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The Alicia Wallace Column: Schools Have To Get In The Fight To Protect Our Students

By ALICIA WALLACE

Fights happen in schools all the time. I went to a high school known for its Christian mandate and inflexibility. There was probably a fight, or at least a scuffle, every week. Most of them were fist fights, but some involved makeshift weapons. Students involved in fights were usually suspended, if not expelled. It was also possible for students to be suspended for accumulating too many detentions. Detention was a punishment for a range of things, from being late and uniform infractions to causing a disturbance in class and damaging school property. It was not difficult to get suspended. School administrators were pleased they could, at least temporarily, remove a “troublesome” student from the environment and teach them a lesson, parents were frustrated with their child and had to make other arrangements for a few days, and the student got “stripes,” seen as superior for being in such great trouble. Few people “learned their lesson” when they got a few days off from school. Some of them probably got into more trouble and some of that may have made its way back to campus.

Every parent does not have a back-up plan. Midterm breaks and holidays are difficult enough. How do you ask someone to supervise your child who has been banned from school for any period of time? For some, there is no one to ask. They have no choice but to leave them at home with instructions they may or may not follow. If the suspension is the result of a fight, what is to stop the students from meeting to finish the fight? If not, what is to keep the now free student from getting into more trouble? We say, “The devil finds work for idle hands,” but do we keep our young people engaged?

Many of our “solutions” create new problems. Schools send children home, giving no thought to the environments they will inhabit, nor to the environments the schools themselves have created. Students spend most of their waking hours in school, and that is where they need to learn and practice social skills. They need to learn how to non-violently resolve conflict, how to safely intervene. Temporarily removing them from the environment does nothing to solve the problem. They have to come back, and they probably have a score to settle.

The attitude that we are only responsible for children when they are in our sight must change. Many have to walk home from school. Do we know what they experience after school every day? Who they encounter, lines they have to cross, jobs they have to do? Some of them will tell you their lives are at risk and their labour, tardiness, or free ride from a stranger is all that can save them when no one else is around.

We obviously have a violent society. Violence is often the first response adults have to misbehaving children, so it is no surprise it has become the instinct of young people in the middle of conflict. Our conversations need to shift. We need to think about prevention of violence by teaching conflict resolution and prepare schools to mediate. The Ministry of Education, Ministry of National Security, Bahamas Union of Teachers, and non-profit organizations working with at-risk youth need to be in conversation with another, share information and develop a plan. Punishment only comes after being caught in the act. Our focus needs to be on prevention.

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Buju Banton performs at the Thomas A Robinson National Stadium on Saturday night. Photos: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff

The rules of the game

The Buju Banton concert was the talk of the town on the weekend. Though many complained about the line-up — which was, indeed, quite odd — excitement was high. Those with tickets and those tuned in to live feeds were equally excited.

There were quite a few posts by annoyed ticket-holders who were not able to enter the stadium for an hour. They tagged organizers to express displeasure and complained about the amount of money they spent only to be stuck outside for a long period of time. Once inside, they took photos and videos and started to enjoy themselves. By the time Buju performed, the earlier part of the night was forgotten. The experience, at that point, was everything they wanted. It made me think of the five-year political cycles we go through, and the things we choose to forget so we can more fully enjoy a victory. We are constantly bargaining, shifting and searching for ways to reconcile difference, disappointments and failures, if only for our own peace of mind and temporary freedom.

It was interesting to see the level of participation from people at home. They complained about the timing of sets and tried to control the way people did live streams. Viewers commented on live videos to tell patrons how to hold their phones, when to show the crowd and which service provider to use in order to improve the viewing experience. They complained about artists performing songs they did not know and responded with obscenities when live feeds were cut. Some viewers pointed out the people at home had more to say than the people who paid for the experience.

There was a determination to be proven right, or better than the others. Those at home laughed at those who bought tickets, boasting they, at home, ended up with the best seats. People in attendance were convinced those at home were missing out on something special and their arguments were worthless because they were not there.

We have people with tickets who want to sell them at higher prices and some want to get whatever they can for them. We have people who can not afford a ticket, but will pretend they do not want to go. There are those who truly do not want to go, but want to watch from a distance so they can “be in tings” when the conversation comes up. National discourse is not much different. Some have greater access to information than others. Some do not want to be so involved that they look complicit, but they want to participate. Everyone deserves to be heard, but not everyone deserves to be heard.

Did you pay to be here? Which section were you in? What time you reach? We’ll tally your points and let you know if we have time to listen to you. These are the rules. Don’t like them? Let’s fight.

Child abuse is not discipline

There is, once again, a video of an adult beating children being circulated. The Abaco teacher is shown hitting boys with a belt. She makes them, one by one, face and put their hands on the wall while she lashes them. It is an exercise of humiliation for them and an expression of anger for her. This is not discipline. It is an assertion of power, a threat to others, a sick form of entertainment for those watching and an attempt to break those children as human beings.

A radio talk show host talked about corporal punishment on Monday. In calls and text messages, people quoted The Bible, sure that the “rod” of correction is literal. They insisted that beatings yields good results. Few contributors to the conversation called it violence or connected it to the anger, resentment and violence we see in society.

We are doing children a great disservice, lazily ruling by fear and humiliation. We are creating a generation that will carry trauma and may not be able to pinpoint the source for a long time. We do not even make mental health resources available for them. They are alienated from and afraid of the people we tell them to trust. They face ridicule from peers, often punished by their parents for being punished, and are seen as delinquents by the general public. They are among the most vulnerable, victimised over and over again.

What do we expect to come of this? Children get upset. They make mistakes. It is necessary to correct them and to do it in ways they can safely, effectively model throughout their lives. They should be able to communicate disagreement or disapproval without turning to violence, and they have to learn it from us.

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