Election 2016

The Southern Poverty Law Center Has Little Authority to Claim Trump Has Driven Up School Bullying Rates

Trump is definitely a bully, but are things really that bad in American schools?


Cordon Press/Sipa USA/Newscom

Donald Trump's xenophobic, hate-filled campaign has undone years of progress on reducing bullying in schools, according to The Nation's Katherine Stewart.

"The damage to our school culture is already evident," she writes. "Schools have invested years in anti-bullying programs, and a lot of that progress has been undone in a few short months. The damage to our political culture will likely be even greater, and take longer to repair."

That's a strong claim, since school anti-bullying initiatives have successfully driven down bullying rates in recent years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the bullying rate fell from 28 percent to 22 percent between 2011 and 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. We don't know what the rate looks like in 2016, but Stewart appears confident it would be higher, and Trump is the cause.

Of course, we don't really have any evidence of that, aside from anecdotes. Stewart cites a number of examples of teachers reporting truly horrific things—kids asking whether it's okay to burn Jews, for example—and concludes that Trump's rhetoric is responsible for an overall surge in race-based attacks on minority students. This is a plausible assumption: Trump's policies are harmful to immigrants, and his followers do say racist things. (Go on Twitter and pick a fight with a member of the alt-right if you don't believe me.) But has it made the overall school environment noticeably more hostile? It's possible, but in lieu of relevant of data, I'm skeptical.

After all, it's not so long ago that schoolyard brawls were commonplace—now these students are dealt with harshly, often by cops stationed in schools. When I was in school (the 90's and 00's), anyone even suspected of being gay was horribly bullied. Now schools have gay-straight alliances, sympathetic counselors and other programs aimed at encouraging acceptance. I'm sure there's a lot more work to be done on this front, but it seems undeniable that the education system is a whole lot friendlier to LGBTQ kids. And bullying is actually defined much more broadly these days—miscreant students can get away with less.

Does the so-called "Trump effect" invalidate the progress on those and other fronts? Here's author Mica Pollock in The Washington Post:

The National Education Association has been sharing teachers' stories of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and bullying talk on the rise as students cite and extend Trump's rhetoric. Fall incidents include homemade "white pride" Trump T-shirts at high school homecoming; increasing incidents of Muslim students bullied on buses and in classrooms; and even explicit "Nazi" talk among students. And students are now hearing Trump supporters threaten armed rebellion if he doesn't win.

"Trump Talk" has unleashed a wave of explicit hate and intimidation for educators to address. And to have a presidential candidate unleash such talk — especially without reproach from many powerful politicians — sets an extremely confusing example.

That's because schools are places where hate speech, harassment and encouragement of violence are supposed to be challenged.

Challenged is different than censored, however—a distinction Pollock only sort of makes:

In schools, students are taught not to bully other people. And there are actual laws saying schools can't just let hateful and violent speech go. As a professor colleague put it, "Trump speech on public campuses creates a very real tension between the civil liberty of speech and the civil right not to be intimidated."

Civil-rights lawyer friends have clarified for me that any campus receiving federal funds has to debate a key issue in the era of Trump. When does speech — even speech protected under the First Amendment — produce a hostile environment, prohibited by federal and state civil-rights laws? Such laws forbid educators in federally funded public schools from tolerating or allowing an education environment in which harassment based on race, color or national origin (or sex, or disability) is "sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent so as to interfere with or limit a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school."

First, there's a huge difference between K-12 and college. Courts have given elementary, middle, and high schools much more leeway to prohibit offensive speech on the grounds that it is disruptive. Public university students, on the other hand, enjoy robust First Amendment protections. Laws prohibiting hostile educational environments do not supersede the Constitution, and administrators must be very careful not to conflate unconstitutional harassment with "hate" speech. Hate speech is not a category of prohibited expression.

Second, it's incredibly self-serving for Hillary Clinton's closest political allies—including the National Education Association—to argue that her opponent has worsened the school bullying problem. The closest thing to actual data in support of this position is a survey produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center. But, as I wrote recently, this survey is unscientific, and the SPLC has a history of making unfair accusations against people who aren't particularly hateful but are nevertheless political enemies. In fact, the SPLC recently included Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz on its list of "Anti-Muslim Extremists"—a list that makes no distinction between liberal critics of Islamic jihadism and Pamella Geller.

I don't think the SPLC is a particularly reliable arbiter of extremism, in other words.

As for teachers unions, keep in mind that they engage in bullying behavior all the time.

Trump is certainly a bully, and his toxic campaign could be making life worse for immigrant and minority children, which is a shame. But we haven't seen any data on that yet, and we should be wary of liberal political activists trying to turn this to their advantage. Clinton has already vowed $500 million in spending on new anti-bullying initiatives to combat this latest scourge of hate, but we don't know whether these solutions will be effective. We don't even properly understand the scope of the problem, despite what the SPLC, teachers unions, and their media allies claim.

NEXT: It's Election Day, Trump Loses Nevada Lawsuit, Clinton Ready to Claim the Iron Throne: P.M. Links

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  1. The SPLC is just leftist drivel at this point. They don’t care about school bullying, just bashing the Republican.

    Like when the NAACP pushed hard against charters earlier this year. They don’t give a crap about their constituents, only they political D Machine

  2. Do they consider chalk of “Vote Trump” hate speech? Basically anyone voting against a Democrat is guilty of hate.

  3. What do you call the SPLC at the bottom of the ocean?

    A failure, if no one was inside.

  4. FFS Robby, you have brought TDS to a new peak of derpitude. Almost everything about this article suspect. The “bullying” rate? What the fuck is that? And over a 2 year stretch is fell from 28 to 22 percent? Based on what?

    So basically shorter:

    And of course Trump is absolutely horrible monster who deserves to die, and is probably guilty of everything his opponents say, but sometimes the SPLC doesn’t get it quite right either.

  5. If school bullying has actually increased, I’m more inclined to believe it is because of the expansion of the things our benevolent overlords now consider “bullying”. When you add online “bullying” to the mix, of COURSE the numbers are going to jump.

    For the record, any situation where you are free to turn off the machine (phone, computer, tablet, etc….) is NOT in fact, bullying. YOU have the power to make it stop by simply hitting the power button.

    1. just like there’s no epidemic of Autism, it’s just the definition has expanded greatly.

      When people disagreeing with you on twitter is “bullying”, or pointing out the logical fallacies of SJW twerps is “bullying”….

  6. “Fall incidents include homemade “white pride” Trump T-shirts at high school homecoming”

    Boo fucking hoo — this is what happens when you tell some people that collectivizing around skin color is a wonderful thing and then tell others they’re bigots for doing the same.

  7. The SPLC is the very definition of a charity scam. Morris Dees lives in a fabulous mansion filled with expensive art objects. The SPLC has an off-shore bank account.

    1. This. At this point I wouldn’t even consider them to have a political ideology. It’s strictly profit motive for them.

    2. That could just be sound money management if the offshore bank is paying better interest rates than U.S. banks. Also, might offer better protection for their donor lists against any state attorney general fishing expedit..er, campaign finance violation investigation.

  8. xenophobic, hate-filled campaign

    I just come here for the buzzwords.

  9. The Southern Poverty Law Center Is No Authority.

    8 Novermber, 2016 – Charles

    (This is my opinion after reading a great many of their claims over the past few years)

  10. I’m amazed anyone sites the SPLC, it’s like using Lysenko as an authority on genetics.

    1. 9 out of 10 millennials wonder why you are so down on cetrally planned science…

  11. It’s true that Trump has done some bullying.

    1. What is “bullying”? I mean, besides behavior that SJWs want to whine about.

  12. Trump is certainly a bully, and his toxic campaign could be making life worse for immigrant and minority children, which is a shame.

    Sure Robby, whatever you want to believe. Just don’t pretend what you wrote is based on reality.

  13. Clinton’s policies are harmful to immigrants, and her followers do say racist things.

  14. The murder-inciting SPLC is still around? They haven’t been RICO’d to death?

    Huh. They must be greasing the right palms with all that money.

  15. Second, it’s incredibly self-serving for Hillary Clinton’s closest political allies?including the National Education Association?to argue that her opponent has worsened the school bullying problem.

    Oh, come on now. This is exactly the sort of faux evenhandedness which will be used to justify lynchings and any number of horrific atrocities.

  16. Does Trump use imagined moral authority to intimidate people into not speaking up about various political issues and, failing to do so, label them as terrorists and hate groups? Ah, the SPLC actually does that.

    I guarangoddamntee you that the Mises Institute and the Reason Foundation will be on their hate group list if they’re ever politically successful with any cause where they find themselves in opposition to the left.

  17. kids asking whether it’s okay to burn Jews, for example

    I thought the hallmarks of being a bully were taking aggressive action, specifically disregarding authority and/or popular opinion, lacking introspection and/or empathy?

  18. When I was in school (the 90’s and 00’s), anyone even suspected of being gay was horribly bullied.

    And all the black kids were victims of racism too!

    1. Does someone saying “That’s so gay” count as bullying? Cause I was in middle and high school in the 90’s. In Texas. And I never heard, much less saw, bullying (as it is commonly thought of) of kids suspected of being gay.

      1. Class of ’97 in IN. There was plenty of bullying, horseplay, and harassment. Bullying and/or physical altercations in general, by their very nature, aren’t frequently well organized or exceedingly malicious. The idea that homosexuals are never bullies, that only gay people get bullied because they’re gay, and/or that bullying is somehow different or worse than other forms of physical abuse inflicted on teens, end of story, is a deliberately contrite, self-serving, and often self-fulfilling narrative. It’s little different from other minorities who can’t catch a break because white people. Sure, there are cases of legitimate bullying and legitimate racism, they are exceedingly infrequent. More importantly, when they do occur, put these bullying sessions to shame. The notion that whole races or minority segments are being held down in some quasi-systematic manner is a gross fabrication and is, at least in part, responsible for our current crop of college-educated special snowflakes.

        I knew plenty of people who got bullied in HS (myself among them both as victim and, likely, as bully). In my relatively small HS class, I can rattle off at least a half-dozen stories off the top of my head as bad and probably far worse than anything that ever happened bullying related. Some just shit that happens, some straight up tragedies that had plenty of bad guys and victimization with nary a hint of SJW moral righteousness/indignation to be had in any corner.

  19. The SPLC is like the Center for Science in the Public Interest; they have made so many bogus announcements, and championed so much methodological drivel that anything they say comes pre-discredited.

  20. Trump’s policies are harmful to immigrants, and his followers do say racist things.

    Policies? The son of a bitch isn’t even sitting in any elected office. How the fuck could he HAVE policies? And seriously, you haven’t noticed the blatantatly racists shit coming out of the Progtards in the last few years? Clinton has racist followers too. Fuck me, Soave, I cannot stand that meat-headed shitsack but I have to defend him now because you have your head stuffed up your ass when it comes to equivocating with Proggies?

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