Researchers say changes in wording could improve its effectiveness
OTTAWA, May 30, 2015 — Two Ontario researchers have analyzed the language used to frame the province’s anti-bullying policy and have come up with three recommendations for changes in the way the policy is written.
They say those changes, if made, will improve the way the policy is understood and applied.
Stephanie Tuters is a PhD candidate at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, and Sue Winton is a professor in the Faculty of Education at York University. They are authors of a paper on Ontario’s anti-bullying policy being presented at the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
In an interview, Tuters says the language used by policymakers to frame documents is important, because it affects how those policies are understood and applied. “Language is powerful,” she says. “It influences how people act.”
Tuters and Winton recently completed an analysis of the language used in the anti-bullying policy that has been in effect in Ontario since 2012, and they say they have uncovered three things that limit its effectiveness.
The first is what Tuters calls the policy’s focus on individuality. She says that the policy tends to present bullying as an issue pitting one individual against another, rather than considering larger, systemic problems that underpin individual acts of bullying. For example, she says the policy does not speak to things like racism or homophobia that can underlie individual cases of bullying and place them in a wider context. “If you think of bullying just as a problem of individuals, then it leaves some students behind,” she says.
The second problem is that there is too much attention paid to process and accountability, which results in an overly standardized response to bullying incidents. “There is too much focus on who should be held accountable, and not enough on how we can address bullying and why it’s happening,” she says.
The third difficulty they identified is that the policy places too much emphasis on the relationship between bullying and learning, and not enough on student overall well-being. “Bullying should be a big enough problem in and of itself because it has so many negative impacts,” says Tuters. “We should say bullying is bad, period, and not bullying is bad because it affects test scores.”
Tuters says she and Winton would like all government policies to be inclusive and well thought-out.
“We know there are many people in government trying to do progressive work,” says Tuters, adding that the research she and Winton are doing may help policy writers by giving them arguments in favour a more comprehensive approach. Tuters says that in the next phase of their work, she and Winton will look at how Ontario’s bullying policy is being applied in practice.
Stephanie Tuters and Sue Winton will present this research on May 31 at the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa. This presentation is called “Bill 13 and PPM 144: A Critical Policy Analysis of Ontario's Bullying Policy” and will take place at 10:00 am on the University of Ottawa campus in the LMX building, room 342.
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