Earlier this week, fresh reports of bullying in UK schools were released. The controversial approach raised much interest within tabloid newspapers and daytime TV, as a teacher from a school within Essex told a pupil to ‘act less gay’ in order to combat the bullying he received from peers in his class. The teacher’s response to the child’s problem was wrong on so many levels- not least of which because the self-esteem of the victim was effectively undermined even further by how the teacher approached the issue.
We all know that bullying is a form of abusive behaviour. There are very few people around who haven’t been subject to bullying of some description in their lives. This can take many forms including the use of force or coercion to affect other, potentially weaker people , perceived as being within a group minority. The focus can be harassment on the grounds of appearance, ability, race, gender, sexuality. It may involve verbal bullying, physical assault or specific coercion and may be directed persistently towards a particular victim or victims. The “imbalance of power” may be social power and/or physical power. The victim of bullying can sometimes be seen as a “target.”
Bullying within schools takes on different trends in tandem with society’s infrastructure of the time. Within Victorian schools, bullying was more often carried out by the teachers towards the pupils; caning and starvation were frequently carried out as false means of discipline. During the war years and shortly afterwards, children would taunt others in the playground and ‘sending them to Coventry’ as a way of ignoring them. The direct association with war and exclusion being prevalent. During the 90’s text bullying became rife within schools, marking the more negative side to the advent of mobile phones. Today, we’re told homophobia is the most recent common cause of bullying in schools. Children are encouraged to express their own personalities within their home life and society, but still remain a target within schools; often because of the way they talk or wear their hair which marks them out as ‘different’.
Schools have been issued with a new agenda to train teachers in tackling ‘homophobic’ bullying. Cabinet member for Essex county council Stephen Castle said “I think the critical issue for us is to ensure bullying of any kind is taken seriously”.
So ,what of the future – for bullied schoolchildren in particular? The Essex secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Jerry Glazier, said pupils needed to be given the confidence to report bullying in order to break the cycle.
In the meantime, it should be recognised that bullying is an unfortunately innate personality trait within some people; a trait which in its raw sense has ‘tribal’ connotations carried down from distant ancestors millions of years ago. It is wrong and damaging, but unfortunately will always be there as a factor within some human groups. All we can do is modify our treatment of this behaviour to fight each new wave of bullying as it faces our unfortunate victims.
©Tess Egerton 2011