Bullies reflect our sad past

A screengrab from a video showing am alleged incident of bullying at a school in Vereeniging. Pic: YouTube

A screengrab from a video showing am alleged incident of bullying at a school in Vereeniging. Pic: YouTube

Bullying at schools is as endemic as corporal punishment, although outlawed. A sensitive kid filmed a video to show the extent of violence meted out to a fellow schoolboy at Kruger Laan school in Vereeniging.

What makes the spectacle even more horrific is the teacher sitting behind his desk apparently marking papers, unperturbed by what seems like dangerous pummelling to the boy’s head and ribs. No wonder the video has gone viral. It was a scene hard to behold.

Bullying is commonplace in our schools and teachers are often complicit. The abolition of corporal punishment solicited more opposition than any human rights violation I am aware of. The culture of violent punishment had been so ingrained in our culture that teachers had no idea how to discipline kids without using violence.

I did a lot of human rights education about corporal punishment and constant refrains were: “the state was removing the only power teachers had over kids”; “we no longer have the right to discipline” and “the moral decline in our communities is due to the fact that teachers no longer have the authority to punish kids”. And, of course, there was the age-old “spare the rod, spoil the child” adage.

Corporal punishment was abolished but teachers were not educated properly about how to explore different forms of

non-violent discipline. The demerit system was meant to replace corporal punishment but was often implemented so harshly that the negative system of points had deleterious effects on the achievements of kids. Punishment rather than corrective measures was the norm and where violent measures were outlawed, teachers would take revenge in other ways.

I once had to deal with a principal who expelled a boy for tying his shoelaces in a certain way because they kept coming undone due to the size of his shoes. He was tall, robust and had problems tying his laces “in the way” the principal wanted it done, so the teacher kicked him out.

At my daughter’s first school, a boy in her class repeatedly bullied her and would not leave her alone. When he threw her to the ground threatening to clobber her, I complained to the teacher and principal. The teacher took revenge on my daughter by ignoring her when she raised her hand to answer a question. The principal’s response was “ladies don’t complain”.

I then decided to register her with a girl’s school. After a school-readiness assessment, the headmistress wrote the following note: “I hereby wish to inform you that your daughter has been admitted to this school, not as a pupil, but as a teacher.” The school not only recognised her talent, but also had a sense of humour about how precocious my daughter was. They nurtured her since day one. Had she remained at the other school, her spirit would have been broken by vengeful teachers, an authoritarian principal and unimaginative conflict resolution.

Whenever I ask adults why they smack or beat children as punishment, the responses are often idiotic. When I ask them why they don’t beat other adults who offend them, they get the point. Unless government comes down hard on bullies, violence will continue from the cradle to the grave. Literally.


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