Ruth’s Truths – Ruth Morris

Another near-and-dear subject to me, both in my personal and professional life, is what I have come to call “anti-bystanderism.” This means, a belief in NOT just standing by, but actually acting against injustice.  I teach this to my students and my own children, and try to model it in my personal world as well.

 

When I became a teacher at CCUSD ten years ago, they had a federally funded, required program called “Too Good for Violence” in place.  Through awkwardly worded “workbooks” that we were supposed to follow along with the students, the government expected that “teaching” a child to express themselves with words instead of fists by saying, “that comment hurt my feelings,” we would reduce everything from fist fights to gangs.  I am not sure why or who ultimately abandoned the program, but it seems like they may have realized how benign such programs are in the face of armed gunmen invading school campuses.  And is not a person wielding a gun versus an unarmed individual bullying in its most radical form?   

 

Immediately following on the heels of “Too Good for Violence,” an anti-bullying

initiative began in our schools.  Our particular district adopted a program called “Olweus,” which is one of many extant sets of shelf materials on how to eradicate bullying. This program did not come with a neat “how to” booklet, rather, teachers are asked to work with a random sampling (for example, each teacher’s 3rd period classroom) of same grade level students, encouraging them to have personal discussions about bullying experiences they may have experienced or witnessed.

 

I didn’t see as much value implementing such discussions with just one group of my students; rather, I preferred to engage all of my students in such discussions, creating an anti-bullying community out of at least my third of the 7th grade.  I use the study of the Holocaust’s perpetrators-bystanders-victims cycle to facilitate this. From the moment I took the requisite anti-bullying training they gave us, I saw the connection between bullies and Nazis, victims and Jews, and the vast array of bystanders, from active participants to passive onlookers.

 

Utilizing all of my resources on the Holocaust, from personal visits to historical sites, to lengthy museum visits, to five years of training courses from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, to the reading of a library of texts on the subject, I open the school year teaching about the Holocaust through what is now referred to as a Common Core approach. This approach utilizes multimedia materials designed to get students reading, writing and thinking. I have taught them that bystanders, the most populous and culpable figures on the scene, have a responsibility to speak, act, and stand up. Some call it “upstanderism.”

 

After our first unit, when the students saw pictures, not of concentration camps, but, for example, of a peaceful town in Germany, with people going about their daily business, all except for the anti-Jewish banner across the town square…they had learned a lot about the bystanders’ role.

 

And the issue of bystanderism is not always about violence. One day in class, when I was absent, homework was due. There was a substitute, who, during the first period of the day, (kindheartedly) noticed that two or three students had not done their work. She didn’t realize that they never turn in their homework, and just needed to take a zero, whereas the rest of the students, and the students in the classes the rest of the day, had worked hard to ensure their work met the deadline. The substitute told the students to keep their work and turn it in another day. Not a big deal to me, and perhaps a “save” to the few students who did not do their work, but this affected all of the classes through the day, “What? We worked all weekend on this, and it wasn’t even collected after all?” I came back and accused the students who HAD done their work of being bystanders.  I said they should have stopped that “injustice” by speaking up to the substitute, and asserting the fact that, no, the work WAS due that day, and it wouldn’t be fair to the many students who did do the work in time, to extend the deadline.  The students got the message: no bystanderism would be tolerated.

 

I have at times taken flack from the same ilk of parents who supported anti-bullying programs but feared that I was leading their children down a too scary path. Not so, however. My students come to me with the truth about various incidents in and outside of class. Graduates of mine have even reported that they would come to me if they encountered trouble on campus. I hear them calling each other out as “bystanders.” I believe that we have created a community of helpers. The only problem with my commitment to anti-bystanderism is that,I also have to practice what I preach!  I find myself increasingly emboldened to actually speak up and advocate for things I believe in, more vociferously than I had in the past.  I have come to feel that it I am proposing to stand up before 200+ souls worth of students day after day, telling them not to be bystanders, I must be willing to walk the talk.  The writing of my articles in Culver City Crossroads is part of my relatively newfound dedication.

 

Connecting this again to the Holocuast for a moment, as time marches on, and living eyewitnesses of the atrocities die away, there are people who claim everything from denying that a Jewish civilization was virtually eradicated, to complaints that it wasn’t only the Jews who suffered. People feel that “war is hell” and people die during wartime. 

However, the marginalization that was perpetrated, and allowed by bystanders, from people being forced out of jobs, to being made to wear yellow stars on clothing, happened even before the systematic murders took place. If bystanders would have not tolerated injustices BEFORE killing elevated to the level of “war,” genocides like the Holocaust might not have happened.

 

Schoolyard bullying and the quest for power and domination are akin. The majority (those who stand by) can foil the plans of the minority (bullies and their victims) through speech and action, and instead, become heroes.  

 

 

 

 

 

www.culvercitysymphony.org

24 Comments

  1. I am a student in Ms. Morris’ 3rd period. I had a substitute, it wasn’t for her class, who “bullied” one of the students. There was no bloody noses or black eyes, but she, the substitute, put down the student. The student had a question about classwork. She was just being herself, wearing unique clothes and such, but the sub immediately put her down. The student was wearing a very unique headband, just to be silly, but the sub hated it, I guess. “What is that, the thing on your head?” That was rude right off the bat. She responded, “It’s just a cool headband, can you help me with this problem?” She was referring to the classwork. “Do you not think people think your weird, wearing that thing on your head all day?” The sub said. I was wondering what the sub wanted her to do, take it off or just argue. “I’m original, that’s all. It’s just a headband.” the student replied. “If you say so…” The sub said. Substitutes aren’t supposed to criticize you, there supposed to just sit around and let you work, they might even help you. I felt so bad, because you could see how offended the student was. All I did was sit there! Now, I feel like I should have said something. I would totally agree that I was a bystander.
    From Ms. Morris, I have learned how important bystanders really are. If bystanders helped, there would be no more bullying.

  2. Hi Ms. Morris, I think this article is really interesting and I like it. If I had to relate this to some of my past experiences I would say sometimes I have been the victim and my friends have been the bystanders and have not stood up for me in the situation. But I have been a bystander too which I regret alot because it was one of my best friends and someone said something bad about him and I didn’t do enough to stand up for him. I like how you said that anti-bystanderism is “a belief in NOT just standing by, but actually acting against injustice.” I want to practice anti-bystanderism because I learned from you that it is not good to be a bystander. So thank you for teaching me this valuable lesson. Thanks. Ethan

  3. I, personally, have been both the victim and the bystander.

    Months ago, a couple of kids in my science class made fun of me. They called me names and talked about me behind my back, during class. I didn’t say anything for a while. I was (secretly) hoping that someone would stand up for me.

    But I am new this year, so I still don’t know that many people in my classes. No one stood up for me. This lasted for a couple months. A week ago, I finally stood up for myself. They don’t bother me anymore.

    But I wish that the other people in my class wouldn’t be such bystanders. They obviously don’t have you for a teacher, Ms. Morris. I hope that, one day, they’ll learn from their mistakes.

  4. I think bystander is not just to get someonelse in trouble but sticking up for what you saw. Also being honest of what you saw. Not just because you don’t like that person. Doesn’t mean should treat them this way . But still be honest just because your there fired and you don’t want to get them in trouble does not me the did the right thing. If you saw you friend being guilty then stick up for the other person at least once , if you know your doing the right thing. This is what I think

  5. I think bystander is not just to get someonelse in trouble but sticking up for what you saw. Also being honest of what you saw. Not just because you don’t like that person. Doesn’t mean should treat them this way . But still be honest just because your there fired and you don’t want to get them in trouble does not me the did the right thing. If you saw you friend being guilty then stick up for the other person at least once , if you know your doing the right thing. This is what I think.

  6. Being a bystander is just watching the victim being bullied and that does not help the victim at all. The victim is still being bullied if you do not stand up or tell a teacher. Never be scared to tell a teacher that someone is being bullied. It is better to tell because that builds your confidence and makes you more brave to help out more kids being bullied.

  7. I have been both a bystander and a victim.

    Last year i was bullied by a girl all last year. She would call me names and sometimes use physical contact. My friends were bystanders until I told them about what happened.

    i was a bystander because in class i didn’t stop two boys from tossing a paper airplane. I admit i wasn’t paying attention to them.

  8. That was an interesting article. I mean who could find themselves watching a bully beating up a little kid. But you have to look at the fact that it’s easy to be a bystander. Did the sons and daughters of a Nazi concentration camp Warden think daddy was a murder? Or the wives of firefighters in Birmingham who sprayed African-Americans in the march for freedom were monsters? Anyone can be a bystander, it’s what you do to prevent it . Last year, I was harassed by five high schoolers. The experience was terrifying but what was even more terrifying was no one said anything. They did not stop until one mature high schooler finally said something. That day, I said I promise never to be a bystander.

  9. What a great analogy between the bullying that happens now and the bullying that happened in the Holocaust. We need to take more action and not be bystanders. If we all did a little to help one another the world would be much better. Being a bystander can cause a lot like when you see something but not taking any action is not right. That’s why I agree in this blog.

  10. There has been different kinds of bullying everyday in our life. Even back in the early nineteen hundreds there were many people who got bullied in more severe ways. Mostly everyone is a bystander because they are afraid that they will be bullied too. But if everyone stood up to bullies then there would be no bullies left. We should never be bystanders.

  11. There has been different kinds of bullying everyday in our life. Even back in the early nineteen hundreds there were many people who got bullied in more severe ways. Mostly everyone is a bystander because they are afraid that they will be bullied too. But if everyone stood up to bullies then there would be no bullies left. We should never be a bystander.

  12. I do remember the substitute that let us have an extra day homework, and I admit that I was being a bystander. Now a days, when someone is talking while other people are talking, I try to tell them to be quiet, but sometimes it doesn’t work. i wonder why?
    Today, bullying has changed so much, and the bystanders are helping the bully. The Holocaust was the worst bullying in the world!
    I really agree with you on this article, and I think it will help bystanders all around to not be bystanders.

  13. I think this article can help me because I’m not the kind of person who would stand up for a random person. It’s not as easy as walking up to the bully and start yelling or arguing. Many people can say that not being a bystander is a lot harder than being a bystander. The “actual acting against injustice” can say something about what you think about bullying and how you plan to stop it. The concept of antibystanderism is something very important and many schools teach that and how to stop violently bullying with the book Ms. Morris explained as “too good for violence”. This strategy can work effectively if the bully realizes he or she is doing something wrong. This perfect scenario is very uncommon, and that’s why Ms. Morris is emphasizing antibystanderism. I like that Ms. Morris related this topic to the Nazis, although their bullying was much more severe than street bullying, but it’s the same concept. Ms. Morris explained that if bystanders acted before the Holocaust, maybe it could have prevented this terrible genocide. This was a very great article because it can say that antibystanderism is something that everyone should be able to do.

  14. Ms. Morris,
    I have learned from being in your class that bystanderism cannot be tolerated.
    I do admit that before if I had known before that a bystander could make such a big difference, I wouldn’t have been one from time to time. I think that if people become more aware of bystanderism being almost as bad as the actual bullying itself, then many bullying incidents can be stopped. I think a lot of people are scared, even though they know what is being done is wrong, but they shouldn’t be, because they are helping someone out in a huge way if they help them. Also, if people became more aware of the ways in which they can stop bullying they would. Anyway, I really liked your article and think anti-bystanderism can make a difference.

  15. Hi Ms.Morris,
    As you know I have looked into bystanderism in order to try and make a lesson plan for Olweus. And the things that I found were very interesting. An article that I read listed not only the negative effects for the victum when you are a bystander, which is normally the emphises, but the negative effect of being a bystander on yourself. I do not specifically remember the effects but many of them were negative emotions and feelings.
    As well as that the article listed how much anti-bystanderism, in fact 85% of bullying has an audience, and when someone from that audience stops being a bystander and steps in 57% of all bullying stops less than 10 seconds. These stats greatly disagree with the common mindset of if I step in it won’t matter the bully will just keep going. That I believe is one of the main reasons why people who do not specifically “agree” with the bullying but don’t do anything about it don’t step in. It is almost like a stereotype.
    Overall this is a very interesting article that speaks on a very personal level to many people. It is also one of the most relatable article you have written.
    Thank you for sharing this,
    Liam Wall
    P.4

  16. Hi Ms Morris,
    I can relate to this article because:
    I came to live in culver city when I was in second grade. there was a kid who everyone treated badly. not only the kids, but the classroom aide. the kids I first started hanging out with told me not to hang out with him. they would make fun of him and talk about him behind his back. instead of following their “orders”, I chose to befriend him, and to this day we are still Best friends! if I had followed along, then I would have been guilty of not only bystander-ism, but also bullying, and I would never would have made such a good friend. like I mentioned before, the classroom aide treated him badly. one day, she told him to stop being weird and to “be normal”. he took this to heart. he stopped being himself. when I asked him what was wrong, he said “I’m being normal.” that made me sad to hear, the fact that she hurt him like that. so I told him not to care what she says, that he is perfect the way he is, and that he shouldn’t try to change who he is. so he took my advise and decided to go back to the old him, the one I defiantly became friends with. I think that is an example of not being a bystander.

    -Natalie Richardson Period 4

    (I’m glad your teaching us to stand up for others, it’s really important) 🙂

  17. I was once a bystander, but I have learned to learn my mistakes and never do i again.
    To be more specific I was a bystander when M Olivarri was subbing this class and told us to do something we didnt usually do in this class, I forgot what we did, and we didnt say anything

  18. I was bullied at my old school because I am Japanese. Many of the kids would repeatedly call me “Chinese boy” even though that is incorrect. I often got into physical fights. No one, not even the principal, would do anything about it, even though my parents complained directly to the principal. Talk about “Bystanderism,” it certainly is frustrating when those in authority are the greatest offenders (like my old principal … idiot). All I can say is, sometimes life is unfair; however, if we are in a position to stop injustice, we should do so.

  19. Hi Ms. Morris,
    I really liked your article about bullying and bystanderism, and I have a personal experience to relate to it. Many students have often made fun of my last name, and I was a quiet spectator and nobody stood up for me. Reading your article encourages me to take a stand against bystanderism. Your article has encouraged me to not be a bystander when I witness injustice.

  20. I think bullying is not cool … People think they are “all that” but they are not. The reason why bullies are bullies is because they have something going on but God only knows what. Bulliies are bullies because they cause trouble to other people to make them feel better so they are not depressed in life. So that’s my chat to you about bullies. I saw a kid get bullied before and I walked by. I felt sad about not speaking up and next time I will speak up because that is the right thing to do.

  21. Hello, this was a very good article i really enjoyed reading it. I was in the class that had an assignment missed because of “bystanders” but actually I tried not to be a bystander and say that there was an assignment due that day but it didn’t matter because whenever I raised my hand to tell that there was an assignment but they didn’t want to hear it I guess, she said that who ever was talking from that point forward would get detention so I left my hand down. When I tried to explain I wad told it was over and that everybody missed the assignment already so I really couldn’t do anything even though I was just avoiding detention. I’ve been a massive target of being bullied at school like ever since the first day of school in 6th grade. I have also have been effected by another type of bullying ( which is sexual harassment )when I was at a camp and somebody was writing sexual things on on my arms and like whispering sexual things to me and that happened for About 3 days before I told somebody and then they quickly told an adult which was a really good use of not being a bystander. But like most bullies he denied it ( but he also mad a mental illness so he prbably didn’t mean it) but it all worked out so …yeah

  22. Ms.Morris,
    I think this article is really interesting because there has been a lot of bullying incidents lately going on. I personally think that the olvaious(i think that’s what it is called)system that we have during silent reading is very helpful especially when we are asked to answer questions that the teacher gives us. I also think that in middle school there is a lot of bullying going on over the smallest and dumbest thing, like the way someone dresses or how they look etc… But not only have we also found small things to pick on people for but we found other ways to pick on them to like physically or verbally even with rumors but the main one we have seen lately was cyber-bullying. The worst thing about it is that whatever you put on the internet it will stay there forever. Plus the bully is not even the worst part about bullying its the bystanders or the onlookers, When there is a kid being bullied and they see it and don’t do anything that really makes things worst because the bully will continue to bully.
    Any ways that is basically all i have to say for this topic i look forward for the next article.

  23. This is very interesting,and being a bystander really is not a good thing. I do have a story or event that did happen to me and i was a bystander. I was with my two cousin’s walking to their house,and we were crossing a very long street. Half way there there was an elderly man walking very slowly across the street. He was in the middle of the street on a stop light cars are honking at him. Me and my Cousin’s stood there just watching him walk at a snail paste.Then suddenly a young man helped Him cross the street. Right then and there i realize that i was being A bystander. Now that taught me a lesson. Thank you Ms.Morris

  24. I am SO proud at all of my students’ heartfelt comments, and willingness and ability to relate to this article. You are all amazing, and YOU teach ME things every single day!

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