It’s time to deal with bullying …
After the columns I have written in the last two weeks, I had decided to tone things down a little and write about something less controversial. Maybe about the mail strike or how some favoured newspapers and journalists could look forward to financial goodies from the government. Something easy like that. But then came the story of St. Michael’s College, a private school for boys and young men in Toronto and I couldn’t resist it. So here I go again.
St. Michael’s College has been around for well over 100 years. It had a solid reputation as a Catholic school where scholarship, athletics and discipline went hand in hand. Last week, much of that reputation came crashing down. It did so because of videos that circulated, showing terrible and inexcusable abuse in the bowels of the school. The headlines shouted sexual assault as, these days, that is what grabs people’s attention. And no question, there appears to have been some of that and, if true, people should go to jail because of it.
But there is another underlying, systemic issue here, an issue too far out of the limelight because other issues make better news. Nevertheless, it is a matter that needs exposure because at its root is a type of behaviour that develops the very kind of individuals that in later life cause so much harm, in so many different ways. I am speaking of bullying.
I sometimes wonder if we have a culture of bullying in our school system in Ontario. I am not just talking about private schools, although there is no doubt that the situation at St. Michael’s College got way out of hand. Public schools too, in my view, also have serious issues with systemic bullying and I have, sadly, seen some of this first hand.
My personal experience comes from four years in a private boys’ boarding school. It was a good school then and it is a good school now. To be honest, I didn’t like it much, but I learned a lot. I haven’t always been successful in life, but what success I have had I owe in part to my experience there. One of the things I learned was how to deal with bullies. They were some, but certainly not all, of the power guys, the jocks who had little use for those who did not take part in their games. Those folks became the butt of their jokes, pranks and often cruelty. It was almost like entertainment for them. Interestingly, the two bullies I remember best from those days never got too far in life and are dead now!
Bullying is learned behaviour. It builds character in the wrong direction. Bullies believe they are powerful and that they can use that power to put other people down. They often succeed. One even became President of the United States.
The time to stop bullying is to nip it in the bud and the best opportunity for that lies within our school system. One can be sure that every private school and hopefully every public school in the province is reviewing their policies and practices when it comes to bullying and sexual abuse in light of the St. Michael’s College fiasco. At least, they had better be. On top of that, however, they ought to be thinking about curriculum. If sex education has a place in our schools, and I believe that it does, then why not studies of equal weight on the effects of bullying; how to recognize it, how to avoid being one and how to deal with it? Please don’t tell me it is already there because if it is, it is not very effective.
The charges of sexual assault at St. Michael’s College are more than disturbing. In my view, they are the consequence of learned behaviour through a culture of bullying that has gone on in many schools, both public and private, for far too long. If we could come to grips with that, if we could find ways to deal with that, perhaps we would have fewer sexual assaults.
In the meantime, maybe we need another ME TOO Movement, this time for victims of bullying. It is that important.
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