The issue of school bullying has received a lot of attention lately, with incidents starting to surface that many are finding unbelievable. As with all incidents involving abuse or violence, everyone is quick to point the finger and attempt to find out who the aggressors are and who is guilty of setting bad examples for our children. In fact, common sense tells us that children learn more from the actions of others and less from their words.
Children are very susceptible to what they see and regardless of how much adults talk about proper conduct and morals, children still learn the most from the way things are in society and from the media.
I still recall an incident from earlier this year in which a junior-high school teacher cursed at a student whose mother is from Indonesia. This teacher called the student a savage and told them to go back to Indonesia. The behavior of this teacher may have been extreme, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. What this shows is the extent to which prejudice against women from poorer countries who have come to Taiwan to marry still exists within our society and education sector.
As the number of female immigrants has increased, our society has become full of anxiety about what our media has referred to as “the new children of Taiwan” and the way these children of immigrant wives will bring down the level of “breeding” in the population. Various reports about how these children suffer from impaired development abound and education organizations have come up with a series of measures aimed at setting these new children of Taiwan straight.
However, the idea that these children have less “breeding” lacks any sort of empirical foundation. Such ideas are based solely on an ideology of prejudices toward different social classes. This theory states that the majority of their parents are poor, have lower levels of education and that they must lack good breeding as a result. This kind of ideology is deeply rooted in Taiwan’s society and was embodied in 2004 when then-vice minister of education Chou Tsan-der (周燦德) openly urged foreign brides and brides from China “not to have so many children.” He even had the audacity to say that he didn’t mind if people criticized him, showing absolutely no fear of human rights groups.
Apart from examining our schools, we should also look at the wider society. At the end of 2007, eight drunk university students beat up a foreign worker for fun. After the incident, the students were stopped and arrested by patrolling police officers. After their parents were informed and arrived at the police station, they not only failed to correct their children, they even asked the police if it really was such a big deal.
When news of the incident broke, many junior and senior high school-aged Internet users posted comments saying that they supported the university students who beat the foreign worker. They even blamed foreign workers for Taiwan’s worsening unemployment rates and said the students just beat the worker for entertainment, so it was all right. Senior-high school Internet users even jokingly and proudly recounted an incident in which they got together more than 100 motorcycles and more than 10 cars after a school celebration and went to an industrial zone, where they chased foreign workers around with baseball bats in the name of “justice.”
Perhaps you will say that the aforementioned incidents are examples of extreme behavior by a small minority of troublemakers. However, it is easy to see many cases in which immigrants and migrant workers are bullied. For example, people often talk about the Southeast Asian or Chinese brides of Taiwanese men and wonder whether their marriages are genuine. Taiwanese employers and foreign worker brokers do not allow foreign workers time off work, they make dubious deductions from their pay and seize their documents, threaten them with dismissal and even send them to the airport to go home when they show even slight signs of protest or resistance. Our entertainers openly talk about how stupid their foreign maids are on television programs and whenever the topic of dating or meeting “foreigners” is mentioned on such programs, guests on these shows will laugh and make fun of people who have gone out with people with dark skin like Africans or Southeast Asians. By contrast, they commend those who have been out with or mix with white people from “first-world countries.”
School bullying is merely a reflection of bullying within society. When our society at large is accustomed to bowing down to and worshiping white collar “foreigners” from first-world countries, yet holds extreme prejudices against and abuses the rights of “foreign brides” and “foreign workers” from “third-world countries,” it won’t matter how much of their budget the Ministry of Education allocates to the promotion of what they call “moral” education. Our children only learn by looking up to the rich and powerful, who continue to bully the weak and poor. This is the ugly truth that exists in our society.
Hsia Hsiao-chuan is a professor in the Graduate Institute for Social Transformation Studies at Shih Hsin University.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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