Monday, July 09, 2012

New Non-fiction: Sexual Harassment and Bullying

Sexual Harassment and Bullying: A Guide to Keeping Kids Safe and Holding Schools Accountable, by Susan L. Strauss

This is a sober and comprehensive overview of a subject that appears often in the news these days. Those stories are often about incidents of youth suicide as the result of bullying and sexual harassment in schools (the terms are often used interchangeably). The reporting is usually emotionally charged and cursory, seldom delving into the details of the causes of this behavior, the specific laws that may have been violated, or the design and effectiveness of school and organizational policies designed to prevent bullying and sexual harassment. This book takes a closer look. It is directed primarily to parents, but it would be a useful tool for educators and others tasked with developing and enforcing policies created to prevent bullying and sexual harassment, particularly in schools and organizations that serve young people.

Strauss tries to define more rigorously some of the terms that get used so loosely in current public discussions on this issue, and in particular to make clear the similarities and important differences between sexual harassment and bullying. There is an extensive discussion of the relevant body of law that applies to these behaviors, instructive case studies, and summations of recent research on individual topics. Cyberharassment and cyberbullying are included in the discussion. She describes the immediate and long-term impact of harassment and bullying on students. Strauss finds that the causes (and frequent toleration) of these behaviors are located in our culture at large. Some may take exception to her analysis here, but it is hard to disagree with the argument that school behaviors do not take place in an isolated and hermetic environment, that school culture is often a microcosm of the social and cultural values prevalent in “adult” culture.

The purpose of this book is to let parents know their rights and those of their children in the school environment, and to provide specific plans for action and engagement of parents with their local schools in designing policies to prevent this kind of behavior. There are many practical suggestions and action plans here. The book also provides a guide to how parents can hold schools accountable when the schools fail to act to protect their child. In addition to the standard index, the apparatus of this useful book includes a glossary of terms, an extensive bibliography, a substantial list of website resources, contact information for national, state, and regional civil rights offices, and contact information, state by state, for finding out about relevant state laws and statutes. This is a valuable and timely resource.

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