Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bullying? Is there a solution to all the despicable stuff that is happening in schools?

For the life of me I do not understand this concept of bullying in USA. I was born and raised in India, in the southern most state of Tamil Nadu. We have had this issue of bullying in colleges once upon a time, and when matters got worse people have taken their lives- freshers who just moved from school to college with totally different surroundings around 17-19 years of age. And then there was a highly publicized case of a life tragically lost, Sarika Shah, when some strangers tried to tease her and her friends, with one even triggering another until a life was lost. ( I do not want to go into all facts of the case, or what happened in the court case that followed. However, with that one case came a heavy handed court and police declaration that all women be left alone in colleges and a term called "eve-teasing" became prevalent. Any female student who felt harassed by her seniors/any other college members could just write a petition against the person(s) who was harassing and put it in a dropbox that became mandatory in every women's college. The college authorities would have to take strict action - most often leading to suspension/dismissal of the perpetrator(s). Teasing of all forms was banned in colleges. To some extent this lowered the incidents and the fear for all freshers joining college.
        Now, the above case mentioned college. But, how about school? As far as I can remember, there is no teasing/bullying in schools. In fact, in our system, the class students do not move from one class to another every hour. It is the teachers who move. If you are in the 8th grade, you are all in the class where other 8th graders are. Every hour, the teachers - maths, physics, language, social science - come to the class. Only during physical education class does the entire class move out to the ground. Even then we would not have dozens of other classes outside. If during this hour 8th had the Physical education, the next hour it would be some other grade having PE a class far away from your class. You are supposed to walk to the PE in line and walk back to your class in line.  There was no concept of walking in groups, or your cliques at any point of time except during break hours. During class you have no time to talk, much less bully one another. Before a teacher is due to leave the classroom, the next teacher is out waiting by the door most of the time. We have a system where we do not talk back to our teachers. If a teacher were to say something, we "obeyed" it. Irrespective of whether we liked it or not. We "respect" our teachers. We have a saying - "Mata, pita, guru, deivam" - Mother, Father, Teacher, God. Just the four words meaning the order in which we need to respect. Starting from the mother who brings you in to this world, the mother who introduces the father to you who is one of your first teachers, then they who take you to the (school) teacher who teaches you about values, about life, about God, and then God which can also be thought about us our conscience or self-awareness. What I want is for others to understand that we obeyed all four and we were duty bound to listen to all four. So if something did happen in school, someone did say something hateful, you could either go to your teacher or your parents and get a solution for this problem. They put an E N D to the problem and the problem-maker by either warning/punishing or figuring out a way to bring things under control. We probably were afraid of teachers and punishments for not completing homework than what someone else taught about us or how we looked.
        Then I read in the paper/internet news article that bullying happens everyday in the USA. The teachers do not say anything to bullies or bullied, they do not interfere unless there is some form of physical abuse and only then they get taken to the principal/higher authorities and also that sometimes a bullied victim who is fed up of being taunted who hits or strikes is the victim in the school as physical abuse is dealt strictly. Really? do not people know- us as adults - don't we know that abuse - be it physical, emotional, verbal, sexual are all abuses? That most of the time a  verbal abuse is much worse than physical? We have a famous two line poem written by Thiruvalluvar - a great Tamil Poet - who said
"Theeyinal sutta pun ullarum aradhae
Naavinal Sutta vadu"
-Roughly translates to "The scar left by fire will heal but a scar left by words doesn't."
Which I feel is true. We still remember hateful comments/remarks made by people around us while a fist fight or a wound caused by that subsides in time. So who should be punished in this case? I think a lot of people need in the capacity to make changes have to think how can we intervene and how can we stop this? How can we make sure that another innocent life is not lost on what is being told about them or to them?
        I cannot imagine how my life as a not really beautiful, overweight, short, teenager would have been or how I could have survived a system like what is here in the US. Maybe there is a reason why the children move from class to class. Maybe it is because of the various options they have to chose from to study unlike the same curriculum that all kids used from the 1st to their 10th grade and there is again very less difference in the 11th and 12th grade -just say a science (physics, chemistry, biology) or a non-science (accounting, commerce, economics) class. So, when you have you students from different classes all meeting in corridors, you need to come up with a system where they do not get abused, wherein every class just moves from one class to another; no bullying happens in corridors. May be there should be a teacher walking the corridors every now and then to see if the students are just walking to classes or making idle talk or causing trouble. The teachers should not be locked in their own rooms oblivious to what is happening outside their door or outside on the corridor. If a teacher cannot do it, then you should employ staff who can monitor the kids. Everyone needs to be accountable. A teacher can ensure that every child comes to her class or doesn't make a roundabout way to the class. This can be done when all students of a grade meet at the same place the first hour and a class appointed teacher can take the attendance of the entire grade. The students who are absent can be notified to all other teachers who have classes with that grade. So if 'x' students were supposed to show up to a class at 11am, but only 'x-3' showed up and the remainder three are late for some reason, the teacher must ask them why they were late, should make them stand if they have just been hanging around doing nothing, make sure that they are not part of a clique and have not caused any trouble in the class or are being bullied. These are things that a teacher needs to do. He/she can definitely hang near the door and make sure nothing bothersome is happening out when one class leaves and another is going to come in.
        Another point I would like to make is how 'social media' has made us boundary less. Anything that happened at my home, in my school, in my street, in my city, in my state, in my country stayed there unless there was a BBC/CNN in my days of school and college. But now, I sniffle and I put on one of the 'social media' sites I am part of; I do this, we do that and it is all on the site. So the impact is also that much when something happens negatively. A slant, a crude joke, a remark travels the world thanks to these sites and the mass video jungle where again the whole world can see you. Somehow, in making everything public, we have lost our privacy. Our kids are the ones who suffer the most. Also, we cannot ban this on our kids alone if everyone else is on it. Then comes another problem with peers as to whether you 'belong' or not. I think that kids these days have to grow up more quickly; they have to mature more quickly; whether they like it or not and that is in some ways very sad.
        I have a toddler and I have started to worry already - is my son going to have a good childhood? Does he look okay? Do I have to keep him on a diet so he doesn't get any weight issues? Is he going to grow tall or is he going to be teased for his height? Is his name(of foreign origin) going to be a reason people will tease him? Is he going to have an accent different from the rest of the kids that will put him in a spotlight? Should I just do home schooling for him? I do not think I should be worrying about all this. I do not think that parents should be thinking of all this when their DS/DD is just born. A non-working system should be fixed. The numbers may not be great, but they are not mere numbers. They are someone's most beloved and cherished son/daughter. I do not have a right to take away that life; you do not have the right to do so either. Neither should a bully be allowed to terrorize nor allowed to take the life of some dearest son/daughter. Someone who talks and behaves hatefully should be punished - whatever the age is, in whatever way that is appropriate so that it stops, so that in future kids can go safely to school, happily to school and mothers and fathers can rest in peace and be content that their little one is getting close to being the adult they choose to become in a career they want to shine in.