Anyone who has ever subjected herself to right-wing talk radio or Bill O’Reilly’s show knows that conservatives have an affinity for a good, old-fashioned bully. Even so, it was a bit surprising to see Shannon Bream on Fox News host a segment worrying that anti-bullying rules at schools violate “free speech.” Bream was deeply concerned that homophobes and anti-choicers wouldn’t be able to express their “political views” at school. What followed was one of the stranger, more evidence-free segments I’ve seen on Fox, and that’s saying a lot.
Bream painted a dystopic view where intervening in bullying leads, through paths unexplained, to conservative kids particularly not being allowed to voice their opinions during the apparently frequent political debates going on in modern classrooms. “But we see in some of these cases in some of these schools that kids who want to put on pro-life displays, who are pro-Second Amendment, those kinds of things, things that are viewed as a more conservative viewpoint, in some cases the bullying stuff is being used against them so they can’t speak their positions,” Bream argued, declining to offer any examples. Does “speak their positions” mean arguing for an abortion ban in debate class, or is it more a situation where kids are “speaking their positions” by targeting individual students for harassment because they believe those kids are gay? I guess we’ll just have to assume the worst!
“You can’t legislate behavior,” David Webb, Fox News contributor, said, causing one to wonder when it was that conservatives decided that having school rules is fascism, man. Where was Webb when kids needed him after getting detention for cutting class or speaking out of turn? “And trying to use it to suppress anyone’s right to speak should not happen,” he continued. God forbid schools be a place where children can’t say whatever they want whenever they want. First they ban you from calling your classmate a “fag,” and next thing you know, they’ll be making kids raise their hands to ask questions and stop passing notes in class. Oh, wait.
Bream cited a study from the University of Texas at Arlington that was critical of some anti-bullying programs, but as Media Matters noted, she doesn’t seem to understand—or want to understand—their criticisms at all. Far from being opposed to the existence of anti-bullying programs, researchers suggested more sophisticated programs that attack the social structures that lead to bullying rather than simply mounting a “just say no” type of campaign, one that might inadvertently teach kids nifty new ways to bully. In other words, they said nothing about preventing teachers from intervening should they see a kid “expressing his opinion” by yelling invectives at another kid.