WILSON: Moving students from being bystanders to 'upstanders'

As school systems continue to tackle bullying with a variety of approaches, it has become clear that many of our students struggle with standing up for what they believe to be right.
Dec 13, 2013


Grand Haven High School has spent the past 12 weeks reading the novel "Whale Talk" by Chris Crutcher, and having weekly lessons and discussions. Our students have walked through the events that unfold in this novel and are challenged to answer questions about how they could have handled the situation differently. Through these conversations, we have discussed and defined empathy, sympathy, victim, oppressor and bystander.

The heartfelt conversations and personal experiences that our students have faced began to unfold each week.

Most students know what is right and wrong, but in the heat of a situation, many say they do not know how to respond for fear of being retaliated against. It is our job as adults to teach our kids how to respond when they are a bystander, as they will be faced with this situation at some point in life.

Too often we focus on teaching our kids how not to be the bully or the victim, but we do not spend enough time on teaching them how to be an “upstander.”

Research shows that one out of every 10 kids are bullies. But nine out of 10 are bystanders, those who do nothing about the bully behavior. Our goal is to turn that 90 percent into a population that does something to make a difference.

Our community is making great efforts to educate everyone around bullying and acceptance. Spring Lake High School is taking Rachel’s Challenge, which encourages students to change the culture at their school by eliminating bully behavior. The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance is offering community forums and institutes around racial equity. EMBRACE, a grass-roots community organization, has opened their arms to supporting those within our community who have been victims of an event. The Diversity Initiative of Northwest Ottawa County is a group of local businesses, municipalities, school districts, faith-based organizations, etc., focused on ensuring our community is welcoming to all.

We are so fortunate to live in a community that is tackling this effort on all fronts!

In addition, with the support of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation's Youth Advisory Council, Grand Haven High School welcomed Dr. Michael Fowlin to our community. Fowlin presented to middle and high school students, as well as community members, and shared the opportunity to appreciate the beauty within one's self and the beauty within others; to celebrate our differences, and accept our shared experiences.

It is important that parents talk to their children about how they treat others, and the impact that words or actions have on another human being.

As the famous quote states: “Every person you meet is facing a battle that you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

— By Tracy Wilson, principal of Grand Haven High School



the diversity/racism/bullying/homophobic brainwashers
have discussed and defined empathy,sympathy,victim,
oppressor and bystander.
"brainwashers" starts with the letter "B" ends with "S"

deuce liti

Gee, maybe they should let kids bring guns to school to "stand their ground." It's their right. Right?


its all "BS"


Spoken like a true bully!


It seems that more and more often people are throwing out the words "bully" and "bullying" to disarm alternate point of views. If someone presents a strong argument I am hearing people throwing out the phrase "stop bullying" or "don't bully" to keep people from stating their case.

Tri-cities realist

Part of the plan to dumb down America. Don't question anything or raise your voice, just do what they say.

And as another famous quote goes "sticks and stones..."

Real estate maven

Nicely written article Principal Wilson. Bullying is just a word and maybe it gets used many times when it shouldn't be. The real issue is character. As the article says most kids know right from wrong and although I wonder at times at least the majority of adults do as well. But it takes character to stand up for what you know is right or to stand up against someone who is behaving badly. This can be hard to do when you may be the lone voice with the courage and character to take such a stand, as a kid or as an adult. Factor in peer pressure and the consequences of not being part of the in crowd and you see why there are far more bystanders than "upstanders" or people of character. Like so many things this is a trait that is taught/learned and that can have a profound influence in our world. Sappy as it may sound the golden rule and the character that necessarily goes along with it can solve many of the issues we confront today as kids or adults.

Back to the Wall

When one of Wilson's 'upstanders' is witness to classic bullying; for example "Give me your lunch money and curse your mother or I'll punch you in the gut" the upstanding, classically effective response is to punch the bully in the gut.

Sadly, in their fear and kowtowing, schools administrators have created an environment that has punished those who stand up and put down bullies. The zero tolerance nonsense that states "...all participants in any physical altercation are equally to blame..." has created an environment that protects bullies from their most basic fear: That the bully cannot control others through intimidation.

Those with a social. conciousness, those who might confront a bully because it is the right thing to do, are tought to
move away from the conflict, be a tattletale, get be tardy to class, or worse, get suspended for fighting.

When the schools realize that "playground justice" is the most effective way to control anti-social behaviors such as bullying, and begin teaching rather than discouraging boundary setting, conflict resolution, and self defense in kindergarten, their problem will be solved.

Tri-cities realist

Well said.


Can't argue with that a bit.

The only time growing up that I had a problem with a bully I was simply told to not back down (of course this was during the 50's, aka a different time and place). So, the next time he gave me a hard time on the way home from school I planted my fist in his nose, which resulted in a fair amount of blood on his end. I don't recall any trouble with the school people, as this confrontation wasn't on school grounds and they only grief I got from home was from my mother..."fighting is so barbaric". Yes, maybe so, but it's also effective in many situations. I never had a problem with that kid again and no, we didn't become friends either.

The touchy, feely stuff they're shoveling nowadays just empowers bullies. They know that their intended victim can't fight back without getting in more trouble after being harrassed so it gives them license to have their way.


This is so very true. We are building a world of weak-in-the-knees compliant non-thinkers. I am NOT a fighter by nature and I am personally very even tempered. However, it is wrong to teach people to always be compliant. I have a feeling a lot of this is an effort to bring about a world of brown-shirt followers too scared to ask questions or stand up for important principles. We need to care more about doing what is right and less about hurting people's feelings. In most cases these goals are not mutually exclusive...but we need to be flexible in our approach.


"a world of brown-shirt followers", are people following around the UPS employees now without asking where they're going and what they will do when they get there?


5am?? What kind of nut gets up at 5am on a Sunday? :-)


4:30 a.m. every day, my internal clock doesn't differentiate days of the weeks or even the time I hit the sack.


Yeah, I understand, the wife is the same way. After years of getting up at 4am she still goes to bed everynight at 10:30 and gets up at 4am, give or take.... I on the other hand am a night owl. If I get to bed before 3am then I must've overexerted myself during the day light hours.....Steely Dan's song "Night by Night" is my theme song :-)


easy to do when you don't have to wake up & go to work!


If I want any sh** out of you I'll squeeze your head.

Ever hear of people working 3rd shift boy genius?


1st sentence = new best comment of the year! hahaha


Awww, that's old as the hills, my dad used to tell me that when I was giving him grief. Always made me chuckle with the visual image it produced.
Feel free to use it for any people like Truthhurts that you run across. :-)


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