Scarsdale Bullying Incident Requires Introspection, Not Prosecution Of Minors

Scarsdale Bullying Incident Requires Introspection, Not Prosecution Of Minors
Classrooms rarely make the news in Pakistan for good reasons. This week, two incidents have caught the nation’s attention: the senseless beating of students by a teacher in Peshawar, and violent bullying of a peer by a group of girls in Scarsdale, an elite private school in Lahore. These incidents might have occurred at schools on two opposite ends of Pakistan’s schooling spectrum, but they underline a problem that is endemic to our society, and in turn, our education system: the normalization of violence.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the myriad calls on social media to jail the girls responsible for the bullying. Ironic - since the vast majority of those demanding punitive discipline are middle aged men, who have probably seen worse incidents of violence in their own schools, and are likely to have inflicted violence on others – their wives, children or domestic staff. Had the video involved a group of boys instead, the matter would have been brushed off as “boys being boys,” and would not have sparked even a fraction of the furor.

The girls concerned in the incident are minors, and therefore should not be prosecuted under the law. Those senselessly sharing the incident’s video and the FIR filed by the victim’s father ought to recognize that these are young children who need counseling to reflect on their actions rather than being subject to virulent public shaming.

The public reaction on social media is yet another example of Pakistani society’s hypocritical thirst for moral purity knowing no bounds.

Our education system inevitably reproduces the cynicism that pervades our collective consciousness.

This incident is an opportunity to collectively reflect over the extent to which the use of violence with impunity has become an ingrained part of the institutions of our state and the structures that hold up the fragile edifice of our society. A social order like ours, built on the foundations of ruthless exploitation and disempowerment, breeds resentment of the kind that routinely spills into violence.

Schools in Pakistan of all stripes continue to fail the nation’s young people because there is no substantive vision for the future on offer for the vast majority. Private schools are run primarily as profit making entities, with little to no attention paid to the serious work of education. The nation’s public schools continue to languish in under-resourced purgatory. It is no surprise then that our education system inevitably reproduces the cynicism that pervades our collective consciousness, and is unable to offer the country’s youth the tools and skills to imagine and fashion a better world. Even when students seek to make positive change, it is done with the intent of demonstrating their worth to selective institutions of higher education in far off countries.

Our education system needs to teach our children a positive vision for what a society built on empathy and kindness can look like. Teachers need to be at the forefront of this revolution. As educators, we need to live out the values we preach so that we can demonstrate that communities built on solidarity and mutual respect are within our reach.

Pakistani society is largely gerontocratic, on top of being deeply misogynistic and unequal. The students we teach today are far more capable of critical and analytical thought than any other generation before them, owing to the sheer volume of information they are exposed to. A future that harbors even the faintest hope of creating more egalitarian outcomes must be built off giving young people the respect they deserve, and thinking outside of hierarchies of domination and exploitation. This would entail respecting students’ intelligence and empowering them to explore their intellectual and artistic pursuits in whatever ways they find liberating.

We need to show our students that a world built around care and love for others can be built only if we start embodying those values with the people in our immediate communities.

“The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility,” according to bell hooks. It will be easy to scoff at the bullies in the viral video and the teacher doling out corporal punishment as exceptions, and to subject the perpetrators to punitive sanctions. The difficult work of building the Pakistan we want to leave behind for our children needs to be done in the classrooms – where all children, regardless of their gender, economic background and ethnicity – need to be shown love and respect.

Hamza Hashim serves as an Assistant Editor for The Friday Times, and is an educator. He is an alumnus of Swarthmore College.