Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bureaucratic Analysis Paralysis

A story in the November 12th Kansas City Star from John Hanna of the Associated Press speaks to the concern that the Kansas Board of Education is showing in regards to the incidence of bullying. 

Apparently, this concern is in response to reports in September and October of suicides nationally among gay teens who were bullied, as well as a local issue in a Hutchinson, Kansas high school where a student was tied up with a jump rope by four classmates. (A case that has since understandably been referred to the Kansas Attorney General.) As the article points out, each district is already required by a 2008 state law to have an anti-bullying policy in place, and most have adopted one from guidelines set out by the Kansas Association of School Boards; but board member Walt Chappell is now pushing the board to "set new standards" on the issue. 

How the local districts, many of which are already cash-strapped in the current economy, are to find the administrative and financial resources to fill our more paperwork for the state to track the problem is not detailed by Mr Chappell in in the article. I am not trying to make light of the problem of bullying, or to condone its perpetrators in any way. I am perfectly willing however, to make light of the concept that filling out statistical data reports or coming up with new regulations and policies does anything to resolve this or any other issue. 

In these days of smart phones with texting capabilities, instant messaging, and Facebook access around the clock; many of the methods of such torment have changed. Rather than the 'webbing' of my day (an assault perpetrated by pulling the waistband of underwear up until they tear ... from the bottom), the opportunities have increased exponentially for round-the-clock electronic harassment by those who are usually themselves social misfits. The Internet that provides us a wealth of information has also provided us with a wealth of opportunities to do evil to our fellow man. 

We must also face up to the fact that as a society, we have been so nurturing and supportive of our offspring that they are now more susceptible to such torment. Bad grades, bad colors of ink to correct papers, and (heaven forbid) actual punishment which once toughened such fragile egos; have been abandoned in altruistic efforts to promote self-esteem. 

Even corporate Human Resource people today recognize this reality when these young people enter the workforce after school, and are asked to find a never-ending series of new ways to nurture and support the self-image of these youthful employees. We should be little surprised then, that when exposed to the brutality of socialization from the least social and most unstable of their peer group (who have likewise suffered from a lack of punishment for inappropriate behave over the years for fear of damaging their self-esteem), during a period of time in their life when that process can be its most cruel, that bad things can happen. 

The fact that much of the bullying does not occur on school grounds, during school-sponsored events, or under supervision by school staff does not seem to make any difference to concerned Administrators. Any elected official (or bureaucrat) must add to the already onerous burden of paperwork in order to garner media attention, create a level of self-importance, and increase the bureaucratic budget in order to feel like they are doing their job. The fact that such additional data collection, regulation, and policy will not prevent such offenses from occurring in the future does not seem to matter either. 

Like most things where government interest is directed, showing the proper concern for the problem is as important (if not more so) than creating a solution. "Kids are hurting now and parents need relief," Mr Chappell is quoted as saying. My reply to you Mr Chappell (with use of sarcasm fully intentional) is that I'm sure that the proposed new data collection and statistical analysis will take away the pain inflicted by bullying and provide the necessary parental relief that you feel is so necessary.

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