Bullying Is a Civil Rights Issue

9, 10, 11, 12

The learners define bullying and describe the impact on victims, bystanders, and the whole community. We explore how bullying behavior can be a civil rights issue when it makes school a place that isn't 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 50-minute Sessions

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.
  • assess the state of bullying in a school community and communicate findings.
  • 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

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. Anticipatory Set:

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

    1. 1 in 5 high school students report being bullied at school.
    2. 1 in 6 report that they have been bullied online in the past year.
    3. Bullying harms the mental health of victims and witnesses. 


  2. 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 from an unkind act.

  3. Discuss what bullying behavior looks like at their own school.

    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.

  4. 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. 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.
  5. Ask what they would do if they saw a bully in action. Write the following options and discuss which are appropriate. Encourage them to do a little online research about best practices for standing up for others. See StopBullying.gov

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

  7. 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 Amendments. 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 from persecution based on race, religion, or gender).

  8. 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.

    People may be either perceived to have less power or have had their power taken away by an oppressive group. Laws protect people from unfair treatment from dominating 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Ask how people 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 learners to take action to promote empathy and address bullying behavior at school.

  11. Session Two

  12. Ask whether 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?

    They are going to collect data to get an accurate picture of the status of bullying.

  13. Brainstorm ideas for collecting data about the status of bullying behavior at the school(s) and then reporting it clearly. 

  14. They may choose to create a survey and collect 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 survey language, fair language, sampling, creating a survey, and how to collect and record data in a graph or chart. Identify the survey categories (location, gender, frequency).

  15. Discuss ways they can get objective and accurate answers without putting people at risk. Create, review and revise, and distribute the surveys in the methods you choose together.

  16. Session Three

  17. Learners evaluate and present the collected data through graphs and charts and share the summarized results.

  18. 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 we do to make the situation better?
  19. Exit card: Explain why bullying violates our civil or human rights.

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.