Education, Society

Bullying and Education: Do Schools Make Students Angry?

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by Ana Carolina C D’Agostini

We all know deep in our hearts that wearing uniforms is a method of control. One of the aims of school is to get you used to the idea of obeying orders and to make you biddable. Sitting in rows, getting there on time, changing activity every 40 minutes, were useful if you were going to cannon fodder of factory fodder or office fodder. But it isn’t so useful these days, when there is more call for creativity.[1]

Bullying embodies a common phenomenon which can be extremely damaging for students’ mental health and academic accomplishment. Bullying is centered on a “subset of aggressive behavior that has potential to cause physical or psychological harm to the recipient”[2] and it includes “noxious and constant actions by one individual against another that can be even not so easily recognizable, as it comprises exclusion and repudiation from a group”[3]. A range of existing work and theories depict bullies and victims as part of childhood and adolescence, especially in schools. In addition, common sense seems to dictate that “few individuals navigate their way through adolescence without being teased and bullied”[4].

This phenomenon has not been well investigated in research in Brazil as the predominant assumption is that bullying within relationships between children is inescapable. A closer examination of this matter can broaden our understanding that it might not be mere coincidence that bullying, as a form of violence, frequently occurs in schools. The current findings and theories on bullying bring to light the difficulty of explaining bullying behavior, particularly when addressing why would bullies act violently against their victims in an environment that was supposedly created for their education, development and well-being.

Bullying is an intense attitude among early adolescents because “students who bully do so to attain social position and maintain control over others”[5]. Moreover, there is a solid relationship between anger and bullying behavior, as there is also the absence of being capable of making use of “nonviolent strategies, such as talking out a disagreement, as well as lack of intentions to use those strategies”. [6]

This initial description about bullying fosters the debate into those aspects related to violence and to hatred. Data shows that more than 20.8% of elementary, middle school and high school students have suffered bullying at school in Brazil[7]. Like other forms of aggression, bullying occurs in a social context. This raises an important point to further investigate what is it so particular about schools that makes this kind of violence arise?

Schools have consistently been the instrument of society’s need to convert children into adults with most definite and objective means and leave childhood behind. As an ultimate goal, children need to have to conform to adulthood that intends “to direct them away from childhood freedoms and toward adult beliefs and practices”[8],  and to follow standards which “have little to do with the child but rather what the child must become”[9]. Along the same lines, schooling throughout history has regularly presented a steadfast battle “between education for control in order to produce citizens and workers who were conformist, passive and politically docile” opposed to educating for “critical consciousness, individual liberation and participatory democracy” [10].

A significant number of students feel unsafe at school due to bullying but do not seek assistance because they have the impression that teachers and administrators will not do anything about the aggression. This piece of evidence calls attention to the fundamental role that school’s staff play in preventing bullying behavior, as victims can “be taught appropriate self-assertion techniques and interactive skills”. Bullies need to be aware of the implication of public policies that should be made known to all students and parents before school begins, such as “bullying is a social process that requires a concerted reaction from teachers, parents and other pupils”[11].

An analysis of how the educational system was implemented and the significance of schools showed that such places have consistently been instruments of control that “clearly our Puritan ancestors utilized schools such as they were to contain the potentially disastrous inclinations of youth”[12].  Similarly, authoritarianism can be seen as a basis on which most schools function, “where pupil’s rights, needs and feelings can too readily be ignored or suppressed and where it is difficult for teachers and pupils to act independently and to critique and challenge dominant social and political orthodoxies”[13].  On the same line of thought, education in a more extensive sense shows the presence of power as a source of symbolic violence, which includes the “imposition of a cultural arbitrary by an arbitrary power”[14], a pedagogic authority. In a concurrent view, there is strong evidence that most schools function in an authoritarian rather than democratic form, and that “education in democracy, human rights and critical awareness is not a primary characteristic of the majority of schooling”[15].

As an alternative to this problem, a “pedagogy of discomfort” aims to invite students and educators to examine the fear of change in the educational environment that activates emotions and discomforts arising from questioning old assumptions. As a result, adjustments and changes in the educational system are slowed. To solve this issue, a collective critical inquiry from both educators and students, could help them “engage in collective self-reflection regarding the reasons for our emotions”[16].

In addressing bullying, the notions of peace education were implemented in one project in England and the authors concluded that this model offered an interesting perspective to violence in schools as it proposed the acquisition of learning interpersonal skills to reduce violence and hatred. This model points out to the importance of establishing goals to discuss the appropriate “values for the practice of conflict resolution, communication and co-operation in relation to issues of peace, war, violence, conflict and injustice”[17].

Putting things together, there are a number of different approaches to troubling questions about bullying. These questions concern authority and arbitrary power as frequent themes when discussing conditions that can produce violence at school. Authoritarianism and arbitrary power leave no space for discussion and dialogue of student’s learning processes, as the adult-centered perspective yield absolute power and uncontested knowledge. Furthermore, the shortened childhood and the difficulty in addressing student’s feelings at schools are potential roots of manifestations of violence in the educational systems.

Bullying is a prevailing phenomenon that should not be underestimated. Despite the many rather simplistic views in society that bullying is “normal” and expected to take place during school years, the fact is that this complex scenario may contribute to the understanding that students may have reasons to be “angry” with schools.

Ana Carolina C D’Agostini holds a degree in Psychology and Education. She is currently a Master’s student in Psychology in Education at Columbia University. She believes education is the most crucial area to accelerate social change and for the development of Brazil.

[1] Times Educational Supplement, UK,  3/10/2003

[2] Bosworth, Espelage and Simon, 1999, p.343

[3] Olweus, 1991

[4] Leary, Kowalski, Smith and Phillips, 2003, p.211

[5] Bosworth et al.,1999, p.358

[6] Bosworth et al.,1999, p.358

[7] Ministério da Saúde e do Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), 2015

[8] Zucherman, 1997, p.127

[9] Zucherman, 1997, p.127

[10] Harber and Sackade, 2009, p.173

[11]  Batsche and Knoff, 1994, p.80

[12] Zuckerman, p.1997, p.133

[13] Harber, 2004, p.20

[14] Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990, p.05

[15] Harber et al. , 2009, p.172

[16] Boler, 1999, p.192

[17] Harber et al., 2009, p.174