Experts tackle school violence issues
By RICK CONRAD Education Reporter
Securing peace in our schools requires a bigger political commitment and more resources to battle bullying, subdue it and keep it at bay, a Halifax conference heard on Friday.
The one-day Peace@School symposium, organized by Peaceful Schools International’s Hetty van Gurp and filmmaker Teresa MacInnes, attracted about 160 educators to listen to experts on bullying, politicians bearing pledges of money and teachers and students who have lived through it.
Ms. van Gurp, whose internationally renowned organization has been preaching peace in schools since 2001, said local officials’ record on making schools safer is spotty at best.
“There doesn’t seem to be the kind of commitment and consistency that I think this problem deserves,” she said in an interview.
“I’m hoping that maybe if we up the ante and bring it to the more federal level of recognition and acknowledgement by politicians, perhaps that will help fund us at a more provincial level. But I don’t think there’s enough support at a (school) board level.”
Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Michael Savage was at the event to announce a third $600,000 federal instalment for a series of anti-bullying public service announcements produced by the group Concerned Children’s Advertisers.
While he said Ottawa takes the issue seriously, even he conceded more could be done to combat bullying.
“I don’t think we’ve made the improvements that everybody would be happy with, but we’re making some progress,” he said in an interview.
“The way to do it is to bring teachers and educators together along with those who are involved and understand the issue, and not just talking about it, but committing money to it.”
Since 1998, the federal government has spent about $600,000 on 22 specific anti-bullying projects in the Halifax region, Mr. Savage said.
Friday’s promise of more money couldn’t come at a better time, those in the audience heard.
Wendy Craig, associate professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said Canada is slipping compared to the rest of the world.
Ms. Craig interviewed more than 10,000 school kids across Canada to see how often they had been the target of verbal, physical or cyber attacks or social shunning and how often they had been the aggressors.
About 30 per cent of boys and 18 per cent of girls reported being the bully. Victimization rates were about equal between the genders, she said.
And while the number of bullies tends to drop as kids get older, with boys outnumbering girls as habitual aggressors by about four to one, the behaviour intensifies.
A small percentage of victims were more likely to have low self-image, up to 10 times more likely to be clinically depressed, tended to be more socially withdrawn and missed a lot of school.
“And for a small group of them, by Grade 9, they were as aggressive as the kids who were doing the bullying to them,” Ms. Craig said. “These kids, over time, the hostility and the anger that had been fuelled at them, they started to fuel at others.”