bullying involves the initiation of force to coerce, intimidate, steal, or otherwise harm. Real bullying cannot be genuinely addressed by a brazen new bureaucracy imposing state-mandated values through its own coercion and intimidation. Instead, we must act to protect individual rights by removing force from human relationships.
In a very direct way, the nature of public education fosters bullying. Consider that, at its core, public education is coercion. Taxpayers fund it under the force of law. Students attend it under the force of law. Teachers adhere to its mandates under the force of law. No one in the entire system has the ability to act upon their own judgment in pursuit of their own values. Forcing people of differing beliefs, priorities, and objectives into close proximity with a mandated agenda will inevitably foster conflict.
Imagine a different world. Imagine choice. Imagine the freedom to select where you send your student, to choose what they will learn, and to consent to their associations. Under such liberty, were a bully to arise at school, he could be quickly and effectively neutralized with the threat of expulsion. In the event the school did not adequately respond to the bully, you would be free to take your student (and your money) somewhere else. A school which routinely allowed the abuse of its students would garner an appropriately horrendous reputation, and endure less business as a result. All this would be done through market incentives, the natural human desire for profit, and the individual values of parents and their children. What’s the downside?
For those supporting Governor Dayton’s heavy-handed approach, the downside would be tolerating people with whom they disagree. The idea of free association, of choosing with whom you consent to enter into relationship, fundamentally offends them.
Consider the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the variety of approaches taken by its different activists. In his famous “Dream” speech fifty years past, Martin Luther King outlined an inspiring vision of a world where individuals would be judged by the content of their character. Were modern pretenders to his legacy honest in their discourse, they would admit to deploring that vision. After all, to judge someone by the content of their character requires an application of chosen values toward an exclusionary and discriminating conclusion. I accept you and not him. I value her and not you. I judge this to be appropriate and not that. Such differentiation, such choice, defies the “progressive” goal of unconditional value.
Since equal value of all people, things, and ideas defies objective reality, the closest to it that social engineers can get is employing force to grant advantage to the “disadvantaged” and disadvantage to the “advantaged.” So the white male suburbanite who never asked anyone to take a back seat must yield his place in line to a black lesbian woman who has never been truly oppressed. Rather than equality under the law, the dominant trend in civil rights became affirmative action.
So it is with this fresh prescription for “bullying.” Governor Dayton and his task force harbor no desire for equal treatment. On the contrary, they seek to promote a certain set of values at the exclusion of others. But unlike free actors making individual choices in liberty, they want to impose their values upon everybody else under the force of law. It’s not enough for them to choose a progressive school where they can send their progressive student to learn progressive values. So long as a single school exists where such values are not taught, their gut-wrenching intolerance drives them to legislate. Rather than live and let live, they demand you live as they say.
Citizens concerned with liberty and the protection of individual rights must rise in nationwide opposition to this effort by Governor Dayton and his task force of bullies. Over the years, many encroachments upon freedom of conscience have gone without effective challenge. Obamacare became the law of the land, upheld by the Supreme Court, and bolstered by last year’s election results. A myriad of scandals, from the IRS targeting of groups on the Right to NSA spying on American citizens, has amounted to little more than a pesky annoyance for the administration. In Minnesota, the Democrats own state government and throttle production and choice without check. It can be easy under such circumstances to become cynical and complacent. However, inaction at this moment will invite the nationwide transformation of schools into politically correct remediation centers. As bad as things have become, they can and will get worse unless you act.
If you live in Minnesota, resistance begins with a signature. Sign the petition at the Minnesota Child Protection League demanding legislators vote no on this rights-violating bill. For everyone else, dig into the task force report and support choice through whatever channels are available to you.
Hopefully, among opposition to this bill will emerge a credible effort to implement school choice as a solution to both real bullying and Minnesota’s shameful achievement gap. While Governor Dayton and his task force wring hands over “emotional health,” class after non-graduating class enters adulthood without the skills or job opportunities to succeed. Whatever emotional health is, surely it improves when exposed to genuine hope. Empowering parents to send their students to the institution which best serves them will help turn their American dream into reality.