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Politicians Have a Role in

Bullying, Too   



About the time my school district was updating its policies governing harassment and bullying, the election campaign season kicked into high gear. That meant our airwaves were inundated with political advertisements. The mean-spirited and hurtful rhetoric directed from one candidate to another has been impossible to ignore.

And it is not just the adult electorate who are noticing. Our children are watching, listening and learning.

I cannot help but wonder whether the incessant personal attacks have some bearing on the bullying that all of us in education are trying hard to address.

The behavior of those in the public eye — sports stars, musicians and, yes, candidates for public office — does influence our impressionable youth.

Personal Attacks
I admire all who seek to serve today in elected roles in our local, state and national governments. These individuals are to be commended for entering courageously into the democratic process — the likes of which can be vicious. The brutal nature of running for office has intensified to the point where well-qualified citizens will not even consider becoming a candidate because they so fear the risk of personal attacks on their reputation, character and family.

Our students, with their eyes wide open, are observing how we adults are treating one another. This behavior is contributing to the rise in the number of bullying incidents that occur inside and outside of our schools.

I recognize that bullies have been a part of society throughout human existence. However, the intensity of bullying behavior has increased to unprecedented levels — sometimes to the tragic extent that a child feels the only way to escape is to commit suicide.

I am not proposing that politicians and political candidates are solely to blame. Certainly, the rapid rise in social media use has given individuals an easy (and often anonymous) tool with which to harass and embarrass another. However, as an educator, I am cognizant that children are keen observers of human behavior, and they are influenced by the conduct of public officials.

Consider the number of political advertisements you’ve watched or heard over the past few months that seek to intimidate, humiliate and disgrace. Observe the political speeches by our elected officials that too often fail to center on solutions for the significant public issues facing our nation but rather carry a message of disrespect, dishonor and dishonesty. Yes, our children see and hear all of this and, unfortunately, have grown so accustomed to such conduct that they mirror these behaviors in their own lives.

Public Responsibility
So how does one recognize a bully? No single color, income status or level of education characterizes a bully. They come in all shapes and sizes. A bully can be young or old, can attend a private, public or charter school and can speak any language. Bullies can be found as members in all religious faiths and political parties. One recognizes bullies by their behavior.

We are all human and imperfect. As the leader of a public school district, I believe it is my responsibility to ensure I do not behave like a bully in my dealings with others. I would ask our political leaders and candidates for public office to do the same, so when we view a campaign advertisement or hear a political speech, we observe civility and respect.

Educators will continue to do their part to prevent bullying. Politicians across our nation must do their part. Our children are watching, they are listening and they are learning. Political leaders: How will you choose to behave?

Ken Baca is superintendent of the Tempe Union High School District in Tempe, Ariz. E-mail: kbaca@tempeunion.org. He adapted this from a column he wrote for Wrangler News.


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