Bullying Is a Civil Rights Issue

9, 10, 11, 12

Students define bullying and observe and describe some of the consequences to victims, bystanders, and the whole community. Students recognize that bullying behavior is a civil rights issue that must be addressed for their community to be fair and safe for all. They create a survey and poll members of their school and family communities to determine a snapshot of the status of bullying.

PrintThree 45-Minute Class Periods, plus time to take a survey of classmates and families and compile results

The learner will:

  • define philanthropy as giving time, talent, and treasure and taking action for the common good.
  • define bullying as repeated negative behavior with a desire to harm someone with less power (size, strength, or other perceived imbalance of power). The aggressor appears to enjoy the interaction, and the victim feels oppressed.
  • identify the causes and effects of bullying behavior.
  • research techniques for bullying prevention tactics and effective responses to incidents.
  • assess the state of bullying in a school community and communicate findings.
  • identify bullying as a civil rights issue.

Access facts and myths about bullying at:

  • advocate: someone who speaks in favor of a cause
  • bullying: repeated negative behavior with a desire to harm someone with less power (size, strength, or other perceived imbalance of power); The aggressor appears to enjoy the interaction, and the victim feels oppressed.
  • bully: a person who habitually acts with the intention of threatening, intimidating, or harming others, particularly people who appear weaker
  • civil rights: the rights of freedom guaranteed to all U.S. citizens as described in the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution
  • philanthropist: someone who gives time, talent, or treasure and takes action for the common good
  • social capital: personal investment of time through social interactions that builds trust and enables participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives
  • empathy: identification with and understanding the feelings of another person
Home Connection 

Students survey family members as they collect data about bullying observations.


Have a discussion about why and how to be sensitive to the feelings of bullies and victims during the process of interviewing and surveying a variety of people. Discuss the language to use that will open dialogue.



  1. Day One

    Anticipatory Set:

    Share some of the following statistics** with the students and discuss their reaction to these numbers and statements.

    1. 1 in 12 students who stay home from school do so because they are afraid to go to school.
    2. 3 out of 4 students report that they have been bullied at some time while they were in school.
    3. Bullying is reported as most severe in grades 7-9, with grades 4-6 being next in severity, but it can happen in any grade.
    4. 60 percent of victims/targets report being bullied by boys, and 40 percent report being bullied by girls.

    **The National Center for Victims of Crime "Teen Victim Project"

  2. Give the students some defining information about bullying behavior. Bullying involves repeated negative behavior with a desire to harm someone with less power (size, strength, or other perceived imbalance of power). The aggressor appears to enjoy the interaction, and the victim feels oppressed. Discus show bullying differs froman unkind act.

  3. Have students describe what bullying behavior looks like at school (in their high school or from their middle school or elementary experiences).

  4. Display the Forms of Bullying (Handout). Read through the list together and allow time for discussion of examples or personal observations, including how bullies benefit and why victims choose not to speak up.

  5. Ask the students to share their thoughts about what they believe are some of the effects of bullying behavior on the individuals involved, the school, and the community. Draw four columns on the board with the titles Bully, Victim, School Community, and Community. Write in the chart, their brainstormed ideas about the effects of bullying on these different people.

    • Share with students that bullying affects how people feel about themselves, one another, and the safety of the school or community. The victims of bullying have lower attendance, grades, and graduation rates. And in extreme cases, victims react with violence or commit suicide as a direct result of bullying (Columbine Incident, Virginia Tech Shootings). Bullying affects more than the victim. The bystanders are traumatized as they agonize over how to respond. The school climate of communication and safety decreases with tolerance for bullying. The whole community is affected when its youth are violent or traumatized. Youth who bully may have violent tendencies, and aggression does not stop at the school door. People who are involved carry the issues into other areas of their lives.
  6. Ask the students what they would do if they saw a bully in action. Write the following options on the board:

    1. step in to help the victim,
    2. tell a teacher,
    3. ignore it so the bully doesn't get attention,
    4. ignore it so the bully doesn't pick on you,
    5. or talk to the bully and/or victim later.
  7. Have the students share their response by holding up their hand with one of the above number of fingers (e.g., three fingers means "ignore it so the bully doesn't get attention"). You may give some different scenarios to get different responses. Scenarios may come from the forms of bullying on the handout or some of the following examples: a sixth-grader is often knocked off his bike on the way to school, a high school student is getting beat up regularly, a girl is left out and laughed at, a hurtful rumor is passed around by text message, and a boy is regularly pushed against his locker by a classmate.

  8. Ask, "Why would someone try to stop bullying behavior if they weren't involved?" Ask, "Why should we care about other people's rights?"(Make sure students recognize that addressing bullying is good for the whole community.)

  9. Tell the students that some forms of bullying behavior may be a civil rights violation. Define civil rights as the rights of freedom (legal, social and economic equality) guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the 13th and 14th Amendment. Discuss what freedoms or rights are taken from the victims and the larger community as a result of bullying (right to an equal and safe education, freedom for persecution based on race, religion, or gender).

  10. Define minorities as people who are either perceived to have less power or have had their power taken away by an oppressive group. Laws protect minorities from unfair treatment from more powerful groups, but everyone has a choice to call attention to the oppression because the less powerful person/group may not have the courage or resources to stand up to the oppressor.

  11. Much attention has been paid in the world to securing human rights for all. See the Universal Declaration of Human Rights https://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ for a detailed description of basic human rights that all people should be guaranteed.

  12. Ask how citizens should respond when they see others' rights violated. Discuss. Say, "People who stand up to injustice are called advocates, which is a form of philanthropy." Define philanthropy as giving time, talent, or treasure and taking action for the common good.Challenge the students to take action to promote empathy and address bullying behavior at school.

  13. Day Two

    Anticipatory Set:

    Put students into groups and have them test their bullying knowledge by reading facts and myths. Print the true and false statements. Small groups may make a game of this by taking turns reading the statements and answering "fact" or "myth" then have them read the answers online.

  14. Discuss the facts and myths that confirmed students' thinking or surprised them. Discuss why bullies might become bullies.

  15. Explain that bullying can be based on discrimination, or treating people unfairly based on groups they belong to or how a person looks, dresses, or acts.

  16. Ask students if they think there is a positive sense of community at school. Do they think bullying is an issue at the high school or local middle schools or elementary schools, and do they know what kinds of bullying are occurring? Tell the students that for this class they are going to collect data to get an accurate picture of the status of bullying.

  17. Encourage the students to come up with ideas for collecting data about the status of bullying behavior at the school(s) and then reporting it clearly. Some ideas follow:

    1. Assign students responsibilities for creating a survey and collecting data from students, school staff, and families (from their school as well as local middle schools and elementary schools). You may need to give them a review lesson on sampling, creating a survey, and how to collect and record data in a graph or chart. Identify the survey categories (location, gender, frequency).
  18. Define survey and explain to the learners its purpose. Discuss characteristics of effective survey questions using some examples so that they know what to do when designing their own survey questions. Divide the learners into teams of three. Each team will design a survey about bullying behavior in the school and possible solutions. Each team will target a specific group for their survey: high school students, classmates, families, administrators, and teachers. Tell students that their survey questions must be appropriate for their target group. As an example, the family survey might ask, “Has your child ever been bullied, either verbally or physically, in school?” A 9th grade survey might have a question that asks, “Have you ever been the target of teasing or hitting by one of your classmates or a 10th or 11th grader?” Any of the audiences may respond to the question, "Have you ever observed an incident of bullying behavior at our school?"

  19. Tell students that each survey must have at least five questions. The questions should be clear and answerable by short answers. They should include a question that asks for possible solutions to the problem of bullying. Survey questions should be reviewed by the class or by the teacher.

  20. Discuss ways they can get objective and accurate answers without putting people at risk.

    • Students have the task of finding out if other students in their school have experience being bullied, teased, or excluded based on their clothes or looks. Encourage them to ask fellow students what they experienced, how they felt, and how they responded. They record their results in a concise and meaningful format.
    • Challenge students to talk to at least three students that they would not ordinarily talk to. They may reach out to unfamiliar clubs or social groups and start a conversation about bullying.
  21. Teacher note: Allow sufficient time between Day Two and Day Three for students to distribute and collect the surveys.

  22. Day Three

  23. Students present the collected data through graphs and charts and share the summarized results with the class.

  24. Facilitate a discussion. Ask:

    • Is there bullying behavior in your school? What is the evidence? Given the evidence cited, what might have been the catalyst?
    • Are people responding effectively to bullying?
    • What could your class do to make the situation better?
  25. Exit card: In the last few minutes of class, have students write an exit card explaining why bullying violates our civil or human rights.


Administer a pre and post test. Students write a short essay on What is your view on bullying behavior? The post test is an essay on the same question What is your view on bullying behavior? and How has your view of bullying behavior changed and what will you do differently now? Review students raw data (surveys and interviews) and compare it to their presentations (charts and graphs). Does the presentation format match the raw data collected and represent the information accurately? Do students communicate their findings clearly?

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give an example why conflict may exist between individual freedom and the community.
      2. Benchmark HS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Research the need in the school, neighborhood, local community, state, nation, or world.