Monday, August 31, 2009

We Are All Responsible

There can be no greater tragedy than the loss of a child. The death of fifteen year old Jai Morcom after a brawl at Mullumbimby High School is such a tragedy, and although the details of just exactly what happened are not yet clear, it would seem to be a tragedy amplified by the sense that it should never have happened at all. While politicians and school administrators claim to have successful anti bullying measures and that any outbreaks of violence which do occur are treated with a zero tolerance policy, many parents and students know a different reality.

There have been allegations that trouble has been brewing at Mullumbimby High School for a number of years, and that the particular feud which led to Friday’s tragedy has been running for some time. Other schools have featured in controversial reports of schoolyard bashings captured on camera and uploaded to the internet. Still more instances of so called cyber-stalking have also made the news. Some of these activities are carried on outside the school yard fence and beyond the reach of teachers and principals, but it is at school where the interactions between warring students usually begin.

Don’t be fooled by suggestions that there is a difference between bullying and a dispute that erupts into a physical fight. Both stem from an individual’s belief that there is an entitlement to force his or her will upon another. The only difference is that a so called bully picks a weaker victim who can’t or won’t fight back. Just because a bully picks a fight with “someone his own size” as the saying goes, doesn’t make him any more a well adjusted individual or any less dangerous.

Schoolyard bullies and schoolyard fights are nothing new. They have been around for as long as there have been schools. It is a part of human nature that in any institutional environment a hierarchy develops, and amongst children animal instincts can prevail without an understanding of why or from where they came. What is new is the range of modern methods of mediation, dispute resolution, and counseling. What is new is the politically correct culture of zero tolerance where intended victims who are brave enough to defend themselves are equally vilified for not lying down and allowing themselves to be beaten.

But despite all the talk of zero tolerance and victim support, it would seem that bullying has not gone away, and nor is it likely to. It is too easy to simply blame schools for inadequate policies and procedures, or to blame the government for inadequate support for teachers. The truth is that aggression and bullying in schools is just a part of a much bigger problem with aggression and bullying in the community generally. We live in a world where gratuitous violence is glorified in films and video games, where supposedly mature adults perpetrate acts of road rage, and where abusive language and obscene gestures are considered to be a legitimate means of self expression. When it comes to teaching our children that there is a better way we all have a responsibility, one that starts in the home, and which extends to everything we do.

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