Soapbox Saturday – Review: Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon

Hi guys, Rose here. Today for the Soapbox Saturday entry, I have a review of Emily Bazelon’s “Sticks and Stones, which I mentioned I’d review in the spectrum of bullying quite some time ago in one of my former Soapbox Saturday entries on bullying. I think the review speaks mostly for itself so I’ll let you guys peruse it on your own. Bullying is a subject I’m passionate about because of my own personal experiences among seeing others subjected to it and it often misinterpreted, so I hope this review, and the book – which I hope you’ll peruse – gives you an eye into that.

Until next entry,

Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and EmpathySticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Initial reflections: This is certainly an interesting eye into the conflict of bullying that happens within schools and examines the roles and conflicts that students, parents, and educators have. The case studies I thought were well presented and balanced, alongside Bazelon’s commentary on the complexities and roots of the problem – spanning from in person bullying confrontations as well as cyberbullying.

There were a few things that I didn’t really see eye-to-eye with, but it didn’t affect what I took away from this work, and I appreciated that Bazelon approaches bullying as the complex problem that it is. I’ll probably have more to say about this in the context of the book later, and some personal reflections to note on the subject of bullying too.

Full review:

All right people, soapbox time. I’m going to start with a particularly strong assertion on the matter of bullying to start the dialogue of my reflections for “Sticks and Stones”, which was a wonderful compilation of information and examples of bullying within our contemporary educational system on a multi-scale level. My commentary comes in consideration with some recent events that happened as of the current date which I’m composing this review – June 7th, 2013. The release date for this book was February 2013, so I’m a bit belated, but I think the reason I waited so long was because I struggled to find words to put to this in extension, while at the same time observing events that had every bit to do with the overarching discussion of bullying dialogue. I could evoke specifics on what recently occurred that had my blood boiling about it, but it’s probably more important to note it as a significant incident in a string of related behaviors that keep going on and on with no end in sight. Reason? It comes down to the fact that there are people who do not understand the nature of their behaviors and seem unwilling to own up or learn from such measures. Such ignorance is one of the reasons why bullying continues to be misinterpreted, misconstrued, used to the point where it loses impact on how significant a problem it is, and the way it needs to be approached.

There are far too many people who take misdefine bullying to extreme points that do absolutely no justice for how it exists as a multiscale problem within our society. Quite often, there are people who view bullying as simple as a disagreement or disparate beliefs or practices that are unique to one’s individual person. On the other end of the scale, there are people who view extreme angles of bullying that interfere with a child/teen’s educational opportunities and social interactions, and the response by those in authoritative power turn a blind eye or, even worse, blame the victim.

In reality, there are multiple parties harmed by the existence of bullying, and Bazelon does an excellent job of illustrating the overarching definitions and approaches in “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.” Presented as a series of case studies within the U.S. school system, this book examines bullying from a multitude of perspectives – from the victims – children, their parents, and family members, from those who are noted as “bullies” themselves and their families, as well as higher administrators in the schools and even those who act as community leaders. It shows a very challenging problem with respect to the attitudes, approaches, and resources that are meant to work against bullying, while at the same time identifying various means to solutions and demonstrations that actually DO work against bullying.

I have to agree with Bazelon in that she makes a note to examine bullying as not simply a problem on the level of examining the victim, but also the approach to dealing with the parties that bully. Reading some of these respective stories broke my heart, from the young lady who only wanted to change schools because the bullying became so bad she had to leave and do her assignments outside of school (because she couldn’t even board the bus without other kids taunting her), to the boy who was bullied because he was gay, to the girl who committed suicide on behalf of bullying and a district that was torn between what to do with those who were seen as culpable in her death. And there were even more stories to consider other than those.

What I ultimately got out of this novel is that to approach bullying, you have to be able to see and approach the multiple angles.

It’s not enough to simply dismiss a victim’s claims as being a product of “kids being kids” or “being too sensitive”.

It’s not enough to simply remove the victim from the situation or punish the bully in a one time stance if that’s just going to escalate the behavior further.

It’s not enough to simply give the “bully” punishment without knowing the context of where that behavior’s coming from and how to change the mentality.

It’s not enough to think that bullies are incapable of changing, growing, and learning from their behaviors, thereby not being able to redeem themselves by being able to address the roots of where their behavior’s originating. (Sometimes with bullying, as Bazelon illustrates in one part of the narrative, the bullying behavior may be reciprocating behaviors that are displayed in the home, such as in the case of domestic abuse, but it’s certainly not the only case.)

It’s not enough to have a lack of resources in schools to be able to deal with both in-person bullying and cyberbullying that may occur on campus or outside the campus to the point where it interferes with one’s education or life pursuits.

Bazelon keeps the dialogue relevant to education and the problems among kids and teens, but I think this is a work that everyone needs to read and start larger discussions over even in the measure of our larger society (because bullying exists in other levels in our society as well, and if we’re not addressing it in schools well, we have work to do on that level and beyond).

As someone speaking as a former victim of bullying, I would urge people to give consideration to what Bazelon says in the narrative here, and encourage people to not only realize that bullying is a problem in our larger society, but also that it needs to be treated with significance, with notations of the multidimensional levels of it, and that we do need empathy, understanding, and open dialogues in order to truly address it.

This was a wonderful narrative, and I only hope that more people are able to peruse it for what it offers.

Overall score: 4/5

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Random House.

View all my reviews


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