Popular Press

New York Times: My Letter to the Editor

The New York Times
May 24, 2012
‘The Bully Society’
To the Editor:

Dave Cullen’s review of my book, “The Bully Society” (April 29), requires several ­clarifications.

Contrary to Cullen’s suggestion, bullying and mental illness are not mutually exclusive explanations of the 2007 Virginia Tech attack. Seung-Hui Cho was both bullied and mentally ill. Mental illness shouldn’t be used to minimize the effects of bullying.

Similarly, school shooters’ struggles with bullying and social hierarchies don’t conflict with the concept of loss of status or of romantic relationships noted in the F.B.I. study Cullen cites. Though he says otherwise, my book discusses such losses at great length.

Cullen, a journalist, somewhat ironically accuses social scientists of overreliance on popular media. However, “The Bully Society” relies on multiple methodologies — including content analysis, statistical research, participant observation ethnography and extensive interviews.

My book shows that bullying contributes to school shootings and other despairing behaviors; contrary to Cullen’s contentions, it doesn’t predict specific reactions to being bullied.

Finally, Cullen contends that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold weren’t bullied because an athlete who called them gay “didn’t even know the killers,” and dismisses a suicide note left by Harris as a hoax. But many bullies don’t know their victims and, in any case, the social exclusion and bullying of the Columbine shooters was documented in numerous accounts — most of which Cullen seems determined to dismiss.

I’ve helped create compassionate school communities over decades; my experience complements the overwhelming evidence — to prevent bullying, we need to transform school cultures and teach students how to support one another.

JESSIE KLEIN
Garden City, N.Y.
The writer is an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Adelphi University.
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