I find it hard to believe that the front page story in today’s Courier-Mail that outlines the desperate measures taken by a 13-year-old girl in a bid to secure help in dealing with schoolyard bullying would come as a surprise to anybody. It is hardly a secret that bullying is rampant in Queensland schools and that school authorities are loathe to take any genuine action against those responsible.
Claims by the Queensland Department of Education that bullying is not tolerated in state schools and that any situation that risked the safety and wellbeing of students was “dealt with as a matter of urgent priority”, is utterly false. Yes, all schools will have an anti-bullying policy in place and will claim zero tolerance of such behaviours, but these are just meaningless statements devoid of any real substance when it comes to preventing bullying and dealing with the perpetrators. Such policies look good on the school prospectus as part of the marketing campaign to convince parents that the school is genuinely engaged in student welfare, but the reality is that bullying and harassment remains rampant on school campuses and it will take a fundamental change in attitude from education authorities before anything changes.
Young people need to be resilient and we certainly don’t want to foster an environment that shields them from the realities of world in which people possess a wide range of values, beliefs and attitudes. Furthermore, we don’t want to stifle individuality in young people and create a generation that conforms to one very narrow way of thinking and behaving. However, we do need to protect students from being subjected to physical and/or psychological abuse at the hands of other students or teachers. It happens every day in every school and even though stories such as this one will foster sympathy and outrage in readers, ultimately nothing much will change.
Too often I have heard instances of bullying and harassment dismissed by school administrators and teaching staff with statements such as “well, teenage girls can be bitches, there isn’t anything we can do about that” or “boys will be boys”. I have also been privy to moments where a member of the school staff has told a student being subjected to bullying that they need to “harden up” and “deal with it”, while on other occasions I have seen students mocked by teachers or school staff for being “weak” should they dare to seek assistance in trying to combat sustained campaigns of harassment and bullying. Even when any action is taken, it usually comes very late in the cycle and much too late to protect the victims from harm. Schools need to be proactive, rather than reactive, in their approach to the issue. After all, it is too late to take action when the harm has already been done and we know that the end result from bullying, harassment and intimidation can be devastating. How many stories of young people taking their own lives do we need to read before somebody decides that enough is enough?
You see, schools are worried that if they take action against bullies, they will develop a reputation as an institution rife with behaviour problems. They would much rather do nothing as this enables them to declare, most disingenuously, that they have had “no instances of bullying”. After all, if there has been no action taken against any students, there mustn’t have been any bullying going on, right? That is certainly what our education administrators would like us to believe, even if the truth is a vastly different reality. It really does seem as though education authorities are standing in the corner with their eyes and ears covered, repeating to themselves “I cannot see you, I cannot hear you” when it comes to their approach to dealing with bullying, harassment and intimidation in our schools.
Unfortunately, it seems as though stories such as this – which you can read here – will continue to fill our news feeds until somebody, somewhere in a position of authority declares that enough is enough. Until then, bullies and thugs will continue to thrive and their victims will pay the price for the lack of genuine commitment to combating this plague of physical and psychological torment that has infected our education system.