Helen Anderson is the Manager of Curriculum and Research at Harmony Movement, a not-for-profit organization that delivers educational programming on equity and inclusion to youth, educators, and social service providers, empowering them to becomes leaders of social change. Helen completed her Ph.D. in Theory and Policy Studies in Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, focusing in her research on social justice and anti-racism education. She has taught at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University and has worked with numerous community service organizations to address issues such as racism, food security, gender-based violence, youth violence, and homophobia.
I was teased a lot in school as a child, mostly for getting high marks. I worked hard and was an eager learner. As a white, heterosexual, Christian student without a disability, I enjoyed participating in an education system where my knowledge, learning style, identity, culture, and experiences were valued and affirmed. I was called a geek, a nerd, a teacher’s pet.
The taunting was hurtful. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, excluded. At times I felt worthless. But at the end of the day, I knew there was something good about doing well in school. I knew that high marks paid off, they came with a reward, both in school and in society. It didn’t ease the sense of social isolation I felt, but I knew I was being teased for something I was good at, for something that others valued.
I share this story here to draw an important distinction between different forms of bullying and their impacts. While all bullying is hurtful and can have a negative impact on a student’s academic performance, engagement with the education system, and sense of self-worth, there is a difference between bullying based on mean-spirited or negative behaviour such as the taunting I’ve described above and bullying based on systemic discrimination.