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Saturday, October 26, 2013


If baboons can create a kinder culture, so can we. Hopefully we humans won't have to resort to tainted meat... 
No Time for Bullies: Baboons Retool Their Culture
By NATALIE ANGIER Published: April 13, 2004

Sometimes it takes the great Dustbuster of fate to clear the room of bullies and bad habits. Freak cyclones helped destroy Kublai Khan's brutal Mongolian empire, for example, while the Black Death of the 14th century capsized the medieval theocracy and gave the Renaissance a chance to shine.

Among a troop of savanna baboons in Kenya, a terrible outbreak of tuberculosis 20 years ago selectively killed off the biggest, nastiest and most despotic males, setting the stage for a social and behavioral transformation unlike any seen in this notoriously truculent primate.

In a study appearing today in the journal PloS Biology (online at www.plosbiology.org), researchers describe the drastic temperamental and tonal shift that occurred in a troop of 62 baboons when its most belligerent members vanished from the scene. The victims were all dominant adult males that had been strong and snarly enough to fight with a neighboring baboon troop over the spoils at a tourist lodge garbage dump, and were exposed there to meat tainted with bovine tuberculosis, which soon killed them. Left behind in the troop, designated the Forest Troop, were the 50 percent of males that had been too subordinate to try dump brawling, as well as all the females and their young. With that change in demographics came a cultural swing toward pacifism, a relaxing of the usually parlous baboon hierarchy, and a willingness to use affection and mutual grooming rather than threats, swipes and bites to foster a patriotic spirit.

Remarkably, the Forest Troop has maintained its genial style over two decades, even though the male survivors of the epidemic have since died or disappeared and been replaced by males from the outside. (As is the case for most primates, baboon females spend their lives in their natal home, while the males leave at puberty to seek their fortunes elsewhere.) The persistence of communal comity suggests that the resident baboons must somehow be instructing the immigrants in the unusual customs of the tribe.

''We don't yet understand the mechanism of transmittal,'' said Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford, ''but the jerky new guys are obviously learning, 'We don't do things like that around here.' '' Dr. Sapolsky wrote the report with his colleague and wife, Dr. Lisa J. Share.

Dr. Sapolsky, who is renowned for his study of the physiology of stress, said that the Forest Troop baboons probably felt as good as they acted. Hormone samples from the monkeys showed far less evidence of stress in even the lowest-ranking individuals, when contrasted with baboons living in more rancorous societies.

The researchers were able to compare the behavior and physiology of the contemporary Forest Troop primates to two control groups: a similar-size baboon congregation living nearby, called the Talek Troop, and the Forest Troop itself from 1979 through 1982, the era that might be called Before Alpha Die-off, or B.A.D.

''It's a really fine, thorough piece of work, with the sort of methodology and lucky data sets that you can only get from doing long-term field research,'' said Dr. Duane Quiatt, a primatologist at the University of Colorado at Denver and a co-author with Vernon Reynolds of the 1993 book ''Primate Behaviour: Information, Social Knowledge and the Evolution of Culture.''

The new work vividly demonstrates that, Putumayo records notwithstanding, humans hold no patent on multiculturalism. As a growing body of research indicates, many social animals learn from one another and cultivate regional variants in skills, conventions and fashions. Some chimpanzees crack open their nuts with a stone hammer on a stone anvil; others prefer wood hammers on wood anvils. The chimpanzees of the Tai forest rain-dance; those of the Gombe tickle themselves. Dr. Jane Goodall reported a fad in one chimpanzee group: a young female started wiggling her hands, and before long, every teen chimp was doing likewise.

But in the baboon study, the culture being conveyed is less a specific behavior or skill than a global code of conduct. ''You can more accurately describe it as the social ethos of group,'' said Dr. Andrew Whiten, a professor of evolutionary and developmental psychology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who has studied chimpanzee culture. ''It's an attitude that's being transmitted.''

The report also offers real-world proof of a principle first demonstrated in captive populations of monkeys: that with the right upbringing, diplomacy is infectious. Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal, the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University in Atlanta, has shown that if the normally pugilistic rhesus monkeys are reared with the more conciliatory stumptailed monkeys, the rhesus monkeys learn the value of tolerance, peacemaking and mutual hip-hugging.

Dr. de Waal, who wrote an essay to accompany the new baboon study, said in a telephone interview, ''The good news for humans is that it looks like peaceful conditions, once established, can be maintained,'' he said.

''And if baboons can do it,'' he said, ''why not us? The bad news is that you might have to first knock out all the most aggressive males to get there.''

Jerkiness or worse certainly seems to be a job description for ordinary male baboons. The average young male, after wheedling his way into a new troop at around age 7, spends his prime years seeking to fang his way up the hierarchy; and once he's gained some status, he devotes many a leisure hour to whimsical displays of power at scant personal cost. He harasses and attacks females, which weigh half his hundred pounds and lack his thumb-thick canines, or he terrorizes the low-ranking males he knows cannot retaliate.

Dr. Barbara Smuts, a primatologist at the University of Michigan who wrote the 1985 book ''Sex and Friendship in Baboons,'' said that the females in the troop she studied received a serious bite from a male annually, maybe losing a strip of flesh or part of an ear in the process. As they age and lose their strength, however, males may calm down and adopt a new approach to group living, affiliating with females so devotedly that they keep their reproductive opportunities going even as their ranking in the male hierarchy plunges.

For their part, female baboons, which live up to 25 years -- compared with the male's 18 -- inherit their rank in the gynocracy from their mothers and so spend less time fighting for dominance. They do, however, readily battle females from outside the fold, for they, not the males, are the keepers of turf and dynasty.

The new-fashioned Forest Troop is no United Nations, or even the average frat house. Its citizens remain highly aggressive and argumentative, and the males still obsess over hierarchy. ''We're talking about baboons here,'' said Dr. Sapolsky.

What most distinguishes this congregation from others is that the males resist taking out their bad moods on females and underlings. When a dominant male wants to pick a fight, he finds someone his own size and rank. As a result, a greater percentage of male-male conflicts in the Forest Troop occur between closely ranked individuals than is seen in the control populations, where the bullies seek easier pickings. Moreover, Forest Troop males of all ranks spend more time grooming and being groomed, and just generally huddling close to troop mates, than do their counterpart males in the study.

Interestingly, the male faces in the Forest Troop may have changed over time, but the relative numbers have not. Ever since the tuberculosis epidemic killed half the adult males, the ratio has remained skewed, with twice as many females as males. Yet the researchers have demonstrated that the troop's sexual complexion alone cannot explain its character. Examining other troops with a similar preponderance of females, the Stanford scientists saw no evidence of the Forest Troop's relative amity.

Dr. Sapolsky has no idea how long the good times will last. ''I confess I'm rooting for the troop to stay like this forever, but I worry about how vulnerable they may be,'' he said. ''All it would take is two or three jerky adolescent males entering at the same time to tilt the balance and destroy the culture.''

6:29 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Hello out there! The Emperor is NAKED!

I wrote about the emperor and his lack of clothing and all the pretending that he is beautifully attired two years ago. I compared it with school districts' lack of true bullying prevention efforts and of us pretending that what we are supposed to be doing is happening. Nothing's changed.  It's worse than ever.  There are fewer counseling resources in schools in 2013 than there were in 2011.  There are more administrative duties.  There are credits and test booklets to count; there are classes to level and Virtual Learning Labs to facilitate. There is a whole lot of "other stuff" for counselors to do other that counsel.  

There is also this: a thirty minute district "training" of teachers so that they can "identify" children in their class rooms with possible psychological disorders...and send them to the mental health experts in schools....except there are no licensed mental health experts in schools.  They've been let go.  School counselors are the only other option...and they are decorating and counting and leveling and standing around in classes watching children take classes on computers. 

Another child has killed herself after having been relentlessly tormented by others.  Two children have been arrested. It's time--oh yes, it's time--to put some true "bullying prevention" clothes on our emperor.

Here's the 2011 piece:

Let’s take a look at our emperor’s sartorial trickery.  He covers his butt in “policy”--zero tolerance kinds of stuff.   “Thou shalts and thou shalt nots” rain down upon those of us working in his empire of education.  

“Under no circumstances will bullying be tolerated“ he declares. Yet the emperor himself barks and brays. 

“We have the responsibility to keep all children safe from bullying,” our emperor intones. Yet he focuses purely on state standardized testing at the expense of all else. 

“We will prevent bullying and keep children safe” our emperor proclaims. Yet even as he imposes another even more strident anti-bullying policy,  he doesn’t tell us how the heck we’ll do it, just that we must. He doesn’t give us training or tools, just rules.  

And we all pretend.  We all are guilty of pretending--or at least of turning the blind eye.  And if we ourselves are not naked yet--man oh man--unless we get embarrassed now by our bloated bodies--we will be. 

 Look no farther than the state of New Jersey.  It has the toughest (we’ll show ‘em who’s boss!) policy in the nation!  Counselors are now anti-bullying specialists!  They will investigate every bullying report!  They will report to the police!  Hey--so you will know-- they most likely are also in the classroom “co-teaching” to meet class size regulations…and they are “leveling” classes….and they are organizing “Red Ribbon” and “AIDS awareness” week…and putting together career and magnet school fairs…. and assuring kids have all credits for progression to the next grade level.  I’m just trying to put at least a few baubles on the emperor.  

The bottom line is this: more pressure. The bottom line is this too: little help and recognition that the issue of bullying prevention is huge.  That this requires resources. That it’s worth more than more zero tolerance policies.  That policy--butt covering--simply is not enough.  

Policy.  I am tired of policy.  I want action.  I am tired of documentation.  I want prevention.  I am tired of butt covering.  I want truth.  And here it is.  We have great tools.  We have great people.  We need great leadership to allow us to implement those things that we say we are doing.  Just that.  Let’s just do what we say we are doing.  We’re out there sermonizing on the evils of bullying.  We’re smugly lauding our prevention efforts.  And all we need to truly put some clothes on our emperor is leadership.  

Get the prevention programs and training in place. Make the commitment.  Get dressed. 

 So: School district superintendents.  Take a look in your closet.   You got some cool stuff in there.  While you’re at it--maybe a little exercise would be in order….


11:31 am edt          Comments

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Who do I think I am anyway?

Who am I to be writing about things like workplace bullying in schools?  After all, I am way down in my particular pile of bureaucracy--a large and urban public school district. Got no institutionalize "clout."  Got no big time dress up clothes. Don't go to "important meetings." Nobody's "yes-ma'aming" me. I don't make much money either.  Nope. I just go to work every day--on time I'll have you know--and do my best for children....in spite of the pile of institutionalized, dressed up, "important meeting going" (c)louts under which I labor.

David Yamada of Minding the Workplace recently posted this insightful article about our government and wealth and selfishness and civic mean spiritedness.  He writes of the disconnect between our nation's top 1% and the rest of its 99%. As a public school employee that resonates with me. Just as the super wealthy are disconnected from the rest of our daily struggles, my institutionalized pile of bureaucracy's top 1%"--it's leaders--are, it seems, disconnected from the rest of its 99%.  In spite of fewer and fewer resources in schools, they purport to offer more and more services. In spite of fewer and fewer mental health counselors, for example in our schools, they tell parents that counselors are offering groups and seminars and academic advisement while we really are often holed up in offices working through mountains of data related paper work.  Right now it's "leveling" classes here in the State of Florida. We comb through students' names and schedules to find unsuspecting children whose lives will be disrupted almost two months into the school year.  For what reason? None that I can see other than district leaders (and to be fair state legislators to whom district leaders suck up) somewhere looking at a computer screen and saying something like:  "Good job (fill in school's name), you are IN THE GREEN!  Never mind that being "in the green" only means that names are added as "co-teachers" and so classes can be la-a-o-ded (loaded) with lots more children. Those "co-teachers" will probably never actually be present in those classrooms. They will only be present on a mucky-muck's computer screen. Why don't they actually go to the classroom they are assigned to "co-teach?" Because they  are holed up in their offices--for they are counselors and administrators--creating more data so that schools (yeah!) are "in the green."  

And on and on we go....

Here's the link to David Yamada's article: http://newworkplace.wordpress.com/
2:35 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Need some back up here


 To Elizabeth Fox, a bullied educator:

"I have been through the fire of being a target of a bullying administrator.  I am reaching a hand back into the flames.  Hold on."
--Kim Werner; www.apiecefullworld.com 

Here is Elizabeth's comment from the article "Bullying of Teachers Pervasive in Many Schools" NEA article by Cindy Long: http://neatoday.org/2012/05/16/bullying-of-teachers-pervasive-in-many-schools/. It is comment number 809.

Elizabeth Fox says:
September 23, 2013 at 9:11 pm
I need to know where I can go to get help, as an educator who has been bullied/harassed for 2 years, now in the third year. My union has done nothing. Please help.
6:29 am edt          Comments

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Click here for my district's bullying and harassment policy. You will see I have made comments....