Wednesday, 16 April 2014

(弱肉強食) Weak Meat, Strong Eat


There is a short aphorism that the strong eat, the weak are meat (弱肉強食 - "ruo rou, qiang shi").  There are I think variants of this theme across the world, but this particular version arises in Asia.

I was reminded of the saying when I came across this truly disheartening story that recently has made the news in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The long on the short of the story is that a 15 year old student who allegedly had been the chronic victim of various acts of bullying in his classroom, decided to try to defend himself.  The boy used an iPad to record an incident, and present the recording to his parents.

In the approximately six minutes recorded, the student is threatened and humiliated by multiple classmates, all the while as his teacher is standing right next to him, attempting to help with some maths questions.  

One might think that the school principal, when shown the evidence, would take action to punish the other kids, if not for the threats against the victim, then for the vulgarity and disrespect shown the teacher.

One would be wrong.

Apparently, the principal:

1) Ordered the student to erase the recording
2) Telephoned the police and had the victim arrested for making a "wiretap."

The craziness did not end there - a judge actually convicted the victim for disorderly conduct.

How on earth did we arrive at such a point?

I remember high school, despite the more than 25 years that have passed; I remember junior high school (now called "middle school") as an even more "lord of the flies" sort of place.  Of course there was bullying.  The "law of the playground" (as described by Homer Simpson) was more or less in effect.  But even then, this sort of obvious, in your face type of attack would not have been tolerated.

Why do we put up with it?  Why do those in authority simply refuse to do anything to help?  My sister is a school teacher, so I am sympathetic up to a point that the teachers are in many cases helpless - after all, the teachers cannot be all places at all times.  And I suspect in many instances, they fear retribution - here in Paris, some weeks ago, a teacher who punished a miscreant was savagely beaten as the other students sat and watched - either from the perpetrator, or by the parents or worse, lawyers who argue that it's not "fair" to Johnny to punish him for his misbehaviour.

My own son some years back in pre-school was the target of another boy who searched through the classroom until he found a target - in this case my then four year old son - who would neither fight back nor alert the teacher.  My wife waited at the edge of the playground one day to confirm that the little brat indeed was guilty, and when we went to the teacher and principal, neither seemed to know a thing, and the principal started in with a bunch of flapdoodle about "dialog" and the like.

Needless to say, she quickly changed her tune and took action to separate the problem when we suggested that she was now aware of the problem, and that we intended to name her personally should anything happen to our son.

Yes - it took threats to get results.  And we lived in one of the "best" school districts in the state.

Right now, "bullying" has reached an almost hysterical status, with virtually every conflict of every stripe being called "bullying."  It's a bit like how Orwell observed that the word "fascist" had been so abused and mis-applied that it simply did not mean anything specific any longer: (f)ascism "has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies something not desirable."  

The abuse, however, of course doesn't mean that existentially fascist behaviour had ceased to exist, nor does it now mean that there are not real incidents of bullying, and this case in Pennsylvania illustrates it perfectly.  The kids who have terrorised the boy are certainly bullying him, the school is likely bullying the teacher, making it impossible for her to control her classroom, and the authorities - the principal, the police, and the idiot judge - are bullying all those who are trying to obey the rules into not making waves.

It's unacceptable.

Some have commented that the school's hands are tied - that there is nothing to be done with bullies.  Nonsense.  Those kids should be expelled.

The principal who allowed this to happen should be fired.

The judge who handed down the sentence should be recalled.

The rules are in place precisely to protect the weak from the strong.  THAT is why we have laws; it's why we have police.  It's why we have prisons.
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