By Jason Menard
Violence in schools, unfortunately, is nothing new. What people should really be concerned about is how it’s only going to get worse due to the inertia of school officials.
On Wednesday, in Toronto, one student snapped. In retaliation to a prank gone wrong, a student allegedly overreacted and returned firecracker fire with a more lethal blow from a bullet. Those types of incidents are tough to avoid because one way or another that student would have snapped.
It’s not the extreme violence that we should concern ourselves with. It’s the rising tolerance of day-to-day aggression that our school system has come to accept – and, in some cases with its policies, encourage.
The school in London, ON, at which my seventh-grade son attends has a hands-off policy. Unfortunately, it’s a hands-off for the victim, not the victimizers. For students who are being bullied they’re trapped on both sides by fear – fear of the bullies, and fear of the school system punishing them for defending themselves.
Students who are prone to bullying are generally those who are more likely to abide by the rules – and fear the ramifications of disobeying them. Students who bully take pride in flaunting the lackadaisical approach of school administrators, knowing that any punishment certainly won’t match the crime. What’s worse, lying and deception is encouraged – and, in some cases, rewarded.
I turn to a recent example for illustrative purposes. During the course of one day, a student accidentally kicked a basketball into the chest of another boy. That was the extent of the transgression. However, the boy who was hit by the ball then stewed in his own juices, formulating a plan, and building his anger. At the end of the day, this boy walked out into the schoolyard, asked who the ball-kicker was, and – without warning or provocation – assaulted him.
Assault. Violent, malevolent, viscious.
Without giving the unsuspecting boy a chance to defend himself – or even be aware of the fact that a blow was coming – the child who had the ball accidentally kicked into him pounced upon the other boy, punching him repeatedly in the eye, at best oblivious to (or, at worse, completely aware of) the fact that the victim was wearing glasses.
In the end, the victimized boy was taken to the hospital and was told that he was lucky that nothing was broken. He suffered lacerations to the face and back, severe swelling and bruising around the eye, and an unhealthy dose of psychological trauma.
The assailant? One day suspension and a slap on the wrist. How? Because he lied. He told school officials and police officers that it was a mutual fight. Although he suffered some wounds due to defensive injuries, the fact of the matter was this was an assault. The police, in turn, were unable to progress any further.
One day off school. That’s it. That’s supposed to be a deterrent to kids in the future?
What’s worse, a crowd of students stood around watching the assault. No one stepped forward to break it up, or even to help. And then we wonder why school violence is rising?
Bullies will continue to bully until there are serious ramifications to their actions. And those who are bullied will continue to not fight back because they’re actually worried about the “no-touch” policies in place. So we have to get tough now unless we want the next school shooting to take place in The Forest City.
First, longer suspensions for fight instigators. Yes, there will always be schoolyard dust-ups as youth trying to carve their space and identities in this world come into conflict. But there are clear aggressors in most cases and they should be dealt with harshly. One day, three days is not enough. Make it hurt – and make it impact parents who refuse to understand the severity. One month out of school? That’s going to impact parents and child alike and will set the wheels in motion for change.
Punish those who stand around and do nothing. If a fight breaks out, the natural reaction should be to break it up. Two combatants can’t do anything against 30 or 40 kids. So if people decide to turn schoolyard fights into a spectator sport, then they should be sent to the sidelines – detention or suspension. By encouraging interventionist behaviour, schools will be able to prevent these fights from escalating into something worse.
Abolish the “no-touch” policies. They’re great in theory, but horrible in practice. I’ve heard several good kids say they are afraid to fight back because they’re going to get suspended. Where’s the common sense in that? Defending one’s self is a right, but through their policies, schools are taking it away from those who need it most. The meek, the studious, the bullied aren’t going to go against the rules, so why should they be hamstrung against aggressors who ignore the rules outright?
Bullying is real. Bullying is getting worse. And it’s only a matter of time until one of our own children lies dead from a bullet. As parents and teachers, we have the ability to affect change, but hiding behind established procedures and policies only serves to hurt those that need it most. School should be a safe refuge for all and the only way we can do that is to get tough on those who prey on the weak.
I refuse to accept that my son’s after-school activities could include a trip to the morgue. But if we keep on following the path we’ve defined, that’s where some unlucky parent will find themselves. And at that point, the community will rise up and the cries to get tough will be shouted from the rooftops!
But why do we have to wait? One dead child is one too many. Toronto and other communities have shown us where school violence can lead, so why must we follow that path? Let’s blaze a new trail – one along which students can feel safe about travelling.
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