By CTA President David A. Sanchez
I don’t believe any child has ever been born a bully. I think they learn it from watching adults. And in schools, I believe, they are keenly aware of how we deal with bullying. Do we deal with it immediately and responsibly, or do we look away? Every day in schools across California there are opportunities for teachers, education support professionals and principals to turn bullying into teachable moments. In fact, respect and tolerance are lessons that can last a lifetime. What’s more, confronting and addressing the bullying of all students is part of the California Education Code and the legal responsibility of educators.
Most people think they know bullying behavior when they see it, but what about when it relates to the bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) students? It’s an issue some people aren’t comfortable talking about, but that doesn’t make it any less important. In fact, when you look at the research, you may be surprised. Did you know that the suicide rate for GLBT student continues to be three to four times higher than that of other students? Two out of three GLBT students say they don’t feel safe at school. And nearly 85 percent report being verbally harassed. That’s no way for a student to spend their day at school — scared, hurt, unfocused on learning.
But students are not responsible for the safety of our campuses. Adults are. And we can’t stand by while our students feel unsafe. School districts cannot back down from confronting incidents when they occur. Educators cannot dismiss homophobic language when we hear it. And we cannot wait for students to enter middle school or high school before we start teaching them about tolerance.
That’s why I’m so proud of this issue of the California Educator and the resources that have been compiled for this feature. With GLBT bullying so prevalent in our schools, it’s important we recognize it and stop it. The awareness we raise will not only promote a safer learning environment, it also has the potential to improve the lives of our students — in some cases, even save them.
I know the statistics on GLBT bullying aren’t pretty, but we can make things better just by being aware of the issue and vowing to make our schools a safe zone for all students.
Our students are counting on us now, more than ever. In addition to bringing awareness to their differences and promoting tolerance and understanding, we must continue to speak out about the bullying tactics of Sacramento politics. The governor has proposed a balanced budget that relies on Californians having a choice to extend temporary revenues, but a handful of legislators don’t want to allow us to vote and are threatening their colleagues who are even considering support.
Time is running out. More than $20 billion in cuts to schools and colleges over the past three years have left our students with fewer teachers, fewer class options, and fewer opportunities to receive a well-rounded education. Even in the midst of this economic downturn, California maintains the eighth-largest economy in the world. We also maintain the largest student-to-teacher ratios in the country, and the latest round of 19,000 layoff notices that went out to teachers isn’t going to make things better. We can and must do better.
As I write this, legislators have yet to reach an agreement on the state budget or whether to allow us to vote on the proposed tax extension. We must continue to make our communities aware of what is happening to their neighborhood schools and colleges. They must know that class sizes are too large, text books are outdated, arts and sports programs are being eliminated, and fees are increasing, because these conditions aren’t good for our students and aren’t good for California.
It’s evident that our schools need more resources, but we can’t wait for the politicians in Sacramento to agree on how to increase funding, or even allow us to extend the current revenues. Some, it seems, are more interested in partisan platforms.
Bullying behavior has no more place in the halls of our Capitol than is does in the halls of our schools — especially when so much is at stake.