A few years ago, the appearance of a new book about school bullying would have been a major event. Despite the pioneering work of Dan Olweus and colleagues in 1970s Scandinavia, there had been very little written in English before 1989, when three books (Tattum and Lane's Bullying in schools, Roland and Munthe's Bullying: An international perspective, and Besag's Bullies and victims in schools) appeared, triggering a mighty flood of research that continues unabated to this day. Now there are more books than any one person could read (the phrase 'school bullying' returns nearly 600 hits on Amazon) as well as literally thousands of journal articles, government reports, web resources and more besides. So where does a concerned parent, teacher or pupil begin?
Fortunately, this question now has an easy answer. Start here, with Ken Rigby's Children and bullying. This is simply the best, most up-to-date, most detailed and most thoughtful book about school bullying that you could hope to find. It is a distillation of Rigby's 20 years' experience as a teacher, researcher and now professor in the School of Education at the University of South Australia, and it sets out, clearly and carefully, the sum of our current knowledge about bullying, based on research. It does so with rare emotional power because it is also filled with examples from interviews with children and letters from parents, illustrating and illuminating the facts and figures from the studies. How common is bullying, and what forms does it take? What effects does it have? What can schools do about it, and how successful can they be? What role do bystanders play, and what can be done to turn peer pressure against the bullies? Rigby does not flinch from difficult questions: there is a superb chapter on the dilemmas involved in encouraging children to tell tales, to break the schoolyard code by reporting bullying to the teachers. There is a chapter on parenting so wise and so well informed it should be tattooed backwards onto the foreheads of all those politicians who seek to demonise parents and blame them for their children's misdeeds. There is a thought-provoking final chapter in which Rigby gives his views on a number of other controversial questions where the research evidence isn't yet compelling (researchers will find plenty of ideas for future work here). There are also several appendices containing practical resources and links to useful sites.
Who should read this book? Parents certainly. Rigby's introduction tells us it was originally going to be called The intelligent parent's guide to bullying, and that is exactly what it is, but I think it was right to change that title because its appeal is so much broader than that. Teachers will appreciate it too, but more importantly they will have to read it or find themselves at a terrible disadvantage facing any parent who has done so. Children? Yes, I think so. Although some of the issues are quite complicated, the writing is so clear and the examples so powerful that I think most reasonably capable readers at high school level would find something helpful and informative here. Students and academics? Again, yes. Although it is no substitute for the original journal articles when really getting to grips with research, this is an excellent starting point for those just starting out on dissertations, essays and so on, and I will certainly be recommending it to my undergraduates and colleagues.
School of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, UK
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