"I Am Not Scared" Project
"why do you not play with me?"
Carmen is a fifteen year old girl. At break time at school she is always surrounded by boys, with whom she plays football. When she is not playing football she is usually alone, because ever since she arrived at the school the other girls in her class have excluded her from their group. They say they don’t want to be with her because she is a lesbian, and they criticize the way she dresses, speaks and wears her hair. The teacher generally has her students work in teams in class, but since she has become aware of the situation she has been trying to organize the work and the groups in such a manner that they facilitate Carmen’s integration. However, the girls in the class never pay any attention to Carmen’s suggestions. Carmen would like to be listened to by her classmates, but this never happens and she has heard that they do not want to have anything to do with her because they fear she might try to seduce one of them. The school counselor has on occasions attended tutorials to try to solve the problem, but has not met with any success. The class teacher has also had several meetings with the parents of the boys and girls in Carmen’s class to talk about the situation, but the parents’ attitude has been that the girls should do as they wish and should not be obliged to speak to a person they don’t get on with. The school management has also met to discuss the problem and seek a solution. Their proposal is to place Carmen in a different class next year. The girl is happy with this idea, because she gets on well with the students in the other group.
The strategies adopted by the different people involved to deal with the situation: Those questioned agreed about the strategies used by Carmen’s classmates to handle this situation of peer abuse. Carmen’s classmates did nothing. The problem persisted and the teachers' solution was merely to have the students working in groups until Carmen could be moved to another class, where it was assumed she would be accepted by her new classmates. The measures adopted by the teachers were, first, to attempt subtly to facilitate an initial point of contact and create the conditions in which Carmen could develop a relationship with her peers through group work, and then, when they saw that this approach did not work, to tackle the problem head-on by bringing the school counselor into a tutorial and even by involving the students’ parents. When none of the parties involved were able to reach an agreement, the teachers decided to move Carmen to another group. In this particular case, the attitude of the school’s principal is not clearly explained: but, as the main representative of the school’s management, the change of class was his decision. The other students’ parents did nothing. They saw no problem, and since they accepted and shared their daughters’ attitude they did not consider it necessary to take any action. The school counselor said that, once she knew about the situation, she acted by taking part in the tutorials. In her opinion, she should have advised the class teacher not to meet with all the parents at the same time. Experience has shown that this type of multitudinous meeting usually deteriorates into chaos and does not help to solve problems. Working separately with individual families would have been much more effective, although that is not to say that meetings, talks, workshops, etc., should not be held with families on other occasions to talk about the importance of educational values, school-family collaboration, etc. The counselor would have talked to the school management to urge them not to authorize the change of group.
The students, parents, teachers, principal and school counselor believe that this situation influenced learning and teaching in the classroom in the following ways: All those questioned agree that, naturally, a person does not study as effectively in a group in which they feel uncomfortable and in which they have to be on the defensive at all times as they do in a group where they are accepted and in which they feel comfortable. If students are comfortable and feel happy, they are not afraid to express their ideas or doubts or become “new pariahs” and classes are therefore more participative. In contrast, if there is bullying the victim, in this case Carmen, finds it difficult to concentrate properly and the other students may be either distracted by the teasing and/or the latest rumors about her or simply remain indifferent through fear that they themselves might become the target. In this particular case, peer rejection directly impacted Carmen’s relationship – interaction – with her classmates, making it impossible for that relationship to develop in a positive manner. There was a lack of emotional support within the group, and this probably prevented Carmen from cultivating healthy friendships and enjoying normal social relationships. The development of Carmen’s personal identity could also have been affected, along with her beliefs regarding her own social world and the personal images she generated from that world.
Regarding whether or not the situation affected the students’ motivation (interest, effort, etc.): The actors involved believe that it did affect motivation. Again, the opinions of those questioned coincide. The situation had a direct influence on motivation. Carmen would undoubtedly have lost interest in the classes which she associated with something that was bad. Her interest in the lessons and her effort decreased because she felt insecure in that environment. She was not comfortable and she was more concerned with how to get out of that situation as quickly as possible than with how to pass that year’s subjects. Motivation is established and consolidated when students are in a favourable environment with clearly defined goals. Motivation and interest in learning grow with a student's personal self-esteem. Students subjected to bullying lose their motivation because their minds are occupied with the problem of their lack of integration. For motivation it is very important that the learning environment be as stable as possible, and a situation of bullying is evidently not desirable for cultivating values, either in the victim, the bullies or the rest of the class, which in this case acted as passive onlookers.
Regarding possible effects on the students’ results. All those questioned think that this type of conduct will affect the students’ results. The students say that it has no influence on the bystanders because to them it makes no difference, but that they may perhaps begin to feel afraid that the same thing could happen to them. They think that grades will be lower because their attention is divided between their studies and the situation in the classroom, and that they will become accustomed to always reacting badly to those they perceive as different. The teachers, however, think that the situation will not necessarily affect the results of all the students. But the results will get worse, the climate of confrontation in the classroom will intensify, and this can only lead to all the students losing their concentration. It may also give rise to more serious conflicts which may well impede the progress of the whole class, with negative consequences for the teaching-learning process. When there exists an atmosphere of cordiality and cooperation academic results are generally higher, school work is done more enthusiastically and objectives are more fully achieved. If, in contrast, the climate is not suitable and is merely one of competition and tension among the students, results suffer and other issues and problems emerge, distracting the students’ attention away from their studies towards other preoccupations of vital importance at this stage of adolescence, such as integration and peer acceptance. The victim’s lack of integration in the group may affect her results, negatively impacting her academic performance and the way in which she relates to the other students, the teachers, tutors, etc. But it will also have a similar effect on all those members of the class who take part, either directly or indirectly, in the bullying. For those involved directly, their reasons for bullying may originally stem from abuse of power or a position of domination vis-a-vis a weaker person. This climate of conflict is bound to affect the classroom atmosphere and the way it evolves. Those involved passively are directly affected by the deterioration of relationships within the group, while their own interaction with other members of the group also becomes inhibited.
Regarding potential problems of school integration: All those questioned believe that there will be problems of school integration. The teachers may adopt measures which, although they may not be aware of it, would actually result in disintegration. If they cannot adapt in this school, they will not adapt in others, and this may make them perceive themselves as abnormal and others as indifferent. It can affect the actual victim of bullying, but it may also affect those whose opinions differ from the others and from that of the leader of the group, because they too may be discriminated against. The student feels different, marginalized within the group. For a student this is an uncontrollable situation which creates an enormous sense of insecurity. This particular student, Carmen, may refuse to go to school. A bullied student is a student at risk of feeling isolated in the school environment if the problem is not addressed in time. Each person involved would be affected at a different level. The victim’s predicament is evident, but the bullies too, although they may have the impression that they are integrated, may find that this type of situation turns against them if a stronger group emerges. Integration is not therefore complete for either of the protagonists, full integration being understood as occurring when the group is united and willing to progress together. The worst thing is that everyone involved seems to end up getting used to this type of situation and considering it “normal”.
With regard to the possible impact of bullying situations in adult life, as manifest in forms of social behavior, everyone thinks that bullying does impact adult life. They think that the situations experienced during the course of one’s life are those which guide an individual in one direction or another, whether this be in their social behavior, the way they react in given circumstances or the way they are affected by changes. Bullying victims may not want to have any contact with anyone, and if they meet the person who bullied them in later life they may even want to get revenge. A lot is learned from these situations, and when they are rejected or they see others being rejected, they know how to act in the future. For example, victims of bullying believe they will feel insecure when attempting to become part of a group, and this makes them more wary of others and increases their own lack of self-confidence. The student will withdraw more and more into his/her shell. This is precisely the stage in which that person’s identity and personality is being forged, and in which many forms of behavior are assimilated. The problem arises if these behavioral patterns become consolidated in the future and the individual becomes either a conflictive or a passive citizen: that is to say, a destroyer of society or a non-contributor to society. Perpetrators of bullying may not be able to mature and integrate the world around them into their own society, thus giving rise to xenophobia, racism, homophobia, etc., while victims may feel frightened and simply withdraw from social interaction, resulting in little social participation. A person who has developed in an atmosphere of exclusion (whether as the victim- the excluded party, or the perpetrator - the excluder) cannot play a core role in a developed society. Citizenship implies the exercise of a number of competences. School looks outwards towards the world around it and shares its social life and sense of citizenship. It also helps to transform that world, and each pupil grows up to play a role in that process of transformation, contributing their own experience and what they have learned in their own everyday lives. Key issues here are conflict analysis, with particular emphasis on conflict resolution, the construction of a system of values by each and every student and the rules which govern peaceful interpersonal relationships. It is important for a student to develop an identity based on ethical values as a tool with which he/she can take decisions, assume responsibility for his/her acts and interact with others as an independent, free thinking individual. Other aspects include the identification of rules and norms, the understanding of the processes by which those rules are established and the acceptance of the same in order to contribute to the good of the community.
Regarding whether or not the situation affects the atmosphere at school: All those questioned stated that the school atmosphere can be affected. If people find out about what is going on and then do not take steps to prevent it, bullies in other classes may start intimidating other students. Many people accept others’ opinions quite unthinkingly, and if they are told a classmate is of a different sexual orientation they may well believe it and, depending on their own upbringing and convictions, react in different ways. This can lead to arguments and misunderstandings. The situation is worrying for students (who, although as much as possible is done to reduce its impact on them, are nevertheless bound to realize that something is going on), for concerned teachers and for families who, whether or not they understand the nature of the problem may (like teachers and even like other students in the class) feel concerned and want to find solutions. All this increases tension in interpersonal relationships until the problem is dealt with. As a social group, the school can be affected by this type of behavior, which seems clearly to affect both inclusion and decision-taking. Another effect is that teachers have to devote some of their time to integrating students. This reduces the time dedicated to other tasks and the classroom atmosphere is therefore not as good as it could be. Obviously, bullying can affect the physical and psychical integrity of students. In this case there was no physical aggression, but such an attack may occur in time. The existing psychological aggression is making both Carmen and the others feel insecure. Her classmates are afraid that the same thing may happen to them, and that explains why nobody is willing to do anything to help her. A classroom climate which makes it impossible to participate confidently and with tranquility is a climate of non-inclusion and insecurity, lacking in democratic processes.
With regard to the victim’s thoughts and the reasons why she is being bullied, the students believe that she is being attacked because her personality and manner are not accepted by society. A person’s sexuality is no cause for discrimination or rejection. We are all different and our sexuality is not a flaw but an aspect of our personality which varies from one person to another. She would talk to anyone about it because, apart from the fact that nobody would listen to her, it is a personal matter and interests do not determine a person's sexuality. She thinks that she is inferior, the situation is not fair and, above all, it must be despairing for her to think of how she can solve her problem without actually altering her personality or the way she thinks.
Regarding the help the victim thinks she would find useful, the students expressed the following different opinions: Help from the teachers is best, because they are the ones who can adopt the most measures and instill the most respect in her classmates. If she cannot integrate with her classmates or make friends, the best thing she can do is move to another school and attend one where she could receive an education in accordance with the model her parents and, above all, the student herself, desire, and where there are people who think like she does. Somebody might get the group to reflect on the situation and see that differences do not invalidate people, and try to persuade each one to act according to their own opinion and not let themselves be carried along with the opinions of the others. The best solution would be to bring the whole class together and let the victim herself, with someone backing her up, talk to them all and explain the feelings which have created the situation. That way, a lot of people would realize the harm they are doing by excluding her from the group. The best help would be to have a friend she could talk to about her problems and who would be at her side to help her overcome them. She needs someone she can trust and who she feels comfortable with.
The students think that the bully acts the way he/she does in order to feel superior and raise his/her social status. But they also do it to attract attention, because they know that if they do not act that way people will ignore them. The bully does not think about the others. Because he/she feels intimidated.
The students think that the bully chooses one specific victim rather than anyone else because that is usually the weakest. They know the person is vulnerable. Also, because it is normally a good person, they know he/she will not defend themself and is trying to adapt to that school. Because they took advantage of the fact that she was isolated and her differences were more obvious, and from their point of view this might have made her weaker in any argument, and so it would have been easier for them to make themselves look better than her.
Regarding the bully’s remorse: Some think that the bully never feels sorry; that nothing matters to that type of person. It also depends on their conscience and moral upbringing. The bully cannot feel sorry until they realize that what they have done is wrong, and to do that they should therefore see the harm they have inflicted on the victim. Others think that the bully must feel bad because they would not like it if someone else acted in the same way.
Bystander students knew what was going on, although there are some people who see such behavior as normal, do not realize that what is being done is wrong and only become aware of the harm being caused when things come to a head.
Regarding what bystanders thought about the causes of the bullying and what they did. Bystanders usually side with the bully. She was usually the leader and everyone did what she said because at that age people have little personality of their own. Others might think that this is just another case, and that, like them, the victim will pull through. Most of them do not think they did anything. They simply remained indifferent.
The teachers’ awareness of what was going on: The teachers did know what was happening because both the class teacher and the counselor had tried to solve the problem. But they sometimes found out some time after the actual episodes of bullying had taken place, because teachers are usually the last people to hear about this type of thing. At the beginning they may well not have known about it, except when they saw students alone or shunned by the others at break times. But they did become aware once someone had raised the alarm: perhaps a comment to the tutor by a student or a student from another class, or a comment by the mother of the girl involved about the hard time her daughter is having at school. The teachers may also have found out through the questionnaires used in tutorials.
Regarding what the teachers did to find out and understand what was happening: They think they established a dialogue with both the parties involved and tried to mediate and talk to them about the importance of respect and tolerance towards others. They formed work groups to try to integrate the girl, and they spoke to both the members of those groups and to their parents. They assumed that the class teacher had raised the issue with the school management and with the school counselor. They considered moving the girl to another class. The situation could be addressed by conducting individual interviews with the girl involved and with each of the girls who rejected her or did not respect her. I would also organize a collective tutorial featuring an exchange of roles and situations of empathy to give the participants an idea of what it is like to be in undesirable positions. I would call a meeting of the teachers who taught the people involved, to get them to agree that they ought to throw light on the situation and either co-involve or put themselves in the shoes of the bullies. Explain the existence of differences and encourage respect for those who are different. If the problem was successfully dealt with in the classroom I would hold a meeting with the families, and talk to them about what would have happened if it had been their daughter who had been shunned by the others. How would they react? Talk to them about plural education and about the importance of accepting each and every person as a human being. Talk to them about Human Rights as points of reference which should never be forgotten.
Regarding the help contributed by other teachers: They think that other teachers certainly did help, because students sometimes talk to certain teachers more openly than they do to others. Other teachers could therefore try to mediate and find a solution to the problem. In the case described the school counselor seems to have helped, although they believe that it is also very useful to draw on the support of other colleagues who may have a closer relationship with any of the parties involved. It is not clear here whether other teachers were involved or not. Within the school, all the teachers are committed to making convivencia among students as peaceful and harmonious as possible. Students therefore have the assurance that they can turn to the teacher they feel more comfortable with to talk about their problems, regardless of whether that teacher is their tutor/class teacher.
The principal's awareness of the problem: The principal knew about the situation because she mentions that the school board decided to move the girl involved to another class.
Regarding what should have been done in this case of bullying: The principal’s opinion is that it is not desirable to wait a year to solve a problem: the change of class might alleviate the situation, but it was not a solution. The girl involved would still be at school in the company of the same people, and so the conflict was not resolved. The group had to be taught what was right and what was wrong.
The principal’s role in this type of situation: The principal should be informed about what is happening. He/she is the person ultimately responsible for what goes on in the school and how problems are solved. The principal should known what measures are being adopted and what procedures are being followed. This role might take the form of monitoring and evaluation in periodic meetings. If necessary the principal will intervene personally. I believe that in this case, measures directly affecting the students were implemented by the tutors, the school counselor and, naturally, the Aula de Convivencia (Workshop for Peaceful Interpersonal Relationships).
With regard to the parent’s awareness of what was happening: No, they seem oblivious to the existence of conflict, despite knowing about the problem thanks to their knowledge of socio-cultural, educational issues.
Regarding how parents would find out about what was happening and what information they would seek: The parents say they would find out via the tutor, the school counselors, psychologists and other parents. They information they would seek would be: what are the effects and how can the problem be solved? They would need to know about the problem, take an interest in the situation and in the role played by their children both in the group in general and in the bullying, and request information about mechanisms and communication skills.
Regarding whether the situation might be altered: They think the situation could be changed if students, parents and teachers work together to seek solutions based on encouraging values, both with Carmen and with her classmates. By becoming aware that the conflict existed, collaborating with the tutor and school counselor to help our son/daughter become aware of the situation, and more communication with the child. Solution, reconciliatory workshop, new dynamic for helping to integrate, highlight the worth of those who are excluded. She seems to be good at sport (she plays football with the boys), maybe the Physical Education class could be used, so that she could help others who are not so good at sport...
Regarding what the counselor would do: I think that, as counselor, I need to encourage-dynamize team work: the tutor, the teaching staff, the school management, the families.. to try to achieve coherence in actions, approaches, process and in the search for solutions. For this to happen I think the figure of the counselor is of crucial importance in a school. Some kind of training session could have been held with the families to develop empathy and work on the importance of respect, Human Rights, the learning comfort of the students.... Families sometimes only think about their own children and don’t put themselves in the position of others. With this class group I would have helped the tutor and the rest of the group’s teachers to agree on certain measures that would influence the behavior of the students in the group. I would have disagreed with the school management’s decision that the solution to the problem was to move Carmen to another class: that implies that the problem lies in her and not in the group. Taking her out of the group solves the problem (that is the attitude of many schools, and as a consequence many victims of bullying are moved from one school to another).
Regarding the prevention of this type of situation: I think we have to begin to change our classroom working methodologies and develop work projects in which participation, team work, respect for differences combine to produce responsible citizens in schools. Individuals who feel involved and responsible for what happens in the group and for the work being done...
Regarding what could be done to improve communication and cooperation among students (and thus prevent school bullying in general). I think that with students of this age issues have to be addressed directly. We cannot allow these situations to arise among our students. Students should feel safe and secure in our schools, and we cannot act as if nothing is going on. Measures should be taken right from the start.... with care, caution and tact, yes... but they must be taken. It is not acceptable that students should be in class alongside adult educators with no hope or expectation that those educators will help them if they have problems. That way, we would merely be teaching them to look the other way when the circumstances get difficult.
The harassed person may have problems in their studies, especially because they are still in a period of constructing personal identity, as happens to the majority of adolescents and young people.
This case should not be treated as an isolated case: “the case of Carmen”, but a preventive work of respect for the identity of each person, not choosing to ignore the problem, ie. “that is their problem”, but rather address it before it occurs and on a collective basis. For the young perhaps a programme around gay pride day a series of informative talks with gays, lesbian, or transgender people...
This Office would support the suffering of the young man listening without prejudice, and would put the particular person, or the educational center, in contact with Jerezlesgay, where there are young people, adults, who have accepted their sexual orientation, through dialogue and being provided an example, they can address their personal problem of feeling different which has led to difficulties in coexistence and with their classmates.
Learning to live together, develop collaborative interpersonal relationships and to establish fundamental democratic habits, are a central part of the school curriculum and the organizational structure of the center.
The main weakness to emphasize is the response to the situation, because on the one hand, there is a lack of support from pupils’ parents in the classroom (“they do nothing and see no problem”), which contradicts the possible proposed solutions to achieve a change of the situation and, on the other hand, there is agreement in the responses of students: non-intervention. So far, the solutions developed (like promoting teamwork or meetings with all the parents together) have not been effective and the only viable and shared proposal is to change the girl to another class. However, the counselor is not agreeing because this proposal blame the girl. Similarly, headmaster considers this proposal as “a remedy, but not a solution” and, as the counselor advocate preventive and organizational performance.
There is general agreement on aspects such as the impact of the bullying in the way to learn and teach, motivation (directly) in the potential problems of school integration, possible consequences in adulthood (emphasizing the lack of acquisition of citizenship skills of stakeholders), in the school environment ( perpetuating a permitted model of harassment). Similarly, students’ opinion converges with respect to the points of view of the victim, bullies and by standees, presenting some division of opinions about issues related to the repentance of the offender.
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I Am Not Scared Project
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