Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy
Being a teenager has never been easy, but in recent years, with the rise of the Internet and social media, it has become exponentially more challenging. Bullying, once thought of as the province of queen bees and goons, has taken on new, complex, and insidious forms, as parents and educators know all too well.
No writer is better poised to explore this territory than Emily Bazelon, who has established herself as a leading voice on the social and legal aspects of teenage drama. In Sticks and Stones, she brings readers on a deeply researched, clear-eyed journey into the ever-shifting landscape of teenage meanness and its sometimes devastating consequences. The result is an indispensable book that takes us from school cafeterias to courtrooms to the offices of Facebook, the website where so much teenage life, good and bad, now unfolds.
Along the way, Bazelon defines what bullying is and, just as important, what it is not. She explores when intervention is essential and when kids should be given the freedom to fend for themselves. She also dispels persistent myths: that girls bully more than boys, that online and in-person bullying are entirely distinct, that bullying is a common cause of suicide, and that harsh criminal penalties are an effective deterrent. Above all, she believes that to deal with the problem, we must first understand it.
Blending keen journalistic and narrative skills, Bazelon explores different facets of bullying through the stories of three young people who found themselves caught in the thick of it. Thirteen-year-old Monique endured months of harassment and exclusion before her mother finally pulled her out of school. Jacob was threatened and physically attacked over his sexuality in eighth grade—and then sued to protect himself and change the culture of his school. Flannery was one of six teens who faced criminal charges after a fellow student’s suicide was blamed on bullying and made international headlines. With grace and authority, Bazelon chronicles how these kids’ predicaments escalated, to no one’s benefit, into community-wide wars. Cutting through the noise, misinformation, and sensationalism, she takes us into schools that have succeeded in reducing bullying and examines their successful strategies. The result is a groundbreaking book that will help parents, educators, and teens themselves better understand what kids are going through today and what can be done to help them through it.
Praise for Sticks and Stones
“A humane and closely reported exploration of the way that hurtful power relationships play out in the contemporary public-school setting . . . As a parent herself, [Emily Bazelon] brings clear, kind analysis to complex and upsetting circumstances.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Intelligent, rigorous . . . [Bazelon] is a compassionate champion for justice in the domain of childhood’s essential unfairness.”—Andrew Solomon, The New York Times Book Review
“Bullying is misunderstood. Not all conflict between kids is bullying. It isn’t always clear who is the bully and who is the victim. Not all—or even most—kids are involved in bullying. And bullying isn’t the only factor in a child’s suicide, ever. Emily Bazelon, who wrote about the subject for Slate in 2010, here expands her reporting in an important, provocative book about what we can—and can’t—do about the problem.”—The Boston Globe
“Immersive storytelling with a sturdy base of science underneath, [Sticks and Stones] draws its authority and power from both.”—New York
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Names Will Always Hurt Me
Reading Emily Bazelon’s book, Sticks and Stones from the perspective of Phoebe Prince’s loving Latin teacher (9/2009-1/14/2010), I have to admit that I was hoping to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. For once, I hoped someone might capture the genuine spirit and comportment of the affable young lady named Phoebe Prince, who was indeed tormented by the bullying she faced: the purposeful and persistent “shaming” in the halls, in the library, in the classroom, gym; by messages on sign-in sheets, and on posters outside of classroom doors; cell phone text messages; and, cyber-bullying. What I wholeheartedly desired to find in Bazelon’s book was some justice for Phoebe.
I was eager as well to read my previously twisted words ‘untwisted.’ To set the record straight, Bazelon never interviewed me, but has quoted me as saying things that she paraphrased from other sources: e.g., I would never call any students “dumb,” nor would I call any “attractive” or “less-attractive.” She alleges that no faculty member reported anything about Phoebe. I did report Phoebe’s ‘light going out’: i.e., my concern for her, at ninth grade meetings (especially since she was a freshman being influenced by seniors in a Latin I class—a mixture that I vehemently protested, as guidance was turning away freshman who wanted to sign up for my Latin I class in lieu of seniors who just wanted to have Latin on their transcripts). Nonetheless, my insight into and reports about Phoebe’s emotional/behavioral state were, according to reliable sources, deleted from the ninth grade (“Tracks For Success”) meeting records. This was no surprise to me, as vice- principal Evans, along with some of the faculty at those meetings, considered my information and my questions about how to handle the situation nugatory. After all, they had real business to talk about: e.g., one faculty member taught a ninth-grade subject and she needed to share her success stories. In addition to being eradicated from the meetings’ minutes, since she wasn’t failing, Phoebe’s name was not added to the chart of ninth-graders being closely observed by all their teachers.
Further on, Bazelon is curious as to why no faculty member spoke to Phoebe about her essay on “Cutting.” I never saw the essay, but I had taken the book, “Cutting,” out of her hands in the first couple weeks of school, because she was reading it in Latin class; consequently, when she panicked and shouted out that she wasn’t doing that (getting the attention of the entire class), and that she was reading the book for English class, I responded that I wasn’t accusing her of anything and reassured the entire class that if I thought any one was having any sort of trouble (stressing they were all special to me), I would approach them; but, in private. At the time that I pulled the book away, I had noticed old scars on Phoebe’s arms; hence, Phoebe and I did have conversations about cutting, as well as many other chats, and we kept the line of communication open. Phoebe, even so, was not one to speak much about her problems; she was more likely to want to help others. In addition, the senior boy in my class, James, was my aide and an AP Latin student. He did not have time to just sit around talking about drugs, as Bazelon alleges. I had thirty students in that class (a mixed class of freshmen to seniors). He was there to help out with the seniors, not Phoebe.
Phoebe was already an excellent student. She was mocked even for that. In the beginning of the year, when she would get her quizzes and tests back with a perfect score, other students would say, “You suck,” “You’re too smart, you bitch.” Imagine walking into a new school, wanting to do well, and then being called a bitch. (I had the same problem with the South Hadley lingo when I started teaching there, and it remained a problem because, as many students said to me, “It’s just the way we talk to each other.” It was not acceptable in my class; however
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