School violence symptom of a deeper malaise

October, 28/2016 - 10:34

We’re living in a society where school violence is heard of everyday and becoming more and more serious. While my heart hurts and I almost feel outrageous seeing some kids hitting other helpless ones in some clips that went viral in Việt Nam recently, my mind goes numbing knowing that some of the bullied either died or committed suicide later.

by Thu Vân

It is tough to believe, and tougher to stomach, but school violence has become an everyday occurrence in our society.

Scarier still, the violence is intensifying.

I could not bear to watch fully a couple of videos that went viral in the country recently. Just a few seconds of seeing kids brutally beat up one of their fellow students made me sick.

Then it got worse, of course. Grief numbed the soul as I learn that some of the bullied kids died or committed suicide.

How can this happen? How can kids be so cruel and heartless that they can hit someone so hard that they die? What’s wrong with them? What’s going on in their minds? What kind of monsters are these?

As these questions raged in my mind, I had to force myself to calm down and think beyond the horror.

Our Buddhist philosophy stresses compassion towards both the victims and the oppressors, and difficult as it was for me, I reasoned that anger-based judgments and punishments are insufficient in such cases because they involve the future of this country and the world.

We need to get to the root of this problem and avoid superficial remedies. This entails seeing the “monsters” themselves as victims.

There are a few studies which indicate that some (not all) bullies have naturally aggressive and/or hyperactive personalities from the start. However, there is general expert agreement that bullies are not born into this world. 

Ludwig Feuerbach, a German philosopher and anthropologist, has said that a human is the ensemble of all social relations. True.

A person reflects the society he or she lives in. In this case, the bullies are a reflection of their families, schools and societies.

Bullied bullies

Research has shown that bullies are more likely than their peers to suffer from low self-esteem, depression and behavioural problems from early childhood through primary school.

Last month, at the Trần Phú High School in Huế City, three female students kicked and hit another girl mercilessly, with no one intervening. One girl who was watching could do nothing but cry. After someone posted the clip online, netizens raged against the bullies for their cruelty.

But Ngọc, (not her real name), one of the three students, has led a difficult life. Her father is seriously ill and her mother has had to work as a domestic help since Ngọc was very small. Ngọc was raised with the meagre pension her grandmother gets. The grandmother said Ngọc lacked the care and involvement of her parents as she grew up.

We do not need experts to tell us that parental neglect can have really bad impacts on children.

There’s no official study on the links between school bullies and later crimes in Việt Nam, but as violence in schools rises, the number of juvenile delinquencies has reached an alarming level, both in number and severity of offences, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

More than 17,000 crimes were committed by over 25,000 children and juveniles in the country in 2014 and the first ten months of last year.

A recent study of 2,500 juveniles found 76 per cent having troubled relationships with their families, experiencing either neglect or bullying by the parents. More than 50 per cent of the juveniles came from decent financial backgrounds. Family relationships have a greater impact on children’s personalities than their financial background.

It is often said that a child is like a piece of blank paper on which adults, parents, write future behavioral traits with their own words and actions. Parents know, or should know, and be aware that our words, actions and attitudes leave a deep impression on their children.

However, there are still parents who believe they can “educate” their kids by hitting them. There are still parents so caught up in increasing their earnings that they do not have enough time to spend with their kids. Sadly, this attitude is shared by many teachers and educational administrators.

When children feel abused, neglected or pressurized by demands and expectations, it follows that they either go into their shells or aggressively take out their frustrations on others. Such children tend to lack the social problem-solving skills they need.

A valid argument can be made, therefore, that bullying and violence in schools is a reflection of our failure as parents, educators, mentors and as a society.

Japan’s education ministry last year decided to make moral education a special subject in schools by 2018. Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said the decision aims to encourage students to think impartially, and discourage bullying and other juvenile crimes.

Việt Nam needs to do something similar. Schools have to take moral education seriously because it not only makes students better persons capable of realizing a better future for themselves, but also stresses the role of love, sharing and caring in ensuring sustainable development.

This means that we have to deal with larger systemic inequalities and other injustices. The problem of violent children cannot be divorced from the larger socio-economic mileu in which neglect and violence is engendered.  

Do we have the will to realise and act on this?

All you need is love, the Beatles sang.

Sounds dreamily simplistic and idealistic, but we need to practice and teach love, peace, justice and equality if our children are not to grow up in an environment where hatred and violence becomes the norm rather than the exception. — VNS