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Abel Cedeno escorted by police / New York Daily News

Psychology is dedicated to the betterment of the psychological health of society and its members. The anti-bullying psychology has accomplished the opposite. It has resulted in a growing bullying epidemic while wreaking havoc on people’s personalities, instilling a self-defeating victim mentality that avoids personal responsibility and placing blame on society for one’s own horrific actions. Now, even when we commit murder, the most egregious of all crimes, it is scientifically legitimate to blame society.

One of the highest-profile bullying stories of 2017 was the fatal stabbing of 15-year-old Matthew McRee by 18-year-old Abel Cedeno in a Bronx school on Sept. 27. Cedeno also seriously wounded a second student, Ariane LaBoy, 16.

The leading psychologists in the bullying field have successfully lobbied for the passage of school anti-bullying laws. The naïve belief is that by making bullying illegal, children will stop engaging in it. The idea of an anti-bullying law is so seductive that even school administrators, who should know better, believed that it would be good for them.

What people fail to realize is that an anti-bullying law does not make bullying magically disappear. If a law could do that, society would have passed laws against bullying in all domains of life and we would be living in Utopia.

No, anti-bullying laws don’t make bullying disappear. What they actually do is hold schools legally responsible for making bullying disappear. So if their child is bullied, parents don’t sue the alleged bullies. They sue the school. Thanks to the field of bullying psychology, the social problems of children are now legally the fault of the school.

The psychologists who have fought for these laws know that their programs have dismal success rates in reducing bullying. The bar for effective interventions has become so low that researchers have come to see a mere 20 percent reduction in bullying as a great success. These psychologists don’t know how to solve the problem of bullying, but they demand that schools be held responsible for solving it.

One of the basic tenets of the bullying psychology is that other people (bullies) control the way we feel. Thus, the age-old wisdom of “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” has been replaced with …”but words kill me/scar me forever/cause permanent psychological damage”.

While it is a well-established psychological principle that social and emotional well-being is dependent upon an internal locus of control, the bullying psychology fosters an external locus of control.

A second basic tenet is that children have a fundamental human right to go to school without anyone bullying them (an idea initiated by Professor Dan Olweus, the founder of the field of bullying psychology and championed by all his followers). This makes it the school’s fault if students bully each other.

Shortly after the stabbing, the parents of Matthew McRee announced a US$25 million lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education and the NYC Police Department for having failed to prevent the tragedy. While I have argued in the past that it is unfair to sue the city for violence related to bullying, it is at least understandable that the family of the victim would sue. Why shouldn’t they? If the law allows them to, it would be foolish for them not to.

Even more absurd is that the perpetrator is now suing the school as well. As reported on WABC:

[Abel Cedeno’s] civil attorney filed a notice of claim that a civil suit is being filed against the New York City school system. Cedeno and his family believe this tragedy could have been prevented if teachers and principal had done more to stop the alleged bullying that preceded the stabbing.

Please be aware that the claim is not that the school “did nothing” to stop Abel from being bullied. It’s that the school “did not do enough.” What everyone is failing to recognize is that when schools do what they are mandated to do about bullying, the bullying tends to get worse.

Just because the victim claims he committed the stabbings because he was bullied doesn't mean that this case is profoundly different from most other killings. Usually, when people kill someone else on purpose, it is because they felt abused by that person. If being bullied is a legally legitimate defense for murder, most murders are legally legitimate.

Also be aware that the idea that schools should be held responsible for bullying is not based on any scientific evidence. Psychologists are expected to base their recommendations on evidence, but there is no evidence, either empirical or logical, that holding schools responsible for bullying is an effective solution to bullying. The evidence indicates the opposite, as even the most effective of school anti-bullying laws have a failure rate of 80 percent.

But the psychologists leading the bullying field are not acting as scientists. They are acting as social justice warriors. Social justice warfare is not an evidence-based activity. It is a political activity, based on the belief that it is society’s responsibility to provide individuals with a life in which no one is abusive to them. But until psychologists figure out how to accomplish such an idyllic goal, it is unscientific to demand that society accomplish it.

Anti-bullying laws are based on the groundless belief that if schools are sued for failing to make bullying stop, then they will take bullying more seriously and make it stop.

If suing schools will make them become more responsible, then perhaps we should be suing the psychologists that have irresponsibly promoted their anti-bullying advice despite the evidence that their advice is likely to fail for the vast majority of bullied children and may even make the bullying worse. Then maybe they will take scientific thinking more seriously and stop promoting political social justice agendas under the guise of science.

Izzy Kalman has been a school psychologist specializing in bullying for four decades, and authors a Psychology Today blog, Resilience to Bullying. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resilience-bullying

Michael Cook likes bad puns, bushwalking and black coffee. He did a BA at Harvard University in the US where it was good for networking, but moved to Sydney where it wasn’t. He also did a PhD on an obscure corner of Australian literature. He has worked as a book editor and magazine editor and has published articles in magazines and newspapers in the US, the UK and Australia. Currently he is the editor of BioEdge, a newsletter about bioethics, and MercatorNet. He also writes a bioethics column for Australasian Science and contributes occasional op-ed pieces to newspapers and websites in the US, UK and Australia.