A Taichung high-school student recently committed suicide after allegedly being bullied and abused by his school’s head of student affairs, military discipline office head, and other disciplinary and security officers.
The Humanistic Education Foundation accused seven staff members at the school of picking on the boy after he was found bringing beer and cigarettes on campus in his first year at the school. They allegedly started to conduct body checks and searches of his bag, vilify him in public and pressure him into admitting wrongdoings committed by other students using verbal threats. They allegedly handed him two demerits and nine warnings within a month, and tried to force him to leave the school. Unable to withstand the abuse and false accusations, the boy threw white envelopes at the school in a demonstration of his innocence, before committing suicide at home.
In response to his death, the school first told the public that the boy “passed away accidentally” in an attempt to gloss over the affair, leading to a backlash from parents and students. After reports on the incident went viral, people took to the school’s Facebook page to leave comments chiding the staff. Eventually, the seven educators were temporarily suspended from their jobs, pending an investigation by the Taichung Education Bureau.
The incident highlights several issues with Taiwan’s education system and ideology. Schools have become a quasi-panopticon in which students are constantly monitored. Ideally, schools should be a place to inspire and foster talent, but the education system has long equated teaching with discipline, leading to the implementation of measures such as having students write confessions, a merit and demerit system, and other penalties. Coupled with “credentialism,” which deeply permeates society, students are “categorized,” undermining their individualism and subjectivity. Students who get good grades and excel in contests are categorized as “good students,” while those who get bad grades or frequently goof around are labeled “bad students” who must be strictly monitored.
The boy who committed suicide “misbehaved” in his first year at the school, leading to him being labeled as bad and subjected to endless scrutiny. As adults monitoring the boy fell victim to prejudice and bigotry instilled by the education system, they started abusing their power. As their abuse was verbal, it left no trace on the boy’s body, but chipped away at his soul.
Another part of the panopticon were the disciplinary officers at the school, a legacy from autocratic rule under the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime. They were originally placed on campuses to monitor students’ behavior and thoughts for the regime, exacerbating the system’s problems until this day. They should be removed from campuses as soon as possible. The government should also bolster efforts to rein in the practice of school staff imposing unjustified penalties. There are bad apples in every occupation, but the government should be more discreet when it comes to education, as teachers and staff play a large role in shaping students’ minds and development. Whether it is sexual or verbal abuse, or any other kind of unjustified use of power, the government should increase penalties on inadequate teachers, including banning those found guilty of abuse from the profession, instead of suspending them temporarily or transferring them to other schools.
People should bear in mind that everybody can become an accomplice to bullying or abuse. While the seven staff members might be the main culprits in the boy’s case, those who turned a blind eye to the abuse were also guilty. The education system should enable students who experience abuse to have the courage to seek help. Their abusers might not be wiser than them, only older.
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