I’ve been working on this post for weeks, trying to get my thoughts straight and the words to come out right. I’ve discussed this multiple times with friends in the process of trying to figure a way to put this so it can’t be misinterpreted. When I posted about how the bullying I experienced in school still affects me a friend made a comment that resounded with me.
And I can’t help but wonder why the schools don’t have proper classes about self worth and bullying in school, and urge the kids to debate the whys and woes? This should be done on a weekly basis! Why don’t the parent meetings have classes about it…with and without the kids? And why don’t the schools have programmes on self esteem, and teach the kids that it’s normal to be or feel different, that it’s ok and that NOTHING, however odd, gives grounds for bullying?
I promised her a well-thought-out reply that evening, but the more I thought about it, the more I found we needed to discuss this in person.
I know that Norway has a great reputation internationally, but somehow, our scores in international tests seems to be dropping every year. And with every test score that doesn’t live up to our expectations comes a new report on “everything” that is wrong with the schools and the teachers. After all, and as ironic as it may be, Norway is a country that likes to think of itself as the best in the world, a former prime minister even claiming it to be a typical Norwegian trait to be good. That was in 1992, but we still quote her.
My worry, however, is not our failure to score high in the PISA. Well, not my immediate concern, anyway, because I feel we are failing at something that should be far more important than how one solves a complex mathematical task that perhaps has little practical use for the majority of the pupils.
In a society where one can insult others without experiencing repercussions, because you can hide behind some nickname on a screen, it is my opinion that a focus on emotional and social intelligence and people skills in general should be as much a focus area within the educational systems, as numeracy and literacy.
I’ve become quite fond of quoting the UNCRC Article 29 in my writings:
1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;[…]
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
Unfortunately, it seems that tolerance, respect and empathy – skills that can’t be measured – are neglected, as even online bullying is a concept all of it’s own, namely “trolling”. And it is not just children doing this. Adults are just as accomplished, if not more, at making others feel insecure at best, or even worthless.
How are children and young people supposed to benefit from classes, if they are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, if they don’t raise their hands to ask or answer questions for fear that they might be bullied because of it? Or if they feared “being next”? And what about the adults who go to work under similar circumstances, finding that everything they say or do are twisted around and used against them, finding themselves being harassed, or just as bad, being excluded and isolated? Everyone has a right to a safe and including working environment, but how are we to achieve such an ideal, when we seemingly have forgotten how to treat one another accordingly?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that empathy, kindness, respect and tolerance are skills that should be standardized and graded. Can you imagine telling or being told that a child is failing in what is considered basic social skills? Nevertheless, I do believe that many societal issues might have been decreased if the thought value of these skill-sets were increased.
This summer a British boy of 15 made the news because of the severe sunburns he had gotten on a school trip, and the mother blamed the teachers. The article was accompanied by photographs of the boy and his mother. Rather than discussing the importance of wearing a high SPF and reapplying frequently, the comments section went mad with people all having something to say on how these people probably had other issues they should be more concerned with. This is only one of the more recent examples I’ve found in Norwegian media, but the cases of fat-shaming, critique of the slim and slender, trolling in general.
If it is not that we are lacking in social skills, whatever reason do we have for talking negatively about one another? To one another?
The individual’s habitus (Wilken, 2008) is shaped by past experiences and dispositions, and is incorporated in the individual. This shapes the individual’s current and future perception of the world as well as its actions. It is the dominant culture incorporated in the individual. What if the dominant culture is one of negativity towards others, a culture of stepping on two others in order to elevate oneself a step further up the ladder?
It seems every other or third year there is a focus in Norway on anti-bullying campaigns, and I can’t tell you how many school projects I’ve had over the years concerning anti-bullying themes. Nevertheless, I was bullied. People younger than me were bullied. And whaddayaknow, as an adult I still encounter peers being bullied in this or that context. By other adults.
Social skills seem to be lacking as much in face-to-face interactions as well as through social media. It doesn’t have to be name calling or a punch in the face. Bullying isn’t always obvious. It might be a snide comment, or a reference to a previous interaction between bully and bullied. Something that seems innocent enough to onlookers. Or it can be quite obvious degradation. And it can hurt as much or more than being punched in the face. And what is more, whether it is fear or the bystander effect, or even a degree of participation nobody does anything to help. As the social creatures humans are, that is a very lonely feeling, one that might have been prevented if we weren’t so good at talking about bullying, and so incompetent at handling the causes.
UN. (1989). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
Wilken, L. (2008). Pierre Bourdieu (V. F. Andreassen, Trans.). Trondheim: Tapir Akademisk forlag.