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Raffique Shah


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School violence nothing new

November 16, 2003
By Raffique Shah

THERE are times, I swear, when I find we older people, more so those who wield influence in the society, are so hypocritical in our condemnation of today's youth, I feel like puking in disgust. Following the seemingly endless and pointless debates about ill discipline and violence in schools is one such example. Another is violence in the wider society, where, again, we lay complete blame at the feet of youngsters. Worst of all, those who are from another "generation" (as we like to say) hark back to the "good old days" and some even long for "the return of the White man", meaning reverting to colonialism.

While some of what is argued is valid, much of what is said is pure poppycock. Is violence in schools something new, a trend that began with the advent of the much-maligned junior secondary schools? If we are honest, we'll answer in the negative. As far as I recall there were always bullies in schools who took advantage of those who were too timid or too weak to respond to them. I have personal experience of such injustice, and not even "the good old days" or the "caring teachers of yesteryear" saved me from one such bully. I was about 10 years old, walking home from school, when this older and bigger boy, for no reason that I can recall, pounced on me and proceeded to deliver some kicks that sent me reeling. It happened after school hours, there were other students around and even some older folk, but no one came to my rescue. I did not report the matter to my teacher, nor to my parents, for fear of receiving double punishment. The guy disappeared from primary school shortly thereafter and I lost track of him. But by the time I was around 15 and had started serious physical training, I've searched far and wide for him. To this day I think if I were to meet him, I'd at least leave him with a few "calpets" (thanks for remembering that term, George John) since I think he might be too old now to have the favour returned--with interest.

The point here is that there were bullies in the school system then just as there are today. If the argument is that today's delinquents are "armed and dangerous", that their actions border on crime, is this unique to this era? Again, no. I remember gang wars among school boys at college (and I attended a so-called prestige school, Presentation College, Chaguanas), both internecine and inter-school. At "Pres" for example, there was a running war between boys from the Charlieville district and others from Montrose. One day some teacher was tipped off and he retrieved a bag of--wait for this-ice picks and cutlasses-hidden off the railway line near the college. Whether or not the weapons were intended for use or just for intimidation, we never found out. But fistfights were not uncommon, as were "sampats" (where several students will pounce on one and beat him to pulp).

Indeed, later on when I went into teaching for a short stint before going into the military, inter-school gang wars and violence were at fever pitch. There were about six secondary schools in Chaguanas, and almost every one had a number of gangs. At the school where I taught, the boys were disadvantaged because of their size and numbers, hence left to the mercy of bigger bullies from other schools. Which was what prompted this teacher to quietly join with the older boys (the principal must be shaking his head when he reads this) to do battle with their assailants from other schools. My presence saved my students from many a cutarse, since by then I was very physical.

The point here is that inter-school rivalry that spilled into brawls, and intra-school violence, is nothing new. What might be considered new are the choice of weapons, the entry of drugs on school compounds, and in minimal cases outright criminal behaviour. We must bear in mind, though, that more than likely it's a question of numbers. Meaning the relatively low number of students then as opposed to the high numbers now, a result of population growth. Also, most teachers today are too easily intimidated. When I read of students or parents beating up on teachers, I often ask myself is such teachers are spastics. If I were in the system, I certainly would not allow that to happen to me (a few of those I taught will remember how I dealt with deviants), matters not how "bad" they think they are.

It's a pity that the Government, eager to follow trends in developed countries, instituted regulations that banned corporal punishment in schools. Oh, I know any number of people out there will refer to my thinking on this subject as archaic and having negative effects. I should like them to tell, me, though, where "Blackboard Jungle" emanated, and where student and school violence is worse. Is it in countries like China, India and parts of Africa, where teachers still have the right to discipline students? Or is it not in the "enlightened" societies of the North where students are pampered to the point where they go on "shooting sprees" in schools?

I agree with TTUTA president Trevor Oliver that we need to come down heavy on deviant students. I think he should add to the list deviant teachers-starting with those who are drunk or under other influences while they teach, and those who turn up for work only so that they will collect their salaries at the end of the month. Some of them, and I hasten to emphasise "some" are a disgrace to what ought to be a noble profession. When we focus only on delinquent students, we allow some of the real culprits in this cycle of school degeneration to escape unscathed.

I'd like to take the discussion up another notch. We react with horror to the wanton violence that seems to have overtaken the society as a whole, and the marauding ways of criminal elements that hold entire districts hostage. Again, is this something new? While we must fight to minimise if not eliminate such behaviour, are we not fooling ourselves by suggesting that this is a new phenomenon? Has Laventille and its surroundings ever been short on "badjohns" who would terrorise its residents? In fact, I cringe when I see some of those very bullies of yesteryear, who I knew only by name and reputation (I being a "country boy") condemning their clones of today. They, too, are being most hypocritical.