Bullying Is No Laughing Matter: Creating a ‘Fence of Friends’

WHAT are you doing for Bullying Prevention Month?

We are providing parents and teachers creative ideas for interacting with children about this problem plaguing many kids nationwide.

IS THIS A REAL PROBLEM? Yes. These days, it’s tough for adults to help kids get a handle on bullying because the attacks seem to surround children 24/7 through social media they can’t escape. This isn’t the same problem adults remember as uncomfortable playground encounters years ago. In our book by Michigan State University journalism students, The New Bullying, research shows that bullying is indeed a more persistent and dangerous problem than even a decade ago.

What are these “creative ideas” we’re providing? Teachers at Miller Elementary School in Michigan are asking their hundreds of students to take a page from our Bullying Is No Laughing Matter book—and draw pictures to discuss and display all around the school. Specifically, they’re using the free Dennis the Menace activity guide in our new section with the same name as our book: www.BullyingIsNoLaughingMatter.com


As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I met with some of the staff at Miller Elementary School recently to discuss how this particular activity guide could be used school-wide. They already had printed out our Dennis the Menace activity page. On that page, a large comic shows Dennis and a friend standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a way that causes a would-be bully to walk away in a frustrated huff. The activity page then prompts readers with a thought: “The best defense is a Fence of Friends.”

Then an invitation: What does your Fence of Friends look like? Try drawing a picture of you with your Fence of Friends. Try not to forget anyone!

Then a reminder: “While Dennis the Menace is known to be a troublemaker, he’s never crossed the line into bullying.”

One of the teachers said: “We could have our children each draw their own ‘Fence of Friends’.”

We all agreed: Good idea! But, what about the more isolated children in the classroom who can’t think of friends to sketch to fill the “fence row” on their 8-by-11 piece of paper?

The answer … “The adults helping with this activity can watch for this happening in the group,” I said. “Some kids will whip off a sketch with many friends. Others will sit staring at their own figure on the paper. Here’s the best part: You can ask the speedy-sketching, outgoing children to consider walking around the room to look for children who have space on their paper for a friend. The kids themselves can demonstrate this concept of forming a ‘Fence of Friends’ by drawing themselves into another child’s ‘fence.’ “

“I like that!” another teacher said. “Drawing yourself into someone else’s Fence of Friends to show that you’re going to be an ‘up-stander,’ someone who stands up as a friend for others. That’s a good idea.”

This week, Miller school kids are working on this idea. Teachers are having children make their drawings, which may wind up forming a school-wide Fence of Friends. And they are planning two assemblies this week to talk with younger and then older kids about the problem of bullying. They plan to show off their ever-growing fence as a school-wide commitment made by the children themselves.


And, that’s just one study guide in our growing website. The book contains three dozen different comics, each one useful as a “discussion starter” for teachers and parents who want to interact with kids about this tough problem of bullying. While looking at a cartoon in the book, it’s easy to ask questions like: “Have you seen that happen?” “What should happen next in this comic?” “Want to draw your own?”

Bookmark www.BullyingIsNoLaughingMatter.com and come back every week for another new activity guide.

In addition to Dennis the Menace, we’ve also published guides to these comics: Blondie, Broom Hilda, Pickles, For Better or For Worse, Rip Haywire, Luann, Jump Start, Stone Soup and It’s Magick.

A new guide appears each Monday, so stay tuned! And tell friends! Use the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons with this column to spread the news.

Back to School buzz: News about ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’

THANKS—to all of our colleagues in news media nationwide who are sharing headlines about Bullying Is No Laughing Matter with their readers. Before we look at some of those news stories, let’s answer a few questions:


What’s the buzz? Here are some of the stories this week …

NEW JERSEY’S ANN BRASCO—She’s the “Parental Guidance” columnist for the 12 newspapers that team up at the NJ.com website. In Ann’s column about the new comic book, she writes about the strong link between childhood and comics: “As a child, I loved to read comic strips. Lively casts of characters and unlikely heroes made me laugh and they made me think. It was exciting to join them on their adventures, to learn the lesson in their mistakes, and I certainly slept a little better at night believing that there was a team of heroes out there a bit braver than I was, who would come to my rescue should I need help. A new team of heroes has now been assembled to address a national epidemic.” You can read her entire column here. (Want to do a good deed right now? Go to Ann’s column, where you can Facebook “like” it or send her another kind of encouraging note. In this era of vanishing newspapers, journalists need your encouragement!)

WHY WRITERS LIKE ANN BRASCO MATTER—Media is so deeply interconnected today that we’ve already seen Ann’s coverage of the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter campaign show up as a recommended link on other websites concerned with parenting and back-to-school issues. That’s one reason Ann’s thoughtful work matters—because others can quickly share it across the Internet. (Have you got a blog, newsletter, Pinterest page or website where you could share a link to Ann’s column? Every time we share this news, it helps.)

KING OF COMICS—King Features, the huge comics network, is a big supporter of this new comic book. First, King Features published a news story about Bullying Is No Laughing Matter. Then, King recommended the book in a special column that was posted in King’s giant online website for comics: COMICS KINGDOM. In that column, King editors said the anti-bullying comic book is a sign of how much good-hearted comic artists want to help people in need. The column groups the news of the new comic book with news about comic artists joining in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (Want to see a couple of cool new Ice Bucket videos? Check out this column in the OurValues website. Come on! One of them features Kermit the Frog!)

MARY WORTH’S ADVICE—Since the 1930s, Mary Worth has been sharing her sage advice on newspaper comic pages. In recent years, she has tackled every social ill from drug abuse to teen pregnancy. At ReadTheSpirit, we thank Mary Worth for contributing a comic strip to this new book—and now for quickly telling her online fans about the project.

CLEVER COVERAGE FROM NICK GLUNT—In Ohio, the Medina-Gazette’s Nick Glunt cleverly looked through our new comic book to find comic artists who live in his part of the country. “Localizing news stories” has become a mainstay of contemporary journalism. Nick Glunt found that Tom Batiuk, a major contributor to the book, lives in Ohio. Nick began his story: “When nationally syndicated newspaper comic strip writer Tom Batiuk was in grade school, he once saw a girl bullied by his peers and did nothing.” You can read Nick’s entire story here. (Want to localize a story for your readers? Email us and we can tell you if there are local connections with Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.)

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Abraham Lincoln and American Values Resource Page

Abraham Lincoln was the only president faced with literally reuniting the United States. In that process, he redefined what American unity should mean for all of us. In charting new directions for the nation, Lincoln drew on his own hard-won wisdom, his political savvy, his moral code and also his own sense of theology. In his 1865 Second Inaugural, Lincoln pleaded with Americans to hold “malice toward none” and quoted the Gospel of Matthew: “Let us judge not, that we be not judged.”

THIS RESOURCE PAGE is  your easy guide to finding the most interesting material for your own personal reading—and for sharing with discussion groups or classes.



Many Americans across the U.S. call the annual period leading up to Thanksgiving the “Season of Gratitude.”

Grassroots efforts to promote a culturally and religiously diverse celebration under this inclusive name has been unfolding since 2013, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s declaration of the first annual Thanksgiving for Americans.

Here’s an example: The State University of New York College of Brockport chose “Season of Gratitude” as the name for its annual Holiday Helping Hand campaign (a major drive to collect resources for needy family). Brockport officials found Season of Gratitude more inclusive of Americans’ many different traditions.

Wondering what you will cook for your Thanksgiving dinner? There’s a Season of Gratitude Pinterest page with some yummy recipes.

5 TIPS ABOUT PREACHING ON ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Whatever you choose to say about our 16th president, Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomver provides an overview of key themes to keep in mind while preaching. He debunks the myth that Lincoln didn’t like preachers. (Lincoln loved them.) And, based on his many years of teaching and writing about the 16th president, Duncan shares insights into capturing the great man’s message.

‘THANKSGIVING,’ A SAMPLE SERMON ON LINCOLN: Duncan Newcomer also provides this sample sermon with a more focused Thanksgiving message, drawing on themes from the Bible and from Lincoln’s wisdom.

‘CAPTAIN IN THE STORM,’ SAMPLE SERMON ON LINCOLN: Duncan Newcomer provides a masterful sermon on the life and legacy of Lincoln near the occasion of the holiday he inaugurated: Thanksgiving. As you read this sermon, you may also want to read our texts of Walt Whitman’s two powerful tributes to Lincoln: O Captain! My Captain! (Whitman’s most popular poem in his own lifetime and a partial inspiration behind Duncan’s text) as well as Whitman’s longer When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.

WHAT WOULD LINCOLN SAY ABOUT AMERICAN VALUES TODAY? Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer explores Lincoln’s life and writing on the 10 core values documented in Dr. Wayne Baker’s new book United America.

BEST BOOKS on ABRAHAM LINCOLN & THE CIVIL WAR: ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm and Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer bring you recommendations of books that will warm the heart of any history buff. What’s more, the reviews themselves are full of intriguing details about the era. Enjoy!

PRAYER FROM LINCOLN FOR THANKSGIVING: Drawing on the words of our 16th president, we present this prayer you can share. In Lincoln’s words, it calls again for unity in our all-too-divided times.

LINCOLN’S PROCLAMATION OF A NATIONAL THANKSGIVING: We provide the entire text of Lincoln’s moving 1863 proclamation, plus we explain the lobbying effort of influential journalist Sara J. Hale.

See the Video! IMPORTANCE OF THE PROCLAMATION: Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer offers a short video—which you are free to share with others—explaining how the Thanksgiving proclamation reflects Lincoln’s most important values.


HISTORIAN STEPHEN PROTHERO PUTS LINCOLN IN PERSPECTIVE: This in-depth interview with Dr. Stephen Prothero explains more about the genius of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his declaration of the first national Thanksgiving.

JIM WALLIS ON LINCOLN: Jim Wallis’s book, On God’s Side, shows the Lincoln Memorial on its front cover and in this in-depth interview with Jim, he talks about the importance of Lincoln’s vision of a common ground in America.

LINCOLN, A COMPLEX MAN OF FAITH: Many writers have tried to explain Lincoln’s relationship to religion. This column is a fascinating overview of the historical evidence by Edward McNulty, the noted faith-and-film writer. McNulty prepared this historical column to accompany his film review of Steven Spielberg’s 2012 movie, Lincon.

LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS: We have the entire text of the address, plus we briefly explain the historical context—and we have the Bible references on which Lincoln drew when writing this message that includes the famous line “with malice toward none.”

LINCOLN’S BEARD: In 2010, columnist Stephanie Fenton posted this look at the 150th anniversary of the little girl’s letter that inspired Lincoln to grow his beard.

‘WHEN LILACS LAST IN THE DOORYARD BLOOMED’: You’ll find the entire text of Walt Whitman’s haunting elegy, penned after Lincoln was killed, plus related links.


LINCOLN & MELANCHOLY COLUMN: After five years at the helm of the OurValues project, sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker looked back at readership patterns and discovered this column about Lincoln’s “melancholy” was an all-time favorite. That was part of a week-long OurValues series on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

DUNCAN NEWCOMER AND ‘LINCOLN LEGACY‘: The popularity of that early 2013 series of Emancipation columns led us to invite Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer to write an entire week-long series on the “Lincoln Legacy.” That wide-ranging series includes one unusual column comparing Lincoln to Marilyn Monroe. Duncan also helped to write this fascinating column about the changing nature of Lincoln’s face throughout his presidency.

SECOND GREATEST PRESIDENT: In 2012, OurValues also reported on a Gallup Poll ranking Lincoln as America’s second greatest president out of 44.


BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS: Daniel Buttry’s inspiring book is packed with profiles of courageous peacemakers from around the world. Included in that book are stories about abolitionists Frederick Douglass, Thomas Clarkson and other heroes crusading for racial equality throughout history.


LINCOLN, THE STEVEN SPIELBERG MOVIE: Faith-and-film writer Edward McNulty not only reviews the film—he also provides discussion questions for your personal reflection or small group.

LINCOLN AND LES MISERABLES: Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer prepared this much-discussed column describing Lincoln’s personal connections with Victor Hugo and the similarities in themes between the president’s life and Hugo’s famous novel. Start with Newcomer’s column and then you’ll want to follow the link to the closely related column written by Edward McNulty about the best film versions of Les Miserables.

PBS’s THE ABOLITIONISTS: Starting long before the Civil War, this terrific three-hour miniseries tells the story of the moral and religious campaign that culminated in the Civil War. Our review explains why everyone should see this series—and why the film works well in sparking small-group discussion.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)