Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Fourth-grade teacher Alanna Comer reads an anti-bullying pledge to a group of first- and fourth-grade students during the Stand4Change Against Bullying Day at Willow Canyon Elementary School in Sandy.

It is very important that the newly launched Anti-Bullying Coalition, school board members and legislators understand the root causes of bullying if they are to reduce or eliminate it. Why did bullying increase when the federal government and wealthy business executives started to run our schools? How did they change education to foster more bullying?

Starting with the No Child Left Behind Law, schooling is organized and conducted now with great emphasis placed on early reading and math.

Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard maintains that public schools cater to those who are talented in verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences to the exclusion of those who are naturally bright in seven other “intelligences.” The “nerds” are getting all the attention.

Why are nerds often bullied, made fun of or picked on? Why do students often feel resentment toward those who always beat them in the only things that seem to count? What would happen if curiosity and creativity were to be counted as highly as math and reading?

A Few years ago, in his research on creativity, Dr. Calvin Taylor (U. of U.) found that many students who are low in reading and math are highly creative. He found that every student could be above average in something, if they were given enough chances to ask questions and be creative.

What has this got to do with bullying? If a student can excel in something at school, does s/he feel like bullying or saying unkind things to others? If we really want to eliminate or decrease bullying, we must work toward changing the school system to make sure every student has a chance to excel and be recognized for their own innate gifts and talents. This effort must start in early elementary school. It is important that children not feel like failures in kindergarten, first, second or third grade.

The seeds of bullying and dropping out now start to sprout in kindergarten where children are introduced to failure earlier than ever before. More children begin to feel stupid sooner because they are being cheated of play time, curious exploring, art and socializing, activities that are now crowded out by formal instruction in reading and math that are required by the “Common Core Curriculum.”

Decreasing bullying is not merely as simple as saying, “Don’t do it, be kind to others.” That will be about as effective as was the plea, “Just say no to drugs.” It’s much more complicated than that. As our schools have shrunk the curriculum, there are fewer and fewer chances for students to excel in anything. Many feel inferior, and this gives rise to students being cruel toward those who are naturally talented in the only two things that seem to count for anything: language and math.

Being talented in music, art, mechanics, human relations or any other area doesn't count as much in our culture as being strong in subjects our society has labeled "common core." As a result, more students feel worthless and want to get even with those who achieve in these subjects. They take it out on one another or drop out of school.

Utah parents and teachers must wrest control of schools from the federal government and wealthy business executives. With parents and teachers in charge of their own public schools, students could be helped to develop their unique talents and aspire to use them to be contributors (not burdens) to society. Bullying and dropouts will, only then, be drastically reduced or eliminated.

Lynn Stoddard, a retired teacher and school administrator, lives in Farmington and can be reached at [email protected]