Sunday, July 28, 2019

John Marsden Has Some Thoughts On Bullying

Australian author John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began books were popular Chez Gauthier a while back, so my eyebrows rose when I read last week that Marsden is getting some interesting press for views he's expressed on bullying.

Marsden, a long-time educator, has a new book out called The Art of Growing Up, which has been described as a "broad critique of the education system." Presumably Australia's, since that's where Marsden works. The book appears to cover, among other things, overprotective parents. It sounds as if he's describing the "helicopter parent" issue we've been hearing about for years in the U.S. Turns out, in other parts of the world this is called "curling parents," presumably because the parents sweep problems out of the children's way, the way curlers sweep in front of that...thing...that goes flying around in curling. (Seriously, I have a cousin who used to curl. I should know this stuff.)

But what brought Marsden up on my Facebook page was what he's had to say about bullying, whether there in that book or in interviews about it. I'm having a little difficulty telling which.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article by Nick Bonyhady called 'Don't Care Really What People Think': John Marsden Defends View of Bullying, Marsden is quoted as saying that he would suggest "children having a hard time...look at your own likeable and unlikeable behaviours and try to reduce the list of unlikeable behaviours and unlikeable values and unlikeable attitudes and over time that will probably have a significant effect". Though there isn't a direct quote in this article to support it, Marsden's also described as considering bullying to be "feedback." Meaning, I guess, that the bullying actions provide feedback to the bullied, letting them know what unlikeable behaviors they need to change in order to stop what's being done to them.

And, yes, if this is accurate, it does sound like blaming the victim.

After thinking about this for a while, I'm wondering who gets to decide what are likeable and unlikeable behaviors?  Who decides which of my behaviors I have to change to avoid being bullied?

If We Could All Conform, Would Bullying End?

The article does include an interesting Marsden quote about conflict between children from different ethnic groups at a school he has been associated with.

"At Geelong Grammar they had quite a high percentage of students enrolling from Asian countries and their acceptance depended very much upon how Westernised they were," Marsden said of his time teaching at the expensive school in the 1980s. "If they were able to speak English fluently and wear the clothes that Anglo kids wore and listened to the same kind of music, then they were fully accepted.

"There was absolutely no racism involved," Marsden added. "But if they weren't yet at that stage then there was a gulf between them... It didn't necessarily result in bullying, although sometimes it did, but more often it was sort of a gap between the two subcultures."

So, I guess the solution to racial bullying is conforming to Western Anglo culture. What's racist about that!

More importantly, though, does this suggest to anyone else that conforming to...something...some standard bullies support, say...could put an end to other kinds of bullying? I don't have much knowledge of bully psychology or the research done on them, so I don't know how well this would work, or if it would work.

If it would work, I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around what it could mean. Does this give the bullied power, because they can change bullies' behavior by changing their own? Or does it really suck that the bullied have to change their behavior because bullies don't like it?


Unknown said...

My six-year-old nephew is being bullied,but there's no way I would tell him it's because he's unlikeable. He is definitely not unlikeable.Whoever is bullying him is.I just wish I could get my hands on the little brats. Put the fear of God into them.

Gail Gauthier said...

I'm sorry to hear about your nephew's situation.

One of the disturbing aspects of Marsden's message, if it's being portrayed accurately, is that it seems to relieve adults in schools of responsibility for dealing with bullies. The bullied child needs to change.

And what about the issue of adult bullying? Bullying in the workplace? Does this attitude relate to those situations, too?

Jen Robinson said...

I find myself curious to read his book to see what he's really trying to say, in context. Not available in the US, though, apparently. And perhaps won't be, given the controversy. But I found what he had to say per the Guardian piece interesting. Re bullying, I, too, am sorry about your nephew, commenter above. There is unquestionably bullying that happens that is not the victim's fault. But I think it is also true that some normal social kid dynamics may be getting tagged as bullying in some cases, by your snowplow type of parent. OR maybe Marsden is creating controversy on purpose to drive talk about his book. It is working. Anyway, thanks for the links.

Gail Gauthier said...

Yes, I’ve wondered recently if the term “bullying” is being used a little too loosely. It should be very clear what bullying is, and the victims really are victims.