Modest Proposals

Deterring Bullies: The “Karate Kid” Program

May 05, 2012

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Deterring Bullies: The “Karate Kid” Program

The Obama Administration has declared war on school bullies. The Department of Education recently issued guidelines to prevent what Secretary Arne Duncan called bullying’s devastating impact on schools. Conferences have been called, grants awarded, at least eight other federal departments have joined the crusade, and 45 states have already passed anti-bullying laws.

No matter that this enterprise is blatantly unconstitutional and guaranteed to fail given the nation’s 100,000 K-12 schools with 55 million students. Countless schools struggle to impart basic literacy. No matter that this project will generate more noxious, nearly impossible-to-implement rules and spark yet more litigation. And who cares that financially pressed school districts will have to hire more drones to create thousands of little police states called “schools”?

So where’s the conservative outrage? After all, the anti-bullying campaign embodies every aspect of government gone wild. Silence.

Today’s conservatives are terrified of opposing policies that ostensibly rescue any officially certified victim. What sort of Neanderthal wants to live in a world where classmates taunt an effeminate little seventh-grade boy who dresses as Elizabeth Taylor? No modern conservative is that heartless.

“Teaching deterrence would be far more effective—and less expensive—than trying to train bullies to ‘respect differences.’”

Cowardice acknowledged, let me suggest a more practical “conservative” anti-bullying campaign, one that will be just as virtuous (and politically alluring) as Obama’s scheme but will promote self-reliance and individual initiative over Washington’s heavy-handed intervention. Here are the key elements.

Begin with the premise that the first and most effective line of defense against the schoolyard bully is deterrence: “Hit me and you’ll be sorry.” To this end, the Department of Education should suggest that schools K-12 instruct students for at least 100 hours (with a tough certification) in self-defense, a policy that will also provide weight-reducing physical exercise for millions of sedentary kids. This is the Karate Kid strategy. Programs might include boxing and wrestling plus more exotic martial arts such as aikido, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and judo. Schools might outsource this responsibility by awarding scholarships to local martial-arts academies. No need for a million Bruce Lees (or young John Derbyshires); rather, bullies will now realize that their victim has been trained in self-defense, so they’d better be careful.

The next step is an updated Big Brother (or Sister) program so victims can invite ferocious outsiders to level the playing field. This idea came to me years back when a lawyer friend who specialized in petty criminals asked a client (the local drug kingpin) to help protect his often bullied son in a diverse junior high school. The very next day the school toughs conspicuously kowtowed before the mild-mannered, pint-sized, “defenseless” Jewish boy.


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