30 March 2019

Post-Election School Bullying

Welcome back. Here’s one of those “consequences” of the 2016 presidential election that you might not have expected: increased middle-school bullying and teasing.

Teachers talked about it and there were media reports. Now it’s been documented by researchers from the Universities of Missouri and Virginia.

Virginia School Climate Surveys
The researchers focused on Virginia, using data from school climate surveys completed by some 155,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Cover photograph of 2017 Virginia Secondary School
Climate Survey Technical Report
(see P.S. for link).
The surveys defined bullying as the repeated use of one’s strength or popularity to purposely injure, threaten or embarrass someone. Fights or arguments between two students who are about the same strength or popularity were not considered bullying. For teasing, the survey excluded friendly teasing that did not hurt someone’s feelings.

The surveys asked students the frequency (“never” to “more than once per week”) that they had been bullied or bullied others, categorizing it as physical, verbal, social and cyber bullying.

Students were asked if they “strongly disagreed” to “strongly agreed” that students in their schools were teased about clothing or physical appearance and teased or put down because of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. They were also asked if there was a lot of teasing about sexual topics.

Relating Surveys to Election Results
Survey responses were mapped onto 2016 presidential election results for each school district’s locality, controlling for previous bullying and teasing rates, socioeconomic status, population density and percentage of white student enrollment.

The 2013 and 2015 surveys showed no meaningful differences in middle-school student bullying and teasing rates between Democratic and Republican localities.

In contrast, the 2017 survey found bullying rates were 18% higher in localities where voters had favored Donald Trump compared to those that had favored Hillary Clinton. Student reports of peers being teased or put down because of their race or ethnicity were 9% higher in localities that voted Republican.

Viewed by number of voters rather than by bullying rate, a 10% increase in Republican voters corresponded to an 8% increase in bullying and a 5% increase in teasing because of race or ethnicity.

Wrap Up
To be clear, the study results reflect correlation not cause and effect; they do not indicate that support for Trump caused increased bullying. They do, however, offer data points for the concerns voiced by teachers nationwide about bullying following the presidential election.

Most important, the researchers caution that educators, parents and politicians need to be wary of the potential impact of public events, campaign rhetoric and people’s behavior on children. Thanks for stopping by.

Study of bullying and teasing after presidential election in Educational Researcher journal: journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.3102/0013189X18820291
Article on study on ScienceDaily website: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190109090917.htm
Report of 2017 Virginia Secondary School Climate Survey: curry.virginia.edu/uploads/resourceLibrary/2017_Middle_School_Climate_Survey_Technical_Report_completed_6-26-17.pdf

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.

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