Bullies, babies and bathwater

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Bullying is an important, complex issue. That makes it a tempting target for simplification.

The provincial government has announced its plan to hire an anti-bullying co-ordinator. The $150,000 price tag looks high, but it will be money well-spent if it improves the lives of kids being tormented at school.

This potentially good measure came out of a report from a taskforce on cyberbullying - a report that makes some troubling recommendations. For example, it suggests a definition of bullying be included in the Education Act. Some of the wording is disturbingly broad:

"... a repeated behaviour that is intended to cause, or should be known to cause ... distress ... to another person's ... feelings, self-esteem, reputation ... (and a) person participates in bullying if he or she directly carries out the behaviour or assists or encourages the behaviour in any way."

So, any person who "assists" another person in a repeated behaviour that "causes distress" to someone's "feelings" is a bully? In another part of the report, the task force recommends giving schools a mandate far beyond their physical borders. The Education Act should be amended, they say, to clearly articulate an "expanded jurisdiction" that includes student computer activities at home.

Further to that - and here's where the task force drastically overreaches - they advocate changing the Education Act to require parents "to take reasonable steps" to monitor their child's online activities and "report relevant information to the school principal or other relevant staff."

The report isn't always devoid of nuance, and does recognize many of the complexities of the problem. But parents and the public are basically expected to take it on faith broad definitions and mandates won't be abused. We cannot mandate friendliness without dangerously stifling individuality. Kids don't have the right to torture other kids physically or psychologically, but yes, they do have the right to dislike other kids and not hide the fact.

Kind schools are a fine goal, but let's not try to get there using blunt hammers.

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