Fri, Dec 31, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Getting to the root of school bullying

By Lii Ding-tzann 李丁讚

Recent reports of schoolyard bullying at Taoyuan County’s Bade Junior High School (八德國中) have shocked the nation, especially the story that one student threatened to shoot teachers.

After looking into this last story, it turns out that the student in question was well-liked by staff and students alike, voluntarily picked up litter for a whole year and was generally very helpful around the school.

A number of months ago, however, a senior teacher who had been very supportive of him retired, leaving him feeling that there was nobody in the whole school who accepted or understood him, and he became involved in a gang.

It was this latter influence that caused him to go crashing into the staff room, declaring that he would shoot staff members.

Schoolyard bullying is really just the tip of the iceberg. A more widespread problem in elementary and junior high schools at the moment is exclusion and prejudice.

Many “good students” outside of the more mainstream educational institutions often find themselves ostracized or looked down on by their classmates and, in some cases, by members of the teaching staff.

It’s not that this is a new phenomenon, it is just that since the advent of globalization and the polarization of rich and poor in society, social exclusion has become more entrenched, through unemployment, poverty and the disparity of wealth. As a corollary, we are seeing an increase in the number of people being marginalized and consigned to the bottom rung of society.

In schools, this ostracizing and prejudice has reached a new level of intensity, and problems such as the rise of single-parent families, children being raised by grandparents and declining social cohesion have all contributed to a situation in which children find themselves feeling lonely, helpless and increasingly at odds with the schools they attend. Turning to gangs or bullying are an inevitable extension of such exclusion.

One could say that this exclusion and prejudice are the product of economic realities, and there is certainly something to this.

More important, though, is the dynamic of the school environment. If this is allowed to become monolithic and preoccupied with academic performance above all else, to the extent that other talents or abilities are dismissed out of hand, there is little room for pupils perceived to be “bad students” to find acceptance or recognition.

The trick is to reintroduce pluralistic standards into education that allow the special talents and abilities of each and every student to shine through. This is how to foster self-respect and self-confidence in students.

In a truly pluralistic school environment, students are empowered to find their own niche and be accepted in their own right, which facilitates a significant decline in exclusion and prejudice.

The problem is that today the only kind of success to which schools give any priority is that of academic results.

Even subjects such as music, art and sports that are officially part of the curriculum are not really accorded all that much importance, so forget skills that are not part of the curriculum, such as physical work, acting and performing, community work and physical aptitude.

There are also other aspects of student behavior that are not always visible, such as courage, candidness, a positive outlook and forthrightness.

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