“We learn by example and by direct experience,” wrote Malcolm Gladwell in “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” “because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction.”

And herein lies a fundamental obstacle to increasing efforts across the country to counter bullying by young people: adult bullies.

One needn’t go much past Rush Limbaugh and his verbal attack on a Georgetown University student to get the point, but let’s do: A middle school student who told school officials in New Mexico that she was pregnant was first kicked out of school and the school dormitory, then readmitted a few days later, a lawsuit alleges, only to be “outed” as pregnant by the middle school director at an assembly.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the school and two adults on behalf of Shantelle Hicks, 15, who attends Wingate Elementary School, a boarding school in Gallup, N.M. The school is a public, coeducational elementary school for Native American children from kindergarten through eighth grade that is funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and operated by the Bureau of Indian Education.

“It was so embarrassing to have all the other kids staring at me as I walked into the gymnasium,” Hicks was quoted as saying in an ACLU statement. “I didn’t want the whole school to know I was pregnant because it’s not their business, and it wasn’t right for my teachers to single me out.”

The lawsuit alleges that the eighth-grader had a constitutional right to equal protection under Title IX and that school administrators violated it — as well as her right to privacy — by kicking her out and telling others about her pregnancy.

Wingate officials told the girl that she would be a bad example to the other children at the school and that she could attend an alternative high school in Gallup, the lawsuit says, but she wanted to stay at Wingate. Under pressure from the ACLU, she was allowed to return but was then singled out at an all-school assembly and identified as pregnant by the middle school director, the suit alleges.

Outing a teenager as pregnant is nothing more than bullying, but when an adult does it, it sends a message that such behavior is acceptable. Whatever one thinks about the pregnancy of an eighth-grader, there’s no way to condone a school leader humiliating her in front of her peers.

In fact, the most effective anti-bullying programs in schools are those that involve every single person in the school building. Everybody has to be on board with the same message.

Limbaugh, of course, has been bullying people verbally for years. But it wasn’t until this episode, in which he called the Georgetown University student “a slut” — and that wasn’t even the worst part — that advertisers finally started to back away from him. But we’ll wait to see for how long.

Kids today see adults in the political arena verbally assault each other, both on the campaign trail and in Congress. They hear revelations about a Redskins coach, Gregg Williams, who is said to have paid players for super-charged hits on opponents that could injure them enough to drive them off the field.

And that’s just a few of the awful messages being sent to kids today.

We live in a culture that tolerates and even often likes bullies. And that is as much a threat to the success of vital anti-bullying efforts as anything.

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