Five Steps to End School Bullying: Change the Context (Essay 6 of 6)

Bullying is not the only problem with schooling, but it is one that literally brings violence into children’s lives, and in worst case scenarios it ends lives. In this essay series we laid out five actionable steps that schools need to take to end school bullying. First, schools must incorporate age-mixing as a means to reduce hierarchy and competition, and increase empathy.[1] Age-mixing in three or four year batches is helpful but not sufficient. For maximum benefit, schools should consider age-mixing from Kindergarten through 12th grade, and perhaps even more broadly than that. Second, schools must eliminate competition, starting with grades.[2] Grades do not aid in the learning process, but they can shut it down, and they almost always create an unhealthy rank ordering of students. This ordering ultimately leads to various forms of bullying. Third, schools must give students full agency over their learning.[3] Allowing students to pick from some electives or to determine the sequence in which they learn something is not sufficient. The adults must be willing to step aside so that students feel as though they are in control of their lives, which lessens the likelihood that they will try to control the lives of others. Fourth, schools must respect their students.[4] This requires that schools commit to the principles of anti-oppression, trust students to take full control over their learning, and avoid manipulating student behavior through punishments and rewards. And fifth, schools must promote empathy in their communities.[5] They can promote empathy by embracing diversity, modeling empathetic behavior, and tearing down hierarchy within the schooling community.

In this series we have pointed out how these five steps promote superior learning and academic achievement, as well. That schools continue to reject the five steps to end bullying, when those steps would also improve the quality of education, raises some serious questions about the motives of the various stakeholders in the traditional schooling industry, both public and private. What could possibly be so important to traditional school administrators, school boards, politicians, accreditation agencies, and content providers that they would refuse to advocate for and take the steps necessary to build intellectually vibrant environments free of bullying? Part of the answer can be found in the realization that the bullying in schools does not come only from other students, it comes from the adults, as well.[6] Such bullying can range from a vice principal berating a student for violating a rule to a teacher embarrassing a student for not knowing the answer to a question, and in some of the more backward schools in America, to corporal punishment or the threat of criminal charges against students. 

So what is a parent to do when their children are trapped in schools where the adults bully the students and where peer bullying is promoted directly or indirectly through the practices and structures of schooling? Politicians, bureaucrats, and school administrators can talk about school reforms that will help reduce bullying over time, but parents do not have the luxury of waiting for years when their children are being subjected to environments of bullying in the here and now. Fortunately, parents can do for their children overnight in one simple step what tens of thousands of schools refuse to do by way of the steps we laid out. Parents can change the context.

If the waiters at your favorite restaurant made fun of the way you ate your food every time you went there for dinner, you would stop going to that restaurant. If you found out your trainer was telling everyone at the local gym what your weight is and how you are too lazy to get it down, you would stop using that trainer. If your neighbor’s dog attacked you every time you went over to their house, you would stop going to their house. We know that if something is hurting us that we should remove it from our lives.[7] We change the context. Yet when our children are being bullied at school, the idea of removing our children from school is unfortunately considered by too many to be an unnecessary overreaction that does more harm than good. Instead, society tells us to teach children how to cope with the bullying, to work with the school staff to find ways to limit the incidence of bullying, and to lobby the school board to address the problem of school bullying.  

Life is far too short and far too precious to leave children to suffer in schools, especially when we know that pulling them out of school will eliminate real harm from their lives. Change the context. Identify a local alternative school that has incorporated the five steps we have laid out. Change the context. If you don’t live near such a school, move. Change the context. If you cannot afford to attend an alternative school, downsize your life so that you can, or homeschool or unschool. Change the context. In doing so you will allow your children to recognize their personal worth, to feel in control their own lives, and to lead healthier and happier lives. As a bonus, your relationship with your children will improve considerably. They will recognize that you are on their side, proactively working to help them enjoy life. Change the context.


(1)   http://www.abrome.com/blog/2016/10/3/five-steps-to-end-school-bullying-age-mixing-essay-1-of-6  

(2)  http://www.abrome.com/blog/end-bullying-collaboration-not-competition  

(3)   http://www.abrome.com/blog/2016/11/25/five-steps-to-end-school-bullying-agency-essay-3-of-6   

(4)   http://www.abrome.com/blog/2016/11/29/five-steps-to-end-school-bullying-culture-and-philosophy-essay-4-of-6

(5)   http://www.abrome.com/blog/2016/12/19/five-steps-to-end-school-bullying-empathy-essay-5-of-6

(6)   Unfortunately, the media and education schools largely restrict their focus on bullying to that committed by students, not by educators. However, the bullying that comes from adults, the ones young people are told to trust, can be far more pernicious. This has parallels to how the media and education schools often focus on students and their families to explain away academic shortcomings, instead of turning the focus on the adults who run the system. Here is a report from Australia that provides examples of how adults often bully children in schools:  https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/emotional-abuse-hidden-form-maltreatment#sch.

(7)   We are not suggesting that standing up to bullies or trying to influence change in systems is not a worthwhile endeavor. In fact, the course we are suggesting in this essay will force schools to address bullying.

Five Steps to End School Bullying: Age-Mixing (Essay 1 of 6)

A 2013 CDC Study found that 19.6% of youths had been bullied on school property in the previous 12 months, and 14.8% had been electronically bullied.[1] In a 2011 National Crime Victimization Survey, close to 1.2 million students reported that someone was hurtful to them at school once a week or more. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, and bully victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. And while many parents focus on the violent bullying that is more often associated with boys, bullied girls are at an even higher risk of suicide.

When we launched Abrome, we believed that our model of emancipated learning would most strongly appeal to families that wanted their children to gain entry into the world’s top colleges and universities, without having to sacrifice their health and happiness.[2] However, it quickly became apparent that school bullying was the primary driver for the plurality of families that looked into Abrome. This subset of families wanted to end the misery associated with schooling. They were desperate for an alternative to schooling.

Bullying does not have to be a rite of passage for young people. There are a variety of factors that drive bullying, and educators and parents are able to influence, mitigate, and alter those factors to limit or eliminate bullying. This is the first of six essays that will lay out how we can end school bullying.

The first step to eliminate school bullying is to eliminate age segregation in schools. Unfortunately, by their very nature, schools segregate children from society. From the ages of 5 to 18, the expectation is that children disappear from society for the bulk of the day so that they can be schooled. While the motivations behind segregating children from society to school them were a mixture of noble and nefarious, the practical reality of segregation was an unnatural extension of childhood; an infantilization of young people.[3] While educators and parents cannot easily change the way young people are segregated from society, they can substantially change the segregation that exists within schools.

There has been ample research that shows that age-mixed classrooms produce substantial academic benefits to students.[4] However, less publicized is the benefit of age-mixing as an antidote to bullying. Age-mixing is powerful for what it brings into a classroom, and what it leaves out.

By mixing older children with younger children there is an injection of empathy into the classroom. Older children are drawn to serve as mentors and protectors of younger children, and they quickly hone in on the well-being of the younger children. This empathy also brings a level of calm into a classroom, no matter how visually and audibly chaotic it may seem. As Peter Gray points out, “the presence of little kids has a pacifying effect on big kids. Even when they’re not interacting.”

What age-mixing leaves out of the classroom is the social pressure to assert dominance over peers. Without younger and older children in a classroom, there is a natural tendency for young people to introduce new forms of hierarchy. This often results in unhealthy and abusive relationships among peers wherein family wealth, familial connections, athleticism, attractiveness, and brute force (among other factors) becomes the basis for social hierarchy. And the way these hierarchies are often validated is through mechanisms of bullying, which quickly and clearly highlight who is at the bottom of the hierarchy.   

It is worth noting, however, that age-mixed classrooms are not sufficient to stop bullying. First, there are other factors that will be addressed in the following essays. Second, age-mixing in two to four year bands is not nearly as beneficial as age-mixing between very young children and older adolescents. Because children mature emotionally, mentally, and physically at different rates, multi-year groupings of children may at times mimic what single-year groupings look and act like. A wider range of age-mixing is necessary to fully extract the empathy and concern that older children will have for younger children. Schools in our society are generally bound by the 5- to 18-year-old age range, and that should be considered the minimum range of age-mixing for a school. Ideally, our children would be able to interact with people outside of the 5- to 18-year-old range, on a daily basis, with the opportunity to regularly interact with infants and retirees, alike.[5] 

Age-mixing is a necessary step to effectively end school bullying. The greater the range of age-mixing, the better. 

1.   This study covered only high school students. The incidence of bullying is higher among middle school students.

2.   Anecdotally, we have observed that the families most focused on elite college placement seem to be believe that sacrificing the happiness and health of their children is a necessary trade-off for admission success.

3.   For example, one of the drivers behind compulsory schooling laws was an effort to protect children from child labor, which I would argue was a noble effort. Unfortunately, a nearly universal driver behind compulsory schooling was the attempt to condition or indoctrinate young people to become good citizens and loyal servants of the church or state.

4.   One of the most appealing features of the growing micro-school movement is its eagerness to embrace mix-aged classrooms. For micro-schools, this is often a necessity as they do not have the scale to have break out students by year group.

5.   In fact, despite the large anti-bullying industry that has popped up to help insulate schools from the liability associated with their bully-infested environments, the only intervention that has had a substantial impact on bullying is one that brings babies into the classroom.

What Abrome is Trying to Accomplish

“A society free of compulsory or coercive schooling, where young people are celebrated for their contributions to society, and where they all have the confidence to believe that they can improve the human condition.” [1]

Abrome was not envisioned because we believed that schooling could be administered more effectively; Abrome was envisioned because we know our civilization can be better. We live in an unjust, hierarchical, authoritarian society where human rights are violated and human capital is destroyed on a mass scale. Despite the tremendous progress that we have made economically and technologically over the past century, we have not made similar strides when it comes to expanding the freedoms and dignity of all people. [2]

Of all the levers that we could pull to radically improve the human condition, none comes close to the abolition of compulsory, coercive, traditional schooling. Schooling is not the only problem in society, but it is one of the most significant ones, and it perpetuates or amplifies virtually all of the other problems in society.

Schooling injects injustice into children’s lives at an early age. It strips children of their freedom and free will, and replaces it with strict rules on conduct, manner, thinking, and beliefs. In schools, children are voiceless. Sure, they may be allowed to talk, if they raise their hands, or at recess, if recess still exists, but their words carry no weight. Adults dictate to them anything adults think is of consequence.

Schooling introduces hierarchy in ways the family or church cannot. For most children, school is the first place they learn that there is a steep hierarchy in society, and that the assumed place for children is at the bottom. With the passing of time, so long as they obediently stay in their place, they can hope to slowly move up, one step at a time, one year at a time.

Schooling stamps authoritarianism onto the soul of children. It becomes obvious on its face that the teacher has complete control over the children in the classroom. And that the principal has complete control over the children in the school. There is no consensus, or shared responsibility. What the person in charge says is true; it is law. Those who question, resist, or rebel are punished quickly.

Schools prepare young people to become compliant members of the status quo.  They are not educated; they are indoctrinated. They are not celebrated; they are simply measured. They are not trusted; they are managed. They learn to keep their mouths shut when they see injustice, and they are encouraged to go along to get along. If they are particularly compliant, and they figure out how to ingratiate themselves with their masters, they can even hope to rise to the top so that they can be the ones controlling others, whether it be as a teacher, a police officer, a corporate executive, or a politician.

By encouraging compliance, and allowing young people to think that they can only make a difference by moving along the approved and preordained paths prescribed to them, schools perpetuate and amplify the injustices already present in our society. It gives power to those already in power, and makes powerless those who come to believe there are no other ways to improve their world.      

Through Abrome we aspire to radically alter the way society operates. We will free young people so that they can lead remarkable lives, fully confident in themselves and their ability to change the world for the better, with a support network that will encourage them along the way, as opposed to pulling them down. And just as importantly, we will validate this as a superior alternative to the status quo. Instead of placing children into destructive schools, it will become apparent that allowing them to be free actually increases the health, happiness, and future outcomes of young people. We will prove that we do not have to sacrifice the youth of children, nor do we have to make tradeoffs between health, happiness, and achievement, for the sake of their future.

Over the coming weeks we will highlight how the Abrome model is working to invalidate the traditional model of schooling so that parents will pull their children out of these schools, and instead allow their children to attend truly alternative schools, or to homeschool or unschool. We will write about how we eliminate the harmful structures and practices of schooling, and we will also share how Abrome provides Learners with the space and tools necessary to improve the human condition.


1. http://www.abrome.com/mission/

2. Although the rate of economic growth and technological innovation over the past century is unparalleled in human history, we have only scratched the surface of human potential. If humans were respected, freed from oppression, and empowered to participate in all aspects of economy, we would be significantly more advanced, prosperous, and egalitarian. Purely on economic terms, Libertarian L. Neil Smith claims that we would be eight times more wealthy if we were free. http://lneilsmith.org/utopian.html  He is not alone in postulating how much wealthier we would be if free, as many others have made similar arguments. His estimate, however, is short by orders of magnitude.