People who work at the Anne Frank House talk about their experiences. Karen Polak tells us about the difference between bullying and discrimination.

Anne Frank was not bullied

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Anne was a popular girl. She could also be a bit of a minx. She wasn’t bullied, but she was discriminated. Teasing, bullying, prejudice, discrimination: not everyone sees the differences, but they are there.

Stories that move

Young people from 7 different European countries talked about identity, diversity and discrimination. 

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Exhibitions and activities worldwide

The Anne Frank House is active in more than fifty countries with exhibitions and educational projects.

Exhibitions and activities worldwide

Anne Frank is not a remedy against bullying

A few years I was called by an elementary school teacher who wanted to visit the Anne Frank House with her class of 8 year olds. I explained that this was really too young and that it was better to wait until the children were older, at least 11 years old. Children of this age understand more about anti-Semitism, racism and the Nazis. ‘Yes, but they’re so interested in Anne Frank,’ she answered; and after a while added, ‘and they bully each other so much.’ It was then that I thought: there’s something very wrong if Anne Frank has to be used to combat bullying.

Similarities

Of course there are similarities between bullying and discrimination and sometimes they coincide. Exclusion of ‘the other’ plays a major role. Looking for a scapegoat. Power struggles and the five roles of victim, perpetrator, bystanders (fellow students in the class), the teacher/school and parents.
Some psychological mechanisms correspond, as in the argument not to intervene, ‘it's no big deal’ (downplay), 'he / she is asking for it' (passing blame), 'it's always been like it' (so nothing can be done about it).

An anti- bullying kit is not the solution

Discrimination and bullying mostly rear their ugly heads when people feel insecure. Also the roots of these problems are persistent. They can’t be solved with a lesson, an anti-bullying kit or a project. What is needed is consistent policy, a broad approach, and setting a good example. We must be willing to recognize that we adults often belittle or humiliate others and set  young people a bad example.

Quite rightly ministers and ombudsmen constantly draw attention to bullying in school and reiterate that every future teacher should learn how to deal with and prevent bullying during their training. Of course knowledge and insight is necessary, but also the conviction that it is necessary and possible to prevent bullying and discrimination. Empathy is needed. Victims should be protected at all times.

Prejudice

Pleasant teasing is an art – we laugh about it and do it with friends. Bullying is hurtful, mean and dangerous. It happens secretly and usually focuses on one person or a small group. Discrimination often takes place openly, but people are not always aware that they discriminate. Sometimes it happens from conviction: ‘They don’t belong here '. But sometimes it happens unconsciously: ‘Is that discrimination? I didn’t mean that!’ Discrimination is much more a social and political problem. We all have prejudices, but if we really think about them we can see that we do ourselves and others an injustice by sticking to them.

It would be a good start if every teacher knew how to create a safe and trusted atmosphere in the classroom. It would be a good start if every student knew the difference between bullying and teasing and between prejudice and discrimination.

Karen Polak’s specialism is teaching about anti-Semitism, the persecution of the Jews and the genocide of the Roma and Sinti.

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