Socratic Dialogue at Hampstead School

14th June 2000
Facilitator: Rene Branton-Saran
Participants: 10 Students from Years 8 and 9 and Tamsyn Imison Headteacher
Question: Is bullying a fact of life?

Background

This was the fourth year in which a half-day Socratic Dialogue SD had been held at Hampstead School, facilitated by Rene Branton-Saran, a Governor of the School, and very experienced in SD sessions. In the past 3 years the students had been of varying ages, all members of the Schools Council. This time the School wanted to offer the opportunity of participation to girls and boys from years 8 and 9, the younger age group, who still had plenty of time to put into practice what they learn during this SD.

At Hampstead School students are encouraged to contribute actively to policy and good practice, and Tamsyn Imison looked to the students to help other students and staff to carry out the School’s anti-bullying policy.

Examining the question
The SD opened with considering whether the
answer to the question was YES or NO. Some students gave provisional
answers.
Views ranged from:

  • bullying is not a fact of life, but people make it happen;
  • bullying does not have to happen, but it does. It does not happen
    to everybody, nor is everyone a bully;
  • everyone has a different experience of bullying;
  • everyone gets teased sometime, but not everyone gets bullied (this
    raised the further question of what the difference is between teasing
    and bullying);
  • there are two types of bullying: physical and verbal.
Suggesting Examples from personal experience
The second stage of the SD was that all students (except one) gave
personal examples of having been bullied, ie having been the victim.
These examples were then grouped under various headings:

Name Calling
When I was 7, other kids on the estate where I lived called me racist names – they bullied me;People used to call me Demon when I was smaller (a play on the student’s name). I did not like it. Were they bullying me?In primary school I was called fat. This may be taken as an offence but I did not take it as such.

Taking away a Friend
Three friends in primary school – two had a special friendship and the third was jealous. She was nasty to me, bullied me.

Degrading to Person, threatening
A boy at secondary school constantly commented on my appearance, made me feel really bad. He bullied me and others;A photo was taken of me, photocopied many times and displayed round School with nasty things written on it. Students were bullying me and I did not like it.

Physical hurt
At primary school the teacher was reading to us. A girl pulled my hair. She had called me names during break and took my friends away.

Threats and Intimidation
Other students at secondary school said nasty things about our appearance and behaviour (referring to me and my friends). It stopped me going to certain parts of the school; I did not like it. Now I don’t care. I am not nasty back.

I had a row with another girl and lthought it was finished. Next day she and a bigger group of boys and girls threatened me: “We’ll get you after school”. I was frightened for two weeks.


Selecting an example to focus on
On reviewing the above examples for their suitability for our further work unanimity was quickly reached. It was agreed to work with the example of the girl whose photo had been displayed round the school. The student concerned agreed to be the example giver. Her example was then fleshed out as follows:

Some students got hold of a photo of me. They photocopied it. They wrote nasty comments on some of the copies (slag, bitch). Some were stuck up in the corridor of the English block. A boy told me: “These are being handed round school”. I and my sister threw a lot of them away. The action made me feel small, I had done nothing to the bullies. This time the bullying was the last straw and I had to tell the teachers again, this time saying something had to be done because I could not handle it anymore. Meanwhile I have learnt to cope, but I don’t like the way the bullies get at my friends in order to get at me. The bullies are always in a group, which is threatening.


Questions
In SD one way to proceed is for the group to raise questions about the example, and select one for in depth exploration of the example. The suggested questions were: Why did the bully (bullies) do it? Why is the bullying offensive? Is bullying mostly a group action? How can victims handle bullying (verbal abuse)? – the chosen question.

Response from Example Giver
The example giver then explained to the group why she had been unable to handle the photograph incident:
  • She had already been bullied so often;
  • She was angry which only intensified the situation because the bullies saw they were upsetting her and consequently they bullied her all the more;
  • The particular class she was in made her feel alone.
The next step was to explore how the example giver learnt to cope with the bullying situation. Again she gave a number of reasons:
  • She now felt stronger and more confident;
  • Teachers gave support, so she was no longer alone;
  • She was no longer angry, merely irritated;
  • She was moved to a new class and made new friends;
  • Our view of bullies changed – we had pity for them, which means we don’t stoop to their level;
  • We know we can have a better life.

Generalizing from the Example
Having explored with the example giver reasons why as the victim she had initially been unable to handle the bullying and later had learnt to cope with it, the group extended the discussion to a broader level, seeking to identify strategies for dealing with bullying. Students suggested that as they became older, they and the bullies changed (the example giver even added that the bullies are now her friends).It helps to ignore the bullying, to appear and to be strong, to respond quickly, for example by showing anger. Enjoying oneself was also seen as a valuable strategy: if one has a lot of real friends with whom one could be sociable, laugh and talk, then one could laugh at how pathetic the bullies really are. ‘Real friends’, it was suggested, are people who stick by each other and will not be nasty to each other in whatever group settings they find themselves.
By way of summary of the group’s shared thoughts, a table of guidance was drawn up.

Guidance to Victims and Bullies

Victims

  • Don’t believe what the bully says you are
  • Be aware of your own strengths (everyone has their own beauty)
  • Have or make real friends;
  • people who:
    • will back you up;
    • with whom you can enjoy yourself;
    • can tease each other, but not bully;
    • we can trust;
    • have a nice personality;
    • are good people.
  • Seek help (from teachers and other people whom we can trust)

Bullies

  • Learn how to grow up
  • Learn how to make real friends
  • Learn to laugh with not at people
  • Seek help on how not to bully

Evaluation
At the end, a quick gathering together of impressions of the SD experienced produced the following: We learnt about other people’s experience;

It was good to hear other students’ experience;

We see people in a different light, including bullies;

I found people agree with me – this builds confidence;

Participation in the SD has been a confidence builder;

I have been helped not to be scared any more and to help others;

We saw that bullies want something we have (eg real friends) – it
is not just about superficial things like clothes;

We have learnt that we should not leave the situation for ages before tackling it;

We learnt how people cope with bullying;

We learnt that enjoyment and having real friends helps;

We have gone into the topic in greater depth, the time has gone quickly, we recognise that we need time to think and reflect.