This week the prompt for I must confess is ‘I don’t understand…’. I was going to link up an old post I had written about same sex marriage and the people who oppose it. However something else has been bumping around in my mind for a little while now. Then last week Near As Dammit’s post pushed it to the forefront. The thing that has me perplexed at the moment is the bubble that is school.Jessie’s post shared the story of her son and how he was punished for retaliating after being repeatedly punched by a much larger boy. The education department has stated that they have a zero tolerance policy to bullying, and that this includes physical violence. On the surface this seems like a good idea.
Of course we don’t want to hear from our child’s school that they have been involved in a physical altercation. However what this zero tolerance policy doesn’t take into account is a child who is retaliating or protecting themselves. The stance is that a child must remove themselves from the situation without using physical means. This is rather difficult though when the other child is restraining them.
Last year, several times, I picked Mr 6 up from school and discovered that he had been punched in the face by another student in his class. Thankfully I couldn’t fault the way that his teacher personally dealt with the situation, however she couldn’t be everywhere at once and the behaviour was continuing on the playground.
Paul and I were frustrated and our first advice to Mr 6 was that he should stay away from the other child, not something that is possible when the child follows him. We also didn’t want Mr 6 to feel restricted in where he could go while at school because of this child. Our last resort was to tell Mr 6 to fight back. It wasn’t something we wanted to do and have always told him that it’s not OK to hit another person, but something had to give.
Thankfully Mr 6 didn’t have to use that advice in this instance. The same can’t be said for many children around the nation though. Children who are being subjected to physical violence at the hands of their peers everyday and being punished if they dare to defend themselves.
Why is it that in a school playground our children are taught that defending themselves is wrong? Yet out here in the real world using reasonable physical force to defend yourself against a physical threat is considered a legitimate legal defense. Why are we fighting for the rights of victims of domestic violence, rape and assault but allowing this black and white policy to deny the rights of our school children?
Our lives are filled with a myriad of greys. The court system takes into account mitigating circumstances when deciding on a person’s guilt. Why are we creating a school social system that is so different from the adult world, a world that we expect our kids to be able to navigate? Zero tolerance is great in theory, but only if it doesn’t allow the victim to be punished alongside the bully.
I think the ‘ignore it and it will go away’ advice only works in some situations, and teaching kids to just ignore abuse is not the best message to be sending them. Standing up for themselves in some way teaches them that they are worth something and don’t need to be treated this way. Whether it is laughing it off, making a good comeback, being assertive, or in worst case scenarios, hitting back.
I think zero tolerance has never worked throughout history. Probably because life is not black and white. I mean, wasn’t prohibition in the US a giant failure. Poor kid. They did the best they could and they don’t deserve to be in trouble.
I must admit we’ve been guilty of advising our boys to always walk away from trouble or violence. However this incident emphasises that is isn’t always possible, especially if the victim is being forcibly pinned down. I was threatened with violence several times when I was at high school, but no one ever followed through with the threats so I was able to ignore it. It saddens to me think that so many kids are dealing with this every day. It’s definitely time to re-think the zero tolerance policy in schools.
Ignoring bullies is hard work as most keep coming back. You need to try to stick up for yourself but there is s fine line.
A few years back my son was suspended for lashing out when under provocation, under the same zero tolerance policy to violence. Even though the school knew he was on the autism spectrum and even though they knew he was provoked. You raise a fair point – it is a policy that is in stark contrast to how similar cases are treated outside the school system.
A friend of mine is fighting with her 6 year old daughter’s school because she fought back after having her head held down against the concrete by a much larger boy. She got the same punishment as her bully. Disgraceful.
So sorry to hear your little man has been through bullying already. I can remember doing some surprisingly violent things (considering I was a “good little girl” and bullied a lot) to my bullies at school – like hitting one over the head with a fife (like a metal recorder) to make them stop when I was in about Year 3. I was so scared and of course got into trouble but nowhere near as much as I feared. And funnily enough that bully left me alone after that!
I think that there is a very fine line. We (teachers) always try and tell students to stand up to the bully verbally by telling them to stop etc, we work with ‘bystanders’ and encouraging students to always report. You are right in saying that teacher’s can’t be everywhere, often on playground duty there are a massive number of students for one teacher and while we try to have eyes on all children this is not always possible. I would hope that ALL instances that are reported are investigated and sometimes the situation is not as black and white as people like to make out. Unfortunately there are some parents out there that refuse to believe their child would ever do anything wrong, making dealing with these issues extremely difficult and while I’m not sure the ‘zero tolerance’ policy is necessarily the answer, I do believe each case should be treated on the basis of the circumstances relevant to THAT case, and all are different in their own way.
Sorry for the big long response, but this is a challenging topic that has no easy answer.
I don’t think that’s fair at all! Our children should be able to stand up for themselves if they are being physically restrained or physically bullied and to give the perpetrator AND the victim the same punishment is ridiculous. I’m not sure of the policy in NZ schools, I hope they take a more sensible approach than that! Sorry to hear you child was having a hard time with bullies 🙁
Yeah, it’s definitely a flawed policy. I think it should all be treated on a case by case basis, as this incident certainly demonstrates. You’re right when you say that in the adult world it’s expected that you would defend yourself in some way from a physical threat and children are no different. I think there also needs to be a big push to encourage other kids who witness this behaviour to instantly find a teacher to come and intervene. However there is always the fear that the child telling the teacher will then be targeted too. It’s a really tricky topic and there are certainly no black and white answers or solutions to it.
I don’t think zero tolerance works. Like you say, it’s not a black and white world and if a child is being relentlessly bullied they should have the right to defend themselves. I put up with a lot of abuse when I was a kid because I was told to ‘turn the other cheek’. Bullshit! The minute I finally stood up to myself, it stopped. Should have done it years earlier. Violence is not the answer, but defending yourself to continued violence is something different. It is showing strength and saying no to being a punching (or kicking) bag.