In America, we also have a terrific problem with bullying in the schools. This is happening all over the world, as was witnessed by the wildly popular, viral you tube video earlier this year of an overweight Australian boy who finally had enough and retaliated against his tormentor. Bullying is related to school shootings, in that once again we have a sect of students who persist in harrassing those who are vulnerable (weight, some kind of perceived physical abnormality, sexual orientation, etc.), and victims who, in the case of bullying, too often now are driven to suicide. So, in a rather direct way, the social hierarchy that exists in every one of our middle and high schools is responsible for driving some of those who are at the very bottom of that hierarchy into violence, either by harming themselves or, in rare instances, opening fire on others.
Anti-bullying campaigns have been trumpeted for several years, and most school systems boast about having a "zero tolerance" for it. Nevertheless, bullying seems to be increasing dramatically. What is never mentioned, however, is the role the social hierarcy-the dividing of students into cliques and groups-plays in all this. In all schools, there is a "popular" crowd, and every student is aware of who belongs to it. The teachers unconsciously participate by showering attention and awards on many in this group, while neglecting to note the impact that has on those at the other end of the social spectrum, whose school days are usually spent in misery. To the vast majority of students, high school is pretty boring and they attend because they have to. They are basically the "audience" that effectively permits the bullying, harrassment and social hierarchy to exist. Without them, the precious few at the top could not be literal celebrities in their little environment, and the small numbers of those being harrassed wouldn't be enduring a living hell.
I've long advocated that our schools stop devoting so much money and attention to sports like football and basketball, and instead devote their resources to things that would benefit all students (more computers, for instance). I seem to be in a distinct minority on this issue, however. The social hierarchy is emopowered by long traditions (the same ones existed when I was in high school in the 1970s) like sports "pep" rallies, encouraging the football players to wear their jerseys to school on Fridays, allowing the cheerleaders to wear their uniforms on Fridays and on game days during basketball season. These practices surely promote self-esteem to those who play football and basketball and make the cheerleading team, but it also sets them up on a pedestal, contributes to their youthful arrogance and is a crucial factor in the "success" of the social hierarchy. The "Letterman" jacket has long been a symbol of power and popularity for high school boys, and it serves to differentiate them from their less popular peers.
Our educators, like our political leaders, seem incapable of thinking outside the box on these issues. How many more young children will take their own lives because they feel inadequate, or because the school administration didn't respond to their complaints about being bullied and harrassed? The story is always the same- the bereaved parents report that the school was made aware of the problem, on multiple occasions, yet for some unfathomable reason didn't confront and punish the tormentors. Why the consistent failure to react logically, especially when these same school officials routinely overreact to minor trangressions with severe penalties? In many school systems now, for instance, a child can be expelled for bringing an aspirin to school! What kind of thinking goes into these decisions?
I'm curious as to how high schools around the world are structured socially. I'd love some input from those in the U.K. and other areas; are students divided into easily indentifable groups, as they are in the U.S.? Do boys that play football (what we call soccer here) or some other sport thereby achieve a special standing among the student body? Are there cheerleaders, to distinguish the most popular girls? Are the most academically advanced students popular, unlike in America, where they are often scorned as "nerds?" I'm wondering if this is a worldwide phenomenon, or merely an American issue. Thanks for any and all comments.
Edited by Don Jeffries, 22 March 2013 - 04:36 AM.