By Katherin Kersten | Star Tribune Minneapolis

“This law is so intricate and detailed and creates so much responsibility for teachers,” said Marcus Rayner of the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance. “There are so many ways they can make inadvertent or honest mistakes while trying to do the right thing.”

“Bullying has become an epidemic across the country.” Or so Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, recently told the Star Tribune.
Is this true? Though we hear the claim constantly, it’s hard to know the real scope of the problem.
In part, that’s because the topic of bullying has become linked to a political cause du jour.
At Education Minnesota’s annual fall conference, for example, bullying was a focus of the Minnesota School OUTreach Coalition’s discussions on “classroom behavior, GLBT staff issues, school climates, gay straight alliances, and early childhood education/elementary issues,” according to the Star Tribune.
In Washington, Sen. Al Franken is pushing to make gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students a protected class in federal education legislation, claiming that they face “pervasive systemic discrimination.”
Schoolyard bullying has always been a problem, because the human tendency to find pleasure in humiliating and dominating others is as old as mankind. Still, it’s easy to believe that the bullying we all remember — the ridicule or intimidation of those perceived as vulnerable, like “geeks,” the timid, the overweight — is ramping up.
Something has changed, and it goes beyond the fact that cell phones and Facebook now give kids a 24/7 cyber-megaphone for intimidating and belittling fellow human beings.
A new book — “Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood” — sheds light on why bullying may be on the rise. In 2008, the authors, sociologist Christian Smith and his team, asked 230 young Americans — 18 to 23 years old — open-ended questions about how they make moral decisions and think about the meaning of life.
The answers reveal that many of today’s young people live in what amounts to a moral vacuum. The vocabulary of right and wrong, of good and evil, has little meaning for them. On the contrary, they are relativists, who view morality as “a personal choice, entirely a matter of individual decision,” in the authors’ words.
Why should we be surprised, then, if our children have no sense of obligation to others, and fail to act with kindness, respect or empathy? Since they have no moral compass, they base their behavior on their personal feelings– that is, on whether an act seems to enhance their happiness, pleasure or self-interest.
Who’s to blame for this state of affairs? Parents, for starters. Ask a well-intentioned mom or dad today what they want most for their child, and chances are they’ll respond, “I just want her to be happy.” This is thin gruel, and no substitute for passing down a strongly woven, comprehensive moral framework for a life well-lived.
Schools must also share the blame. For 2,500 years, one of education’s primary missions has been to develop character and virtue in the young.
But today, we have banished the vocabulary of right and wrong from our classrooms and have replaced it with the lingo of self-esteem and a squishy multiculturalism. We’ve made tolerance the only behavioral norm. That will hardly curb the selfish and mean-spirited impulses with which all human beings struggle.
Finally, the popular culture plays a fundamental role in the problem. Today, our children learn many lessons about how to treat fellow human beings from TV, movies, music, the Internet and video games.
What’s the answer to the bullying problem if parents, schools and the larger culture have abandoned the language of virtue? More government, many tell us.
New Jersey is leading the charge with its “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.” The law is justified in the morally neutral language of health and safety — preventing suicide, creating “safe” space, enhancing self-esteem and preventing school missing. Increasingly, that’s all that’s left us in our relativistic age.
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights puts the burden of curbing bullying on teachers, principals and school staff. It imposes onerous oral and written reporting requirements, and creates disciplinary actions for educators who are judged to have made the wrong call.
It even makes schools responsible for reporting potential instances of offsite bullying and cyberbullying, including Facebook and texting exchanges. “Bullying doesn’t stop at 3 o’clock. and neither should a school’s authority,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, a bill sponsor.
Educators and others have expressed alarm about this far-reaching law.
“This law is so intricate and detailed and creates so much responsibility for teachers,” said Marcus Rayner of the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance. “There are so many ways they can make inadvertent or honest mistakes while trying to do the right thing.”
Get ready for skyrocketing litigation, and a new layer of Big Brother bureaucracy. But kinder, happier, more-respectful kids?
That will require moral regeneration, not the heavy hand of government.

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Katherine Kersten is a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. The views expressed here are her own. She is