A controversial flier sent home with Zeman Elementary fifth-graders this week about “turning bullies into buddies” appears to follow the philosophy of a controversial national bullying expert.
Izzy Kalman, a school psychologist, promotes using “basic psychological principles” and role-play to deal with bullying behavior, rather than creating school bullying policies that he says turns administrators into law enforcement that must protect children from each other.
Kalman runs a program called “Bullies2Buddies, Golden Rule System,” and advice on his website is very similar to that on the flier sent home with Zeman students.
In an interview, Kalman said he's been fighting the anti-bullying movement for 15 years because their approach doesn't work. His, he said, does.
But he said the flier sent to Zeman students doesn't accurately reflect his method.
"It's impossible to understand what I teach based on that flier," he said. "It's bare-bones, it’s a skeleton. The intentions were good but it's not the proper way to present what I teach."
Brook Gibbs, a youth motivational speaker who gave presentations at seven Lincoln Public Schools middle schools this fall, as well as high school and middle school parent groups, has collaborated with Kallman but no longer does.
He said he does not espouse the rules in the flier and supports encourages students to reach out to teachers.
Gibbs also spoke to LPS middle and high school parent groups and at several parochial and area shcools, said LPS Student Services Director Russ Uhing.
According to Gibbs' website, he talks to students about the Golden Rule -- treating others as you want to be treated -- as a basis for learning resiliency and skills to deal with bullies and conflict.
Uhing said it is unfair to confuse Gibbs’ message during his talks with the flier, which presented some ideas not followed by LPS, including advising students not to tell on bullies because it makes them want to retaliate. The flier asked, "Would we keep our friends if we tattled on them?"
Gibbs’ message, Uhing said, was about empowerment and resilience and that students should believe in themselves.
“I really hope we don’t confuse those two messages,” he said.
In addition to advising students not to tell on bullies, the Zeman flier offered eight other rules for dealing with bullies, including not getting angry, not being a sore loser, and treating the mean person as if they were trying to help you.
Parents upset about the flier took to Facebook and called school officials, and LPS officials apologized and said it was not approved to be sent home. School officials did not elaborate on how the fliers ended up in the folders, but said they were reviewing the approval process.
LPS educators teach conflict resolution, but also stress that if the bullying continues, children should tell an adult, Uhing said.
Susan Swearer, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and nationally recognized bullying expert who has worked with LPS, said the district does a good job of training staff in bullying prevention and intervention.
“We certainly tell kids and youth that if they’re being bullied, harassed or intimidated, they need to talk to someone, a trusted adult, teacher, parent or counselor,” she said.
But it’s also important to talk to students about the difference between telling and tattling, she said, and the difference between one isolated negative comment and a pattern of harassment.
The district has a bullying policy, but LPS doesn’t use a prescribed curriculum, including Kalman’s method, Uhing said. Instead, individual schools create plans and school goals.
Swearer said she heard very positive comments about Gibbs’ presentations even though she didn’t see any of them.
And generally, she said, she recommends schools use evidence and research-based programs, which Kalman’s “Bullies2Buddies” method is not.
LPS, she said, uses many of the research-based approaches and does a better job than many other schools, she said.
“LPS uses many of these approaches, and the district has consistently engaged in research and best practices for dealing with bullying,” she said.
As for the flier, Swearer said it appears well-intentioned, but there is no one set of rules kids can follow when being bullied.
“Bullying is a very complex social relationship problem,” she said. “There is no set of ‘rules’ that can govern how kids and adults should respond to each bullying incident.”