Bullying explored at festival

In late July of this year, readers of this page found an opinion piece, “Exploring the bullying epidemic,” by guest columnist, Bill Finnigan. In his writing, Finnigan refers to an article in The Christian Science Monitor by Stephanie Hanes.

Finnigan’s words are still posted on the tribtoday.com website, and an exploration of Hanes’ writing gleans more than one article by that author on this subject. I recommend reading all of these and more.

At first, it seems difficult to disagree with the folksy ideas and solutions offered by Finnigan. He suggests that the most effective remedies for this problem are reliance on a “big brother” to bully the bully, or, as in former times, use of corporal punishment by a school official to paddle the bully.

Although no one has commented on Finnigan’s remedies, I find some gaps in his logic.

For example, what is the solution if the bully is bigger and stronger than one’s “big” brother? What if the bullying is done by a group or a gang? What if the bully is female and the victim is female? Most importantly, is violence the only way to stop a bully?

“Violence begets violence,” is a quote attributed to the Gospel of Matthew, used often by Dr. Martin Luther King, and I seem to recall it once coming from the lips of Sen. Robert Kennedy.

It is true that bullying, wherever it begins, finds its way into schools and bedevils school officials to find solutions which render fairness and justice. Thus, I feel compassion for all young people who are in their second month of going to school in fear, or more, leaving their doorways frightened by what or who awaits them on their streets.

Additionally, I understand the legal morass which educators must navigate in pursuing appropriate actions.

I do agree with Finnigan in one respect: Most bullying has its roots in the home. One of the articles by Hanes underscores the prevalence of violence in the background and upbringing of many bullies.

Bullying is a complex societal problem, and it is exacerbated by the overwhelming power of the Internet as a tool by many perpetrators today.

I do not have instant remedies. I do have hope which is fueled in part by the choices of books and guests who will be part of the 36th annual Youngstown State University English Festival.

C.J. Bott will be the James A. Houck lecturer and Jordan Sonnenblick will be the Thomas and Carol Gay featured author at the Festival scheduled for April 2014. Next month, thousands of area seventh- through 12th-graders will begin to read the seven books chosen by the festival committee for their grade level, two of the books by Sonnenblick.

Ms. Bott, a retired Ohio teacher, is past president of ALAN, the young adult literature component of the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and is an expert in the field of books which deal with bullying. Bott’s website contends that young adult literature can “start the discussion on bullying,” so her appearance will be very timely. Several of the books selected for the English Festival have the subject of bullying as a subplot or theme.

So I am hopeful that in the next few months, as students read books by authors such as Sonnenblick, Francisco X. Stork, A.S. King, Phillip Hoose, Carl Hiaasen and James Howe, they will explore the subject of bullying in all its complexity.

I am hopeful that they will “start the discussion” in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their places of worship, and in their classrooms. I am hopeful that in each of those places, they will find concerned and caring adults who will listen and respond to them.

I am hopeful that bullies, their victims, and interested adults will join in the reading of articles and books, such as the ones mentioned above. Readers of all ages can start at ysuenglishfestival.org. It would be a meaningful step in the right direction if just one instance of bullying could be avoided due to this effort.

Let the discussions begin.

Williams is a Hubbard resident. Email him at editorial@tribtoday.com