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IN THE CANDID CORNER: Bullying bandwagon

Matthew Farley

IN THE CANDID CORNER: Bullying bandwagon

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THE IMAGERY of a student who was beaten on the head with a piece of wood by another being in hospital hardly able to move his lower body after an act of bullying is heart-wrenching for any parent, caregiver or teacher whose lives revolve around children. Over the past two or three months the issue of bullying has been plastered across the front page of our daily newspapers.
The centre spread of the MIDWEEK NATION of February 8, drew attention to the fact that “bullying is against the law”. In fact it goes further to emphasise that “bullying is a criminal act, and must be rooted out.”
The DAILY NATION of February 20 carried the caption: 2 Beaten: Latest bullying victims nursing severe injuries. The Sanka Price article speaks of parents calling for stiffer penalties for students who bully others. Speaking at the launch of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme, Minister of Education Ronald Jones spoke of the difficulty in dealing with the problem since it is system-wide. As the Minister put it: “The uncorrected bully of today is the graduated criminal of tomorrow and for that graduated criminal it costs the Government between $45 000-$50 000 annually.”
From where I sit as a secondary school principal, I wish to challenge this school of thought which is suggesting that bullying is the biggest problem facing schools in Barbados. Let me state categorically that every fight or instance of violence that occurs in a school is not an act of bullying. It is usually very easy to identify who the bullies are in any school.
I am more concerned about the incidence of the abuse of illegal drugs by school-age children than I am about bullying. While there may be a connection between violence associated with marijuana use and bullying, violence, defiance, disrespect, threats, disruptive behaviour and the like are creating a greater problem for our schools than bullying. There are hundreds of students both in primary and secondary school who test positive for the use of marijuana. I believe cocaine is beginning to show up in the statistics as well.
A check with the Edna Nicholls Centre in Boscobel in St Peter might reveal that most students who are sent there for bullying others are testing positive for marijuana use. While the minimum level for a positive drug test is 25 ng/ml of urine, there are students who are generating positive drug tests in excess of six and seven hundred ng/ml of urine. This suggests that in some instances these students, mainly males, are having three or four marijuana cigarettes per day.
Consider then, the fact that most students who use marijuana go undetected for some time by their parent or by their school. They manifest certain behaviours including unexplained aggression, getting angry without warrant, lethargy or sleepiness, increased appetite and sometimes their thumbs and index fingers may show evidence of marijuana use. In some instances their lips might appear slightly darker than usual. Students who use marijuana often carry certain oils or colognes which are used to mask the smell of the illegal substance.
At the wider societal level marijuana usage is so widespread that it is impossible to pass through any community in Barbados and not to see blatant evidence of drug access activities. As far back as the late eighties and early nineties a student attending one of the leading secondary schools in Barbados relayed on national radio that marijuana was available in every secondary school in Barbados. Two decades since, we all know that the situation has worsened. What is most worrisome is that apart from suspension for ten days, there is not much more that school administrators can do. As a consequence there are perhaps scores of students mainly boys aged 12-16 who are heavy marijuana users walking the corridors of schools, sitting in classrooms doing nothing but posing a serious threat to school safety and security.
While some of these may engage in acts of bullying to support their habit, they present other problems that can have more far-reaching negative impact on the culture of schools and make serious inroads into our massive educational investment.
Yes, I admit that bullying is a problem, but it is not the major problem affecting our schools at this time. As a school administrator, I am not about to jump onto the bullying bandwagon, though I am not discounting the usefulness of the efforts to deal with it in our schools.
Matthew Farley is a secondary school principal.