Educators Have to Step Up

As schools reopen in the New Year and Donald Trump’s inauguration draws near, the reality of dramatic increases in hate speech and hate behavior cannot be ignored. Educators need to know that merely reacting to offenses will not be adequate. The adults in charge need to step up and be proactive. They must draw some very clear lines about what behavior will not be tolerated.  It’s not enough to offer counseling and sympathetic hugs after the fact!

Why? Not just for the right reason–to support vulnerable students–but also to cover their own butts, because ‘after the fact’ actions, no matter how warm and supportive, are insufficient, inappropriate and almost certainly illegal.

The law is very much on the side of the victims, and school authorities ought to know that they are obligated under federal law to protect young people. I am not referring to anti-bullying legislation, which differs to state to state, but to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, sometimes known as ‘That damned sports law.’  Title IX clearly prohibits sexual harassment, and, even when bullying is ostensibly directed against an individual’s race, ethnicity or religion, it almost invariably includes sexual references.  Girls are called “sluts” and “hos,” boys are called “fags’ and other names.  Sexual rumors and comments are frequent.  And the above behavior violates the granddaddy of all laws in this area, Title IX.

Title IX also prohibits these behaviors outside the school, such as when personal computers are used, when the behavior is disruptive to learning or affects a student’s ability to partake of the opportunities for learning and in other opportunities provided by the school.  In short, schools and school administrator, under Title IX, are obligated to stop sexual cyber-bullying. Moreover, they stand to lose federal funding if they do not.  Some school districts have paid 6-figure settlements for their demonstrated failure to protect students from harassment and cyber-bullying.

Money talks. Understanding the legal and financial ramifications of all forms of bullying is one of the best incentives to get schools involved in developing specific programs for students, families, administrators, teachers, staff, including the janitors. Self-interest is a powerful incentive, as are the threats of federal involvement and individual lawsuits. Together, these should motivate schools to proactively develop strong prevention programs—to let everyone know, “We don’t tolerate bullying here, because we’re better than that.”

But defensive behavior is not sufficient. Schools today must provide opportunities for all young people, haters included, to create knowledge out of the swirling clouds of information that surround them 24/7. You and I were sent to schools because that’s where the knowledge was stored–but that was yesterday. Today’s young people need guidance in learning how to sift through the flood of information (much of it ‘fake news’) and turn it into knowledge. Because websites have what purport to be the answers, students need to be able to formulate good questions that will enable them to discern the difference between wheat and chaff. And don’t forget that good questions, projects, and team-activities will keep young people involved;  they’ll be too busy to spend their time hating.





13 thoughts on “Educators Have to Step Up

  1. John, thanks for signing this petition. Perhaps some of your readers will be interested in this situation:

    This is a case where a head football football coach not only did not speak out at a critical moment to defend women but actually defied the Univ of Mn president who had expressed concern at had taken action to remove several people from the team, in some cases 2-3 at a time, had sexually assaulted a young women who was very drunk.


  2. Thanks for this blog reminding educators of their affirmative duty to protect students from hateful talk and behavior.


  3. John,

    Here is a resource we hope you’ll share. “Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School!” is a new free video for K-12 parents, middle and high school students, schools, and community organizations. It’s about gender equality in education, students’ protections under Title IX, and much more. (Reviewed in EdSource and Huff Post; the project was partially funded by a major gender equity organization.)

    As high school students plan for their new gender equality group, we watch them interview nationally recognized education, legal, and LGBTQ experts and learn from counselors, advocates, parents, and students. The video offers simple steps and engaging activities to make schools safer with equal learning spaces for all students. (Student and parent-led activism is especially relevant with changes at the DOE and OCR).We invite individuals and organizations to use the Presentation Guide and Action Plan at Please contact with your feedback.

    We (parent educators) created the video after learning the hard way through a high profile case (detailed at Thank you for allowing us to comment here. (Esther Warkov, Ph.D. Co-Founder of SSAIS,org)


  4. John,

    In my 21 years of teaching in a low income urban school district, the biggest challenge I face daily, is behavior. Bullying is a serious and often complex problem to remediate, but there is another kind of misbehavior that is chronic, wide spread and seriously compromises the opportunities of students who actually come to the class room ready to learn. This ( and a shameful lack of resources) is the elephant in the room that cripples education.
    I have, over time, become very good at the critical component to teaching called classroom management. I have also seen many new, bright, and efficacious teachers quit because student behavior is so extreme, they are overwhelmed.

    Despite the fact that I, like most of the teachers at my school, am good at my job, I know that I spend way too much time dealing with the social and emotional needs of students. These behaviors manifest as: defiance, persistent disruptiveness, a disproportionate need for attention, aggressive/contentious behavior towards peers and staff, and an inability to focus. This goes beyond what teachers and schools are designed and resourced to remediate. I know that the culture of my classroom, and my school is determined, in large part, by the worst behavior, not the best. This is unfair and corrupt. Why should the best students have their education overshadowed and, literally, coopted by students that are not prepared to hold up their end of the bargain?
    Many charter schools deal with this problem by using a zero tolerance model. While I can empathize with this approach, I know that it is extreme, demeaning to students and staff, and a substitute for a real solution. Often if a parent and student can’t live up to the zero tolerance culture of the charter school, they are “counseled out”, back into the local public school. How does tis serve that student, or the peers that his behavior effects?

    While bullying is a real problem that must be taken seriously, it is dwarfed by this other kind of behavior that occurs daily, and yet, seems to go unrecognized. Real school reform would focus on this challenge first, since it has the biggest impact on the quality of a student’s education.


    • I’ve watched teachers struggle with this large issue, generally not successfully. One essential element of a better environment is challenging, relevant work, but that’s not sufficient. I’ve seen teachers work with students to develop the classroom’s behavior code, and that can work, but all students bring baggage to school, and sometimes that baggage includes abuse at home, awful family situations like parental drug abuse, homelessness, poverty, and major health problems. NO menu of marvelous classroom strategies can overcome those obstacles. Where does that leave us? It’s not hopeless, but it’s also immoral to blame teachers. We need to invest more in our young people, not less, and we also need to invest wisely.
      Thanks for opening up this complex issue.


  5. Bullying can also be a violation of Title VI which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin, and Section 504 which prohibits discrimination on account of disability. In Massachusetts schools incidents of bullying have to also be investigated for possible civil rights violations.


  6. If we could inspire students to invest in themselves and see the benefit of proactively addressing bullying and sexual harassment in their schools, such student-led advocacy could be effective. Bullying and sexual harassment are related behaviors (see Dorothy Espelage’s research) and for that reason the model we used in Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School! could easily be adapted to address a range of harmful behaviors. In the video, students form a gender equity group and interact with other clubs (anti-bullying, suicide prevention, GSA, etc.). “When we make change at school, we’re changing society too,” one of the students concludes. Because kids like learning from their peers, if we could inspire more peer/college student-led activism in K-12 schools, we may see change, and this change could extend beyond the K-12 environment. We’re impressed with the NOW guide: How to Become a NOW Activist in High School.


  7. You are right on target John. Integrate subject areas like character development to promote understanding of others and statistics to help students understand 11 bad people doesn’t equal 11 million and civics to understand how government is supposed to work and strong support systems teaching awareness must happen proactively. If accepted my new book has a chapter dedicated to this effort


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s