The Bully Society

School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools

318 pages

August, 2013

ISBN: 9781479860944



Also available in



Part of the Intersections series


Jessie Klein is Assistant Professor of Sociology/Criminal Justice at Adelphi University. Over the last two decades, she also led and administered high school guidance programs. She served as a supervisor, school social worker, college adviser, social studies teacher, substance abuse prevention counselor and conflict resolution coordinator. Her writing appears in scholarly journals as well as popular media. She is available for speaking events; and offers consultations for schools interested in building compassionate communities leading to more peaceful, effective and productive education environments.

All books by Jessie Klein

Choice's Outstanding Academic Title list for 2013 
In today’s schools, kids bullying kids is not an occasional occurrence but rather an everyday reality where children learn early that being sensitive, respectful, and kind earns them no respect. Jessie Klein makes the provocative argument that the rise of school shootings across America, and childhood aggression more broadly, are the consequences of a society that actually promotes aggressive and competitive behavior. The Bully Society is a call to reclaim America’s schools from the vicious cycle of aggression that threatens our children and our society at large.
Heartbreaking interviews illuminate how both boys and girls obtain status by acting “masculine”—displaying aggression at one another’s expense as both students and adults police one another to uphold gender stereotypes. Klein shows that the aggressive ritual of gender policing in American culture creates emotional damage that perpetuates violence through revenge, and that this cycle is the main cause of not only the many school shootings that have shocked America, but also related problems in schools, manifesting in high rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-cutting, truancy, and substance abuse. After two decades working in schools as a school social worker and professor, Klein proposes ways to transcend these destructive trends—transforming school bully societies into compassionate communities. 


  • "Readers wanting an in-depth explanation of what’s behind school bullying will get that and much more in The Bully Society. Professor Klein has rendered an exceedingly thorough analysis of the bullying and hate crimes and shootings that have shocked America in the last decade or so. In addition, Dr. Klein makes a compelling argument that the causes of bullying are rooted in the American culture itself—an obsession with masculinity and hyper-individualism that promotes competition over collaboration and denies young people the kinds of authentic bonding experiences that encourage the development of healthy self-esteem."

    New York Journal of Books

  • "Klein, a former school counselor who now teaches sociology and criminal justice, forms a coherent, heartbreaking narrative of how bullying works."

    The Boston Globe

  • "In this thorough examination of the connection between bullying and three decades of school shootings in America, Adelphi University professor Klein presents a compelling case that the strict gender rules by which American children and teenagers are unfairly forced to live are the driving factors in school violence."

    Publishers Weekly

  • "Written for a diverse audience, this is an important read for higher education as a teaching tool, for training educators in today's schools, and for helping to appropriately respond to the phenomenon of bullying in today's schools. Destined to emerge as an important text."


  • "[C]arefully researched, well written, and compelling read...It offers important evidence that can offer deeper understandings of the issues influencing youth violence in American culture and valuable recommendations for future research and action to reduce these harmful factors in our schools and communities."  

    Men and Masculinities

  • "The author writes with clarity and compassion... she offers an opportunity for us to examine, discuss and consider the world we have created for our children."

    Kirkus Reviews

  • "A scholarly, insightful commentary on aggression and violence within peer groups....this title is highly recommended for professional shelves and teacher training courses."


  • "The Bully Society is a remarkably accessible book and can be read both by students, teachers, and parents. It is an important tool to use when combating bullying in high schools."


  • "The Bully Society is riveting and powerful—Jessie Klein uncovers the roots of depression, school shootings, and other despair in American schools and offers brilliant and doable solutions. This amazing and hopeful book is a clarion call to all concerned about children;  parents, professionals, anyone working with youth should read it. Jessie Klein led the team that helped launch me from being homeless to Harvard University; and she got everyone from my class (from an at-risk public high school)  into a 4-year college—most with full scholarships. Surely her book can spearhead a movement for peaceful schools in America and her successes can be replicated. The Bully Society is poignant and timely at a moment when everyone should be listening. Frankly, we can't afford not to. The stories Klein tells are heartbreaking. She knows what it takes to create compassionate communities where students thrive—and what must be done to dismantle the more common school bully cultures. A must read for everyone who wants to see American students move from a sea of fear, anxiety, and rage to flourish academically, socially, and psychologically. The Bully Society points the way for students (and schools) to develop their full potential."

    —Liz Murray, author of Breaking Night: A Memoir of My Journey from Homeless to Harvard

  • "This powerful, necessary book shows how the epidemic cruelty of young people generates many of the social problems that are undermining American society. In pondering what it means to be a bully and to be the victim of a bully, Jessie Klein shows why our schools are failing us, explains crimes long viewed as inexplicable, and offers a stunning indictment of laissez-faire attitudes toward children. Her book illuminates a very dark problem, and proposes solutions that, if we are brave enough to adopt them, might be transformative not only in the lives of suffering individuals, but also in the health of the nation. I wish everyone around me had had this book to read when I was bullied as a child."

    —Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon

  • "Taking the horrific rampage school shootings as a starting point, Jessie Klein resists pop-psychology profiling, and instead lets the events ramify outwards, to a searing indictment of the cultures of cruelty, entitlement and indifference in which those acts take place."

    —Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland

  • "Exceptionally readable, abundant examples, and full of salient suggestions for social change; no future discussion of this topic can afford to ignore The Bully Society."

    —James W. Messerschmidt, author of Hegemonic Masculinities and Camouflaged Politics