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Peter Jon Mitchell

Bullying: governments can diagnose, but they can’t cure

There are some problems for which politics is a blunt and unwieldy instrument. Bullying may be such an issue. No one knows whether tackling the community level problem of bullying through rigid government legislation will be effective, but that hasn’t stopped the Canadian province of Ontario from trying.In December 2011 the province’s governing Liberals and opposition Progressive Conservatives climbed all over each other to introduce competing anti-bullying legislation on the same day. The move to introduce legislation was in response to a number of youth suicides in which bullying had been a contributing factor. Previously in 2005 the Liberal government promised C$23 million over three years to combat bullying with little discernible result.Ontario presents an interesting case study of a government that has diagnosed a serious social problem without recognizing its own limitations in adequately prescribing treatment. As a relational issue, the problem of bullying requires active parents backed by the educational institutions to which parents lend their authority to educate children. The Ontario government has gone beyond partnering with parents to set codes of conduct for its schools and has instead presented the kind of top-down plan for social reform that has earned Ontario’s premier Dalton McGuinty the nickname “Premier Dad.”In their 2010 book What’s Wrong with Our Schools and How We can Fix Them, authors Michael Zwaagstra, Rodney Clifton and John Long identify a long running debate over the fundamental purpose of education. They argue that a progressive romantic view of education positions the teacher as a social reformer who uses the classroom as the primary tool to bring about social change. They further argue that this focus supplants the acquisition of knowledge and skill. Those responsible for Ontario’s education system have revealed their strong progressive romantic leanings.The Ministry of Education has allocated substantial resources to social reform under… Read More