This is a very old and a painful issue for many people. I was bullied in my primary school and I bet most people reading this have either witnessed or experienced bullying in schools.
The issue of what to do with persistent bullies sounds simple: kick them out! But it’s not as simple as it sounds. We need more places for children with behavioural issues in centres where skilled people can help them and their families without victims of bullying remaining at risk. Something that has improved since my days at school is that we now have peer mediation and anti-bullying awareness programmes, but clearly these programmes are not enough to stop really serious violence in schools.
Is it getting worse? Thirty years ago violence and abuse was normalised as “boys will be boys” and pack fighting and individual torment took place in many schools. It’s hard to assess the impact of adult violence, violence in mass media and increased social inequality on levels of bullying. In the old days we had more fear of teachers and fear of authority and abusive behaviour was covered up in some schools. Now issues get named but naming is not always resolving.
I admire the young people from SAVE (Students against Violence Everywhere) for the great work they are doing. It’s hard to blame schools for not fixing social problems and its wrong to keep exposing victims to perpetrators. In the end we cannot expel young people in trouble from our families or communities even if they are removed from schools. They are mirroring a profound problem they see in their world.
When I visited the schools and alternatives schools carrying out my “What is A Real Education?” project, bullying was a big concern for students. It is time to hold up the mirror to adults and ask “What are we doing to actively reduce the normalising of violent behaviour?”
That’s why I have complained to the Department of Internal Affairs and the Office of Film and Literature Classification about a freely available magazine called Vice which shows young women tied up with ropes looking fragile and vulnerable.
It’s not going to stop violence but, nor is it silent collusion. What else can we do to help young people value non-violence? And where are the help and resources for damaged young people so they cannot damage other children? A letter from the Minister of Education to the Boards of Trustees isn’t enough.