Looking beyond the surface

We reproduce Part II of our three-part series on school violence, which was originally published in 2014, underscoring the point that this issue is one that has been festering in our society for a long time. While our first public pronouncement via this medium may have occurred in 2014, school violence is not a new phenomenon and did not have its genesis at this time. Anyone who takes the time to delve further into this issue will uncover several previous discussions and attempts to address this scourge.

AS WE continue to explore the issue of school violence, we seek to underscore the need to understand the source of the problem. Recognising that violent behaviour is a way of expressing feelings of anger and other negative emotions and represents a call for attention on the part of the perpetrator, any approach to dealing with school violence must treat with the reasons students are angry and feel a sense of hopelessness and despair.

Teachers have been treating with this reality daily as they confront the spectre of student violence. Unfortunately, treating with these issues takes a lot of dedicated time and support resources and that is a luxury that teachers do not always have, with their primary mandate being the delivery of the academic curriculum. Moreover, many teachers lack the formal training to treat with such social problems and very often feel helpless or even fearful in such situations.

Several of these violent students lack emotional security and may have been abused physically, verbally, or even sexually by people who should be protecting them. They often have no one that they believe they can trust to talk to and when the anger reaches to a certain point they explode violently, sometimes even lashing out at people (teachers) who are trying to help them.

They get to the point where they trust no one from a tender age and are forced to lead very lonely existences, very often getting to where they do not care, having become almost immune to emotional and even physical pain. They accept their fate as one that has no meaningful future. In seeking emotional support, many of our female students often fall prey to men who are ready and willing to take advantage of them.

Social acceptance in gangs for many of our boys now becomes quite easy. They get into a group of people who has comparable stories and can therefore easily identify with the other members. They now feel a sense of belonging and emotional support – the first step by the gang leaders in winning their trust.

They become immersed in a culture where violent behaviour is further reinforced and with this new feeling of empowerment, move onto new levels of violent behaviour and criminal conduct, since they see it as a way of exacting revenge on a system and society that have cheated them of a future. They have also learnt from the wider national community that crime and criminality pay and represent a viable pathway to success and upward social mobility.

Unfortunately, gang activity has become the norm in many of the nation’s secondary schools. It is not at all uncommon to uncover students walking into schools with knives, guns and other weapons and they are prepared to settle all disputes or even minor disagreements with this new-found violent power. They all seek to be “respected” and are now prepared to demand it using brute force.

They reject all forms of authority and are not afraid to express this rejection in violent terms, including assaulting teachers if they feel that they were part of the process of their marginalisation. The school is now being told very forcefully that as an institution it has failed to provide these students with true opportunity for upward social mobility.

And so, a most vicious cycle of deviance and criminality develops from which many of our vulnerable students are unable to return unless there are specific and targeted interventions by the school authorities focusing on behaviour modification. Too often, though, the school authorities are overwhelmed due to a lack of resources and the magnitude of the problem. In the final instalment we will look at some of the solutions to be applied to treat with the problem.


"Looking beyond the surface"

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