Bullying and its 21st Century manifestation, cyberbullying, is a very serious issue that has only recently begun to be addressed from a behavioral perspective, and certainly recent suicides by teenagers associated with bullying have spurred the current discussion about ways to stop it. That provides the basis for a fine thesis. Bullying is a problem that must be addressed. But, that’s about all one gets out of the attached essay. And, unfortunately for the author of the essay, the linkage between bullying and the level of civil discourse in the nation’s capital isn’t just tenuous; it’s nonexistent. References to infantile and sometimes morally corrosive behavior on the part of radio personalities and politicians detracts from the essay’s central message – that bullying is problem that must be addressed – and undermines its validity. Bullying has been around since the dawn of mankind; Rush Limbaugh’s only been a pervasive and divisive presence on one particular radio network for a few decades. Additionally, as bad as the tone is on Capitol Hill these days, and it is bad, the truth is that it has never actually been very good to begin with, especially in the House of Representatives (the Senate has traditionally maintained a higher level of decorum). In short, the essay writer’s linkage between the heated tone of political debate to bullying is completely without foundation. After all, how many elementary, middle and high school bullies follow political debates in Washington, D.C.
Summarizing the essay is not difficult. It is short and basically constitutes a summary. It says that bullying is a deadly serious problem, the introduction of social networking has added a new and especially pernicious element to the problem of bullying by providing for anonymity on the part of the bully while greatly expanding the number of people to whom the message can be sent. It adds that political discourse in the United States has degraded to the point that it is adversely affecting the behavior of the nation’s youth, and children should be taught that bullying is wrong. The main claim is that bullying constitutes aberrational behavior that should not be tolerated. The author does not actually support his or her claim. He or she states “facts” and provides only limited anecdotal evidence to support the main thesis.
Critiquing the essay can begin with some of the points raised above regarding the history of bullying or aggressive behavior relative to the recent development of social networking and the Internet, and relative to the history of political discourse in the United States. The essay draws a very specious connection between radio diatribes by politically extreme pundits and teenage or even college bullying. It is possible to point to the homophobic comments made by right-wing personalities and the dehumanizing treatment of homosexual students on college campuses, but that says nothing about the far greater problem of “routine” elementary and high school bullying that involves children who do not listen to Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. Most elementary school and high school bullies fall within one of two categories, and many fall within both categories. The first category is environmental. The child who is bullying others may be acting out aggressively and violently in direct response to the highly dysfunctional environment in which he lives. The parents may be divorced, or together but mired in poverty. There may be substance abuse problems at home, perhaps, alcoholic parents. Dysfunctional environments create dysfunctional children, and some of those children turn into bullies.
The second category involves a more difficult to identify physiological problem that manifests itself in aggressive, bullying behavior. In other words, the child’s brain is simply “wired” a certain way. Psychotic behavior emanating from underlying physical problems affecting the human brain is sufficiently common that psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists and others spend much time and money studying the brains of individuals with aberrant behavior to locate the source of that behavior with the goal of correcting it through the use of medications and behavioral therapies.
Identifying strengths and weaknesses in the essay, then, can draw from the above discussion. Strengths can include:
Addresses the wide-spread problem of bullying and the effects such behavior can have on vulnerable youths: the essay admirably sketches out the problem of bullying, including cyberbullying, and emphasizes the imperative of addressing such deviant behavior on a society-wide basis;
Notes the influence on susceptible children of the “mob” mentality that convinces many children to go along with socially-deviant activities like “flash mobs” that attack vulnerable people. The author correctly states that acceptance of certain “social norms” by teenagers can lead them and others to engage in destructive behavior.
Emphasizes the increased scale of the problem of bullying in the age of social networking: The essay appropriately focuses on the relatively new problem of cyberbullying and provides examples of real-life cases where victims committed suicide after being taunted online.
Weaknesses can include the following:
Draws tenuous linkage between political vituperation and bullying: Bullying has been a problem for thousands of years. The level of political discourse in the United States is not good, but it cannot be blamed for the phenomenon of bullying. Bullies act out for reasons having little or nothing to do with the tone of language employed by newspaper and radio pundits the audiences for which do not meet the demographic of the average elementary or high school bully.
Uses language like “abnormal” and “weird” to describe bullies: Bullying is both a sociological and physiological phenomenon. Writing aberrant behavior off as “abnormal” and “weird” displays not even a superficial understanding of the subject matter, without which addressing the problem in a constructive manner is impossible. Bullying is deviant behavior, but many of those engaged in such activities as bullying are not responsive to tactics that include "being tuned out" and labeled as “loudmouth bores.”