Down by the Schoolyard

The Education Department’s Deborah Temkin is fighting a bullying epidemic in American schools. But she will not fight bullies. “We try not to call the kids who are bullying others ‘bullies.’ That says they cannot change,” says Temkin, who remembers her own encounters with bullying in middle school.

One thing that can change is the government’s attitude toward bullying, and that’s where Temkin has taken the lead. After she joined the department in 2010, a rash of teen suicides drew national attention to the issue. Since then, Temkin has had a hand in just about every government initiative addressing the problem—from the StopBullying.gov website to outreach efforts with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.

As research and policy coordinator for Bullying Prevention Initiatives, Temkin helps Education reach out when cross-agency expertise is needed. To combat the rise of cyber bullying, for instance, she worked with the Federal Trade Commission to produce parental toolkits addressing the issue. But ultimately there is only so much government can do in the schoolyard, and Temkin emphasizes that everything comes back to a joint effort.

“We will never be able to really address bullying if we don’t all work together,” she says. “It’s not solely the school’s responsibility or the parents’ responsibility or even the community’s responsibility. Everyone needs to be working together, sending the same messages consistently, letting kids know that bullying is not OK. Only then will we be able to actually combat bullying.”

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