Experts on Bullying: When the “Refried Golden Rule” Doesn’t Work

When Laura and Malcolm Gauld began their careers as educators of Hyde Schools 30-plus years ago, they did not know that they would address — successfully — the insidious problem of bullying in the course of their work. The absence of the bullying that has become epidemic in our schools today was a by-product of their philosophy.

“It took some years for us to identify what had taken place,” says Laura, Head of School and Family Programs for Hyde. “The curriculum is rooted in character education, and we came to understand that bullying was not taking place because of the culture in the school. In order to stop bullying, the culture must change.”

“There are so many disturbing stories in the news about bullying and how it is increasing and moving into cyberspace and texting,” says Malcolm, president of Hyde.

“Every year, the public focus is on a line of questioning such as, what is the principal going to do, what are the parents going to do, how will the kids be punished, how can their behavior change? And every year, parents suggest that their kids ‘ignore’ bullies and offer the advice of treating others as you would be treated. But the ‘Refried Golden Rule’ doesn’t work.”

The Hyde Organization is a network of prep and charter schools in Maine, Connecticut, New York City and Washington D.C.  Notably, a visit to Hyde School in Washington D.C. shows an urban school with minimal bullying and the unique absence of metal detectors at the entrance. There simply is no need for it.

How did this come to pass?

The Gaulds were able to identify that cliques are the prime breeding grounds for bullying. Cliques are closed groups consisting of people with like abilities, interests, beliefs, biases who, at best, close ranks against those who don’t fit — and, at worst, tease, ridicule, and/or assault them.

At its inception in 1966, the first Hyde School in Maine put in place an honor code, which later came to be known as ‘Brother’s Keeper’ and the ‘Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper. The message to the studetns was “We help others achieve their best,” an academic expectation that competition would take a back-seat to helping peers overcome their challenges.

Unbeknownst to teachers and administrators, it would lead to helping kids through their personal challenges, as well.

“The Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper school community prevents or wipes out cliques by breaking down barriers,” says Laura. “Why? Because everyone puts both their strengths and weaknesses out into the open, thereby decreasing the need to put on false airs of superiority.”

“The students help each other through learning curves — but they also call each other on their bad attitudes and any disrespect or violations they may observe. They take responsibility for their actions. The end result is a more respectful community.”

Still, the Gaulds say it is not an easy road.

“This Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper approach among students is a tough buy-in because a student’s initial association with it tends to be negative,” says Malcolm. “For example, say a student has committed a violation of school ethics and does not want to accept accountability for it, especially at the hands of a ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’”

“Also, some kids adopt a mode of operation, where they toe the line themselves but keep the blinders on relative to their peers,” adds Laura.

Accordingly to the Gaulds, buy-in to the unique concept typically occurs after a student begins to perform well academically, athletically, or in extra-curricular activities, and the student makes a connection between these accomplishments and the positive peer pressure of Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper. They begin to understand how getting the support and concern from their peers was part of the formula for their own academic success and many eventually want to pay it forward.

That said, the Gaulds believe that Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper has little chance of working in a school that insists on maintaining the traditional sanction of expulsion as a disciplinary measure, or what they term “Cops & Robbers Syndrome.”

“The ultimate goal is to turn kids into adults who recognize that they will never achieve their best without the help of others,” says Laura, “and that they should not expect that help if they are unwilling to give it. It’s a two-way street.”