To Teach As Jesus Did:
Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee
“Bullying: A Catholic Schools’ Perspective”
Sadly, a day rarely passes that each of us isn’t brought face to face, either through the media or through more personal encounter, with an instance of physical, verbal, or psychological bullying. In fact, just as I am writing this blog, a message has popped up entitled, “Mean Girls: Combat Female Bullying in Your Classroom.” Admittedly, it’s tempting, especially for us educational veterans, to dismiss such hurtful behavior as “that’s life” or “sticks and stones may break my bones…” or, in the case of students, “kids will be kids.” But bullying creates injuries with potentially permanent scars.
In Bullying: A Spiritual Crisis (2003, Chalice Press), author Ronald Cram explores the underlying issues of violence, fear, and lack of healthy interdependence that contribute to a culture of bullying. We live, furthermore, in a society that accepts and typically promotes this culture by encouraging responses of ridicule to disagreement, retaliation to hurt, and cynicism to gentleness and humility. Forgiveness is frequently perceived as weakness.
How, then, do we attempt to teach a countercultural response to bullying?
Countless approaches exist and are implemented in public and private schools everywhere to address this supremely important issue. In the many Catholic elementary and secondary schools I’ve visited this year, anti-bullying programs, policies, posters, and pledges are standard aspects of their cultures and environments.
St. Katharine Drexel School in Beaver Dam, for example, bases its anti-bullying approach and Code of Christian Conduct on the belief of Pope John Paul II that “community is at the heart of all Catholic education, not simply as a concept to be taught, but as a reality to be lived.” Students and faculty are expected to follow rules and practices that demonstrate the four Cornerstone Behaviors of respect, responsibility, honesty, and kindness. St. Paul School in Genesee Depot has as its motto, “We are Buddies, NOT Bullies,” and aims to proactively address bullying by emphasizing nine positive behaviors such as “listening to what others have to say” and “holding [one’s] temper.”
School after school throughout our Archdiocese is implementing specific approaches such as these, with “No Bully Zone” reminders visible throughout classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, gyms, and other public spaces. All such efforts are aimed at cultivating respect for the rights and dignity of others in light of the Gospel, Catholic Social Teachings, and the lives of saints—both past and present.
One pastor, when asked by a parent whether his school has an anti-bullying program, responded without hesitation, “Yes, we do. It’s held weekly, and it’s called ‘the Mass.’” Indeed, even as we conscientiously implement research-based programs and practices to foster respect and scrupulously deal with behavioral infractions, our primary and consistent responsibility as Catholic educators is to model the Gospel injunction to “love one another” through our own lives and to teach that message “both when convenient and inconvenient” through instruction, service, and prayer.
During this Lent, the Church’s springtime, we renew our efforts to teach as Jesus did in the anti-bullying ways of respect, humility, forgiveness, and peace.
Kathleen A. Cepelka, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools