My View: Who says there is no solution to bullying?
October 26th, 2012
04:20 AM ET

My View: Who says there is no solution to bullying?

Courtesy Becki Cohn-VargasBy Becki Cohn-Vargas, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note:  Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D., has spent more than 35 years as a teacher, principal, curriculum director and superintendent. Currently, she is the director of Not In Our School, part of the national nonprofit Not In Our Town.  She is building a network of educators taking action to stop bullying and create safe, accepting and inclusive schools.

All of us have experienced cruel behavior, either as a participant, victim or witness. The Not In Our School “Break Bullying”public service announcement, donated by the MAKE ad agency, appears to bring back those bad memories. The announcement depicts adults in a professional environment re-enacting the personal middle school bullying experience of the director, Mike Nelson. His point: If we would not stand for this at work, why do we stand for it happening to kids in schools? The purpose of the PSA is to make us want to do something - to intervene, unlike the co-workers who watch their colleague pushed to the floor.

Not In Our School focuses on solutions.  It provides positive films and resources to networks of schools, so when MAKE first presented the video, we weren’t sure we could use it. But then we saw what happened when people viewed it. They started talking about how it looked when adults felt the kind of pain children experience every day. We launched the PSA for Bullying Prevention Month as a wake-up call. Our goal was to reach as many people as possible (55,000 to date) and spark conversation about taking bullying seriously. Then, we would talk about ways to successfully combat bullying in our schools.

When the CNN Schools of Thought blog postedBreak Bullying,” it received more than 500 comments from viewers. Some were heartening; many were not. Well-meaning comments posed possible solutions to bullying: Some were practical and others were outright scary. One man proudly admitted to paying $50 to a man he found on the street to beat up the bully, who ended up “in a hospital for a month.” One person even stated that bullying is a necessary rite of passage based on animal instinct, echoing others who felt that no matter what we do, bullying will never change.

Many told heartbreaking stories of their children being relentlessly bullied. Others talked of lifelong pain caused from being bullied as kids. More than a few comments described horrendous bullying experiences at work. Some reported being bullied by their bosses, forcing them to choose between taking the abuse or defending themselves at the risk of losing their jobs.

At Not In Our School we believe that there are effective solutions and they don’t include violence.  With comprehensive efforts to change the school culture, former targets of bullying become strong and self-reliant. Perpetrators learn new ways of interacting, and bystanders, who make up 85% of most bullying situations, become upstanders for themselves and others. Not only do these solutions help stop bullying, but they also create welcoming communities for all.

This isn’t just a dream. It is happening across the country, as shown by these inspiring examples of people from all sectors and backgrounds who are building safe school communities:

Lancaster, California

School counselor Lauri Massari launched a student-led anti-bullying campaign that involved the entire community and 50,000 students participated. Older students mentored younger ones with anti-bullying techniques. Now in its third year, students report feeling safer at school.

Marshalltown, Iowa

Times Republican newspaper publisher Mike Schlesinger launched a citywide preventive anti-bullying initiative after suicides in a nearby town were attributed to bullying. He got everyone involved, from the football team to the community college  to the local library, all making an ongoing commitment.

Paducah, Kentucky

Susan Guess, a parent whose daughter was bullied, started a citywide campaign to address bullying. She brought the film “Bully”to town and raised funds for bullying prevention author Jodee Blanco to speak at every school in the district. She is now approaching city and state leaders to launch a “Kentucky: Not in Our State Campaign.”

Palo Alto, California

After a 2005 Not In our Town film showing, students proposed an annual anti-bullying effort that has continued with new activities each year: High school teachers lead classroom discussions about how to speak up to stop peers from saying “that’s so gay.”  Middle school students respond to discrimination.  High school students address negative stereotypes through a symbolic activity during lunch.

This small sampling reflects activities shared through more than 50 short Not In Our School videos that inspire other schools. Not In Our School is part of Not In Our Town, a national nonprofit organization whose 1995 PBS film featured a community that joined to say “not in our town” to hate crimes committed in Montana. The film sparked a national movement that rallied people to stand up to bullying, hate and intolerance, a movement that continues to this day.

Bullying is a serious problem, and the solutions belong to us all. We’re not in this alone, we need to stand together. We can join with thousands in taking bullying and intolerance seriously and working to create safer, more inclusive and accepting environments for our children, our workplaces and, by extension, society as a whole.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Becki Cohn-Vargas.



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Filed under: Behavior • Bullying • Issues • Practice • Voices
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. someone

    Bullying will stop if you go after the parents and put them in jail.

    November 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  2. PTA

    Where I live the individual Bully is a myth. It is the Gang problem that is worse. Bullying is alive and well in Gangs.

    November 2, 2012 at 4:22 am |
  3. DetroitMan

    Bullying will continue as long as teachers and administrators continue to be bystanders. That's what happened in my school when I was bullied. When I took it to the administration, the principal told me "Boys will be boys." He told the bullies that what they were doing wasn't nice. There were no consequences for their actions. The bullying got worse after that. Finally I punched a few of them out, and that got me the basic respect that a human being deserves. As long as the schools turn a blind eye, violence is the only way to stop a bully from picking on you. That principal wanted boys to be boys, so I played by his rules. Shame on him, and on all the teachers that looked the other way.

    November 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Jorge

      Good for you, you got your respect. I'll bet you've seen life a lot more clearly after that, haven't you?

      November 2, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  4. skylene

    bullying will stop when we realize we need to do more than making rules and sending kids to the office! we need to call parents then put the kid in a class that teaches about bullying for at least 1 week.

    October 31, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  5. Maleena

    bullying will never stop although its a horrible thing some people find it entertaining

    October 31, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  6. bugbuster

    We all know about the power of advertising. We once dealt with another issue, theft from a restaurant kitchen, by shining a bright light on it. Specifically, we let it be known that the food was going to be watched and accounted for systematically. The first inventories showed that the theft had stopped immediately. Ongoing checks showed that theft didn't restart. The anti-bullying campaigns may work in a similar way. If the school develops a well-publicized anti-bullying culture, it takes a very brave or screwed up person to continue bullying. Maybe the bullying doesn't stop 100%, but it surely would decrease. Only the most hard core bullies would remain, and it may be easier to identify them.

    October 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  7. Kathe Gogolewski

    It's wonderful to realize that there are solutions to bullying – and those solutions do not perpetuate the psychological and physical violence of bullying. – they end the cycle to create inclusive and accepting environments for all. The models showcased in video format at Not In Our School are working! Now, how do we bring that model to the working environments for adults?!

    October 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • bugbuster

      I am not speculating to assert that bullying is acceptable in some homes. Bullying can create bullies, and it can create people like me who apparently know how to not be seen or felt by someone who is standing right in front of them. I have no ability to defend myself physically, but I have also never been attacked, either by the lethal looking kid who got up in my face in a deserted NYC subway station at 4:30am one day, or the three big black guys who questioned my right to enter a bar in an all-black neighborhood (which I did in order to play the kind of music I love), or the kid on the lonely street who aggressively but unsuccessfully requested funding I could not provide. The bully can be manipulated, which I do by assuming without showing fear that he is a nice person, and speaking with him that way.

      October 30, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  8. Endo

    Teach children what love and respect means. Teach them kindness... And reward them for their kindness to others.

    October 30, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  9. Jorge

    I found the solution to the bully problem in the ninth grade.
    1. Flex abductor muscles of carpal phalanges tightly.
    2. Approach subject identified as bully through previous personal experience, off school grounds.
    3. Suddenly and without prior warning, engage carpal unit, with considerable force, upon nasal area of subject.
    4. While subject is temporarily disoriented and incapacitated by very extreme discomfort, perform forced rhinoplasty on subject by repeating step #3 until profuse issue of at least three bodily fluids from subject is witnessed.
    5. Sternly advise subject that if unacceptable behavior is not corrected, the next session will be much more intense in nature.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • TC

      You forgot step 6.

      6. Wait for the police to arrive. Enjoy your court date. Have fun in juvinal hall.

      October 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
      • Jorge

        Never happened, bully was too ashamed of letting his homies know that he got his @$$ kicked by a kid 4 inches shorter than him, the other kids in school would have made his life a living hell. That's what's wrong with this country today, common people are too p-u-s-s-i-f-i-e-d to defend themselves and get their respect against the unjust and the wicked, so their IS no respect. As Abu Abdallah Muhammad XII's mother told him over 500 years ago, when Spain kicked him out of Granada, "Thou dost weep like a woman for what thou couldst not defend as a man." (Quoted to me by my grandfather).

        November 1, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  10. Sarah

    People have tried and tried. Bullying has gone down a lot, but it most likely won't stop for quite a while. Bullying is mostly done by kids who haven't gotten hurt so they think that hurting other people's feelings will make them feel better. Every year most schools tell children to use their 'cool tools' whenever they see a bully. When you see someone bullying someone else, going up to them and telling them to stop usually doesn't work. Kids don't tell the teacher because they fear they will get bullied by that same person. After all these anti-bullying assemblies boys and girls have to listen to, hopefully bullying will come to an end one day.

    October 29, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  11. katrina manning

    why cant these kids stop bulling other people at school and out on the streets when they see they anit got nun going for they life they want to ruin somebody elses let that peson live it life go find you somebody elsento pick on are just stop talking about people and hurting them thats why kids these days are killing they self ccause what other people say about them if youll see how much that hurt people you'l would stop.. please stop bulling other people just because you dont have nun going for your life and they do

    October 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Diablo135

      I'll get back to you once I'm done translating this

      October 29, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
      • someone

        No kidding.

        November 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  12. Commie Tactics

    As long as there is rampant Political Correctness, there will be bullying

    October 29, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  13. profart

    And then we have people like Ann Coulter to act as models for our adults and children alike. Bullying does not go away. teaching kids how to deal with bullying in a positive and constructive way is so, so important. There will always be jerks.

    October 28, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Commie Tactics

      Coulter has been seriously bullied by progressives and their absurd philosophies her entire life.

      October 29, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  14. Roger G. Sutten

    Start at the Top for a Solution to Bullying.


    So what is Romneshia? Is it a very Direct form of Bullying?

    Is Mr. President Obama acting as a Bully! Our Children are our Blessings, may we teach by example. The teachings from the President of this Great United States of America has the young America teenagers failing to be who God our Father created them to be Today and Tommorrow. May we produce Great Leaders in this country by being a Great Leader.

    Bullying is wrong. Campaigning and Bullying is wrong.

    Teach by Example.


    Lead like a Great Leader!

    ROG RGS102812


    (Your Name Here) Pastor, President















    (Your Name Here) Pastor, President





    (Your Name Here) Pastor, President






    (Your Name Here) Pastor, President







    ROG RGS060807



    So what is Romneshia? Is it a very Direct form of Bullying.

    Is Mr. President Obama acting as a Bully! Our children are our Blessings, may we teach by example. The teachings from the President of this Great United States of America has the young America teenagers failing to be who God our Father created them to be Today and Tommorrow. May we produce Great Leaders in this country by being a Great Leader.

    Bullying is wrong. Campaigning and Bullying is wrong.

    Teach by Example


    Lead like a Great Leader.

    ROG RGS102812

    October 28, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Commie Tactics

      Mainstream Media ( so called) needs to stop bullying America with liberal tripe and hooliganism.

      October 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  15. Rowan

    Bullying is wrong! Most bullies are bullied by someone else, which sends a chain reaction of bullies. If we can stop anyone, from getting bullied by anyone it would be great. Yet bullying is human nature, Adolf Hitler bullied Jews, England bullied America when it was made of colonies, not states, you just can't defeat human nature, but you can always try. I mean look where America got by trying to fight back, not saying you should fight back, but you can stand up yourself, which I think if you were standing up to a particularly mean bully, or any bully in general, it would be a self accomplish, especially if you were a kid who is scared of getting teased, stand up even if they tease you more, still try.

    If someone is so scared that they commit suicide, the person who was bullying them should be expelled or something else that serves as as a punishment. Also, if they a kid is so scared, that they won't go to school, you can try to go, I mean haven't these kids told adults and/or parents, if they haven't why don't they. If your reading this and you and/or your friend, or anybody you know in general is being bullied, and you haven't told anybody teacher or parent please, you could save someones back or their life.

    October 27, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Mike

      The issue is parents of the bully. Chances are the apple does not fall far from the tree. So speaking with the parents of the bully might solve the problem, chances are it will not.
      Removing bullies from the school and placing all bullies into one school should be part of the solution.
      Students who want to learn should be in a hostile free environment.

      October 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  16. James Mulhern

    Thank you for drawing attention to this matter. I wish adults in the public sphere like Ann Coulter, who recently tweeted that President Obama is a "retard," were as mature as some of our children who are learning about ethical and compassionate behavior through your hard work.

    James Mulhern,

    October 27, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Becki Cohn-Vargas

      You are so right. We need to LISTEN to everyone who poses solutions. "After Special Olympian John Franklin Stephens heard about a tweet in which someone called someone else a "retard," he did something awesome. He wrote an open letter to the offensive person in which he explained, "You, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a 'badge of honor,' and not used as an insult."

      October 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  17. Moonmac

    Keep telling kids getting bullied is worse than death and they'll keep killing themselves for getting teased!

    October 27, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  18. Hey teacher

    Government teachers need to stop bullying the American taxpayers. They only care about their pensions, health care, and job security. F rated schools fighting for bad teachers right to teach? Bullying the parents by fighting other options. Teaching the kids that this is how you get your way. Calling people names when they don't support union propaganda. Its time for government and unions to get out of teaching. They are failing our children.

    October 27, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Mike

      Sure whatever you say. I bet if your employer was asking to cut your pay while increasing your workload you would be screaming for help from a union.

      October 28, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
      • Hey teacher

        No, but if I was paying some union boss part of my salary and he was making twenty times my pay then I'd sure be up in arms about it. Union bosses make hundreds of thousands af dollars of your money. For what? So you can use a plastic scraper instead of a metal one? To limit how much you can work? To keep you from being promoted over that useless pud next to you who has seniority?

        People should band together when there is safety issues but stay out of my salary and work negotiations. Let me do my job to the very best of my ability and not hamper my production because someone else looks bad. Lets promote people who do good jobs and fire those who dont.

        October 29, 2012 at 4:31 am |
  19. David

    We should push for a law that treats bullies like felons. Those convicted of bullying leading to the psychological trauma of another should be disqualified from employment until they undergo 2-4 years of psychological treatment and empathy training. R.I.P. Amanda.

    October 27, 2012 at 1:32 am |
    • JPowers

      Grow a pair, Francis.

      October 27, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  20. Becki Cohn-Vargas

    You can be part of the solution to bullying- get involved- Not In Our School Put Yourself on the Map! It is a contest and you can win prizes

    October 26, 2012 at 10:24 am |