Bullying Is a Crime.

The Department of Education wants educators and administrators to take bullying a little more seriously:

In a 10-page letter to be sent on Tuesday to thousands of school districts and colleges, the Department of Education urges the nation’s educators to ensure that they are complying with their responsibilities to prevent harassment, as laid out in federal laws.

The letter is the product of a yearlong review of the federal statutes and case law covering sexual, racial and other forms of harassment, officials said. Issuing the letter took on new urgency in recent weeks because of a string of high-profile cases in which students have committed suicide after enduring bullying by classmates, the officials said.

I can't find fault with encouragement, but it is true that a serious effort to tackle bullying would include actual criminal penalties. That is, most forms of bullying amount to little more than extortion and violence, and if these were adults, we wouldn't even hesitate to bring law to bear on this behavior. But -- to borrow from Mark Kleiman -- because the Hobbesian condition of preteens and teenagers is limited to playgrounds and schoolyards, we tend to see bullying as "boys being boys" rather than criminal activity.

Of course, pushing schools to treat bullying like a crime -- without necessarily throwing kids in jail -- is a huge undertaking. So, for now at least, a letter will have to do.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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