Reaching an American Consensus: Reactions to the Special Issue on School Bullying

Article excerpt

Abstract. Highlights of this special issue on bullying are presented. The compendium of research reviewed and data presented set the stage for future research to attend to issues of definition, measurement, longitudinal methodology, prevention/intervention, policy, and recognition of important contexts for the occurrence and maintenance of bullying behavior. Data are presented to inform readers about current state and national policy and practices that have developed as a response to high profile youth violence thought to have its roots in bullying behavior. Finally, it is emphasized that future prevention and intervention efforts in American schools will depend on evidence-based practices that are grounded in a common definition of bullying.

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Bullying is now recognized as a common form of victimization on American school campuses and a significant school safety problem (Nansel et al., 2001). This special issue of School Psychology Review provides thoughtful conceptual and practical information for school psychologists, who can play a central role in the schools' response to this growing concern about school bullying. In this reaction article, we review and expand on topics discussed, particularly as they relate to the American school context. Reaching a national consensus on school bullying represents a significant challenge that will require balancing needs across researchers, educators, and public policy makers. Whatever the effectiveness of specific bully prevention programs, the national effort to minimize the negative effects of bullying will need to address fundamental matters related to the definition of school bullying and the translation of best research practices into public policy and educational practice at the school site level. We suggest that clarity on matters of definition is of the utmost importance. First, it is needed for the scientific purpose of having precision in what is being studied. Second, it is needed because a lack of a common understanding about what constitutes bullying could result in a confusing array of national, state, and local policies and responses to the problems created by bullying.

Contributions of Special Issue Articles

Espelage and Swearer

Espelage and Swearer (2003) set the stage for other contributors to this volume with their thorough review of bullying literature. They effectively argue that bullying research has reached a critical stage where future in investigations should capitalize on the lessons learned about the definition and measurement of bullying, the nature of gender differences, and the varied topography of the bully-victim relationship. They set forward the challenge of how best to define and measure bullying; the extent of that challenge was demonstrated by the varied definitions and methods of articles in this special issue. Perhaps most important is the vision that pushes researchers in this area to recognize the importance of contexts; for example, familial, peer, school structures as determinants, correlates, and perpetuators of bullying behavior. Whereas improved definitions and measurements of bullying will help define the individual behavior, determining the contextual influences will require careful and creative research methodologies.

Rodkin and Hodges

Rodkin and Hodges (2003) frame their discussion of bullying in the context of peer ecology and school culture. In particular, their emphasis on identifying and understanding "popular bullies" takes an important step toward the recognition that not all bullies fit the profile of children who are socially marginalized or deviant. Rodkin and Hodges's article discusses a type of bully who is well-liked among his or her peer group and is thus better able to attract others to engage in their bullying behaviors. These discussions emphasize the complex influence of peer ecology, the diversity of children who engage in bullying, and varying motivations and functions that bullying may serve. …