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Talk-ED: What are we fighting for?

Stuart Middleton
11  April 2011

There has been a lot of media swill lately in New Zealand about bullying at school. Now, I must immediately reveal that I think I was bullied at school. It happened like this. A lunch time tussle got a little out of hand and Jacob, one of my best mates, and I ended up in a situation that of it was a game of rugby would have been called “willing”.

The next day Jacob informed me that I had “broken his arm”, an allegation that I was too ignorant, simple and scared to challenge. He went on to inform me that “his father would be coming around” (I understood clearly just where he would be coming around to) and that I would subsequently be sent to jail. I accepted this at face value and plunged into deep despair.

I lived in grim anticipation of the visit of Jacob’s father and was now clearly in a situation of psychological bullying. About a week later I arrived home from school and Mum had visitors in the front room. I went in and as expected took part in polite conversation until I saw, out the window, Jacob’s father cycling along our street. I fell to the floor as if being attacked by an Al Qaeda squad only to turn and sheepishly look up at my Mum and her friends. “What are you doing dear?” Mum said. I beat a hasty retreat out of there.

Now that was bullying!

But the events we see in the media these days are not bullying, they are criminal assault, they are doing grievous bodily harm, they are the robbery, humiliation and degradation of others. That they are captured on mobile phones does not diminish the criminality of the actions of these thugs in school uniforms. That they are happening in schools does not make them mere bullying rather than criminal acts.

So it was somewhat astonishing to open a newspaper to read a shock horror story that a relatively small number of primary school students have been suspended or expelled from school because of behaviors’ that cannot be contained within the context of a school. Make no bones about it – these are the new thugs. These intolerable young ones are to our times what the mod, rockers, bodgies and thugs were to the sixties.

If people don’t like it they should do something about it.

And that means a national trans-Tasman effort to produces a less violent environment in our communities. This means new responsibilities for sportspeople, new commitment to zero tolerance for violence in schools, renewed effort to moderate the behavior of people in bars, on the streets and in the homes. In other words, a community that will not accept behavior that simply cannot be tolerated in a school – that must be the standard.

If our schools are supported by the community in this way, then the benefits are there for everyone. Bullying in schools, violent behavior by school-aged students outside the schools and other unacceptable behaviours are a matter for all the community not just schools.

On the other hand, the statement of a New Zealand principal after two girls from his school had allegedly beaten up an old man in a shopping precinct that the worrying aspect of the matter was not only that they were of school age and in uniform but that they were girls was not very helpful.

Was the implication of his statement a suggestion that had they been boys it might have been understandable or perhaps even acceptable?

Sadly, given prevailing attitudes of the community, it might well have been.



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Published inEducation


  1. Thank you for this. We need a lot more conversation in schools and the media defining behaviour that is actually thuggery and criminal activity (even those cases where it is digital or psychological rather than physical). Filing it all in a box called “bullying” is most unhelpful on so many levels.

  2. Richard Barnes Richard Barnes

    I’ve been watching “Beyond the Darklands” on TV3 which looks at New Zealand’s most notorious murderers. I noticed that they nearly all have one thing in common. They were all bullied at school.

  3. Theng Theng

    Bullied? Many of us are bullied.
    I heard over the radio that in the past when the school teacher or principal can use cane, there are fewer bullies (because the teachers are the bullies).
    I do not totally agree with this.
    People (young or old) dare to do “bad” things because 1. There is nothing to deter them from (nothing to lose) 2. There is an environment to allow it.
    For example: If a student treasure the value of study in school and knows that certain behaviour will results in losing what he treasure, then he will try very hard not to do that behaviour. So if bully is to be punished and the child does not like to be punished, then he will try not having that behaviour (this is deterring of crime)
    I do not believe that bully can happen in front of a group of teachers, because there are so many eyes watching him. (Unless these teachers have no power to stop it) (This is what I mean by environment to allow it)
    If the school can but in place a strong determent and remove any possible environments, then the bully issue can be controlled.

  4. Bullying is merely the ugly face of a deeper malignancy within society! When we accept music, films and programmes that reinforce behaviours aligned with bullying is it any wonder that bullying is rampant in our society and schools. When we run programmes apparently as harmless as NZ Top Chef, American Idol and countless others; where music and gang-styled programmes and videos are the order of the day, where individuals are humiliated and marginalised; where we celebrate sitcoms and programmes like Shortland Street which normalise and even sanitise dysfunctional families which lie, bully and steal, is it any wonder that our society, fueled by such models and ideas, reflect the mores and values of such a programmes? Bullying – is just one of many of the serious social problems facing this country and which has now become more evident and prevalent in our schools. Of course to solve the problem will require a long, hard look at what may be done and what are truly and effective ways of dealing with these issues. Frequently we are told not to shame and blame and yet it is the perpetrators who “name” themselves and surely then it is for them to cope with the consequences, whatever they turn out to be. “Choices have consequences” and that is the deal! That is what we buy into when we behave inappropriately. Where we take away or impinge on the rights of others surely we lose our rights!!

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