Why are we surprised that bullying is so common in schools?
Perhaps it is because deep down we know, this is not the way kids are meant to be. They are not meant to be so at risk of becoming bullies or being bullied.
Deep down we know kids are naturally free and open and collaborative and kind and wonderful. And so of course our hearts break when we see this not happening.
But why are we surprised it is happening?
They are simply replicating the system we have put them in.
If you present people with a hierarchical way of living where it is normal and acceptable for people to be in power over other people, why are we surprised when they replicate this in their own smaller systems?
Teachers are set up as the unquestioned authority. And other ‘higher up’ teachers & the principal are above them. Children are expected to obey and conform to this, to allow themselves to be stripped of so much basic autonomy around when to speak, what to think about, when to use the bathroom.
(This happens in homes too, where we as parents put ourselves as the authority, a hierarchy instead of a collaborative unit where each person is autonomous and equal. School is an extension of this. But for simplicity, I'll stay with school in this post.)
It seems obvious to me, in an environment where you are so rigidly controlled for so much of your day, you would seek to take back some of that self-authority you are robbed of.
Some people do this by retreating, or staying quiet, or towing the line so as not to draw attention. Others do it by seeking to use the control and power they are denied over themselves, and exercise it over other people.
We take bullying as so inevitable. Not that we aren’t heartbroken by it, not that we don’t want to do something about it and help those involved - ‘bullies' and ‘victims' both.
But what if it’s not a matter of how to get kids to show more empathy, or more resilience, or ‘get along better’ while remaining within the same system?
If the system itself creates and perpetuates and imbalance of power as if it’s a normal thing, then none of it is going to work.
We are trying to spray perfume on the rotting carcass in the middle of the room.
Handing out pegs so we don't smell it, like these are the tools of life we need. Pegs for our noses. Instead of burying the dead thing and getting out of the room.
We are trying to help our kids ‘get through’ something as if it’s inevitable, hoping they come out as unscathed as possible, or can at least recover from it as adults, hoping the struggle won’t overshadow their entire lives.
(Which tragically it does for too many kids. Even one kid is too many.)
But then we shuffle them into workplaces where the same thing happens. As if as adults, we should just magically ‘know better’, even though we are just replicating the hierarchical system on larger and larger scales, in workplaces where people have power of other people and feel a lack of autonomy and self-authority over the direction of their own lives.
So it doesn’t end. It just gets even more complex and subtle and insidious. And maybe we can wake up and change it for ourselves, do the work on ourselves to heal from the wounds, and take back our lives to create our own purpose and meaning.
But why should we perpetuate this for our kids? Why do we keep putting them through a system that, in one way or another, they are going to have to recover from?
Why not just take them out of that system altogether?
Why not see that the system is dying or dead, and we don't need it like we thought we did?
We say “they need to be prepared for the real world” as if bullying and this hierarchy and imbalance of power is just a given, inevitable - as if life isn’t something we create but something that happens to us.
But where did we get that idea? Maybe from going through system that trains us to think that way. The hierarchical system likes to support itself, likes to keep the status quo, likes to keep the power balance as it is - because it benefits some, and even those suffering from it are afraid of falling any lower.
But what if life was what create it to be? What if, instead of bullying and imbalance of power being inevitable for our entire lives, we realised we could dismantle the things that cause it to be that way. Or even just choose to step completely out of it and leave it to fade away.
“We need to prepare them for the real world” is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because we are training them to create that very world.
“We need to prepare them for the real world” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. #freerangekids #unschooling
We are teaching them very early on than this is the way it works, and not letting them explore alternatives or question that authority. And so they go on to live it and perpetuate it.
And we take that as proof - "see, that’s the way it is.”
No. That’s the way we’ve made it.
And if we’ve made it, we can unmake it. And we can create something different.
I don’t believe people are inherently born to bully or be bullied, to be in control or controlled - bullying is not inevitable. Is created in response to the normalisation of power imbalance and lack of autonomy, and our desperate attempts to cope with that.
Yes, kids are remarkably adaptable and resilient. A lot will be ‘fine’ in the end. But is that enough?
Instead of forcing them to use their resilience and adaptability to cope with life, and hopefully overcome what they’re put through, let's free them to use those amazing skills for creation instead!
Let's stop stealing away their natural wonderfulness and replacing it with our own jaded imprints of what life is.
Give kids back their autonomy. Give them back their self-authority. Give them freedom to determine their own lives from the very start.
And they may just create a world for themselves that changes everything.
Maybe they’ll even give our own freedom back to us as we see them blossom, and remember ourselves who we really were -- back before we were told we couldn’t be.
Before we came to believe that life happens to us and we deal with it. Before we forgot that life is fully of magic and possibility. Life really is what we make it.
The alternatives - I'll write more on these soon. But start looking up natural learning, unschooling, democratic schooling, consensual or intentional parenting for some new ideas. The alternatives and the possibilities are real, and they are more available than you might think.
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