Several times a year we receive a flood of letters from local students, usually the result of a classroom assignment.
The young women and men opine on a wide variety of social issues, but we’ve noticed over the years that one problem gets the most attention — bullying.
We love these letters from students, in large part because it gives us aging hipster doofuses a window to the world we left many years ago. And as fate and social convention would have it, about the only similarities between our world and that of the teens writing to us today is bullying.
It’s not much of a stretch to say bullies have been around since humans gained the full use of their legs. More likely, the bullying gene, if there is such a thing, probably was inherited from the animal kingdom from which humans evolved.
The current thinking is that bullies happen as a result of jealousy concerning other people’s possessions. But that’s only part of it. There is the sad reality that some folks just like to intimidate others. Perhaps the bullies are bullied at home. Maybe some people just feel so bad about themselves, they want to inflict their misery on others.
Whatever the reasons, bullying is pervasive and harmful to victims, who suffer depression and anxiety that can last a lifetime.
A grassroots community effort has been launched in the Santa Ynez Valley to stem the tide of bullying being reported at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School. Last year’s California Healthy Kids survey showed SYVUHS led the county in percentage of students who have reported being bullied.
In fact, the school is several percentage points above other high schools in the county.
People Helping People CEO and member of a special coalition Dean Palius said last week members of the group began seeing a change in the community and decided to center their efforts around implementing tolerance to the educational curriculum of school districts in the Santa Ynez Valley.
The coalition met with the Anti-Defamation League of Santa Barbara to discuss possible changes to primary and secondary-school curriculums in the Valley before students move on to Santa Ynez Valley Union High — stopping the problem at its potential earliest source.
The strategy is to teach tolerance at the start of students’ educational experience, hopefully counteracting ways of thinking that lead to bullying in the first place. The coalition is just getting started, and Santa Ynez Valley Union High School officials are also working to halt bullying.
We’re pulling for the coalition to come through with something that shows results, because this is a social problem with which just about every school district in America must deal. Among the problems is that many school officials are reluctant to acknowledge the extent to which bullying occurs on their campuses.
That is understandable, because schools can’t take all the blame for the bullying problem, and when school administrators do broach the subject with parents, mom and dad sometimes can get defensive.
We all need to move beyond those kinds of obstacles, because kids who are bullied are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. In other words, they can view life as pretty much hopeless.
It is our responsibility as adults — whether a teacher or a parent — to ensure that children do not have to carry that kind of burden.
The Santa Ynez Valley coalition has opened the dialogue, now we all have to get together and talk.