Storm was slapped in school last week, twice, in the head, on both ears, hard. She screamed and looked at me confused. She is 13 months old, and she does not know what a slap is, she has never seen it, she doesn’t know what it feels like, she has never slapped anyone or seen anyone else slap someone else, it is a foreign concept. But it wasn’t a foreign concept for the five year old who slapped her, for he did it twice, first to the right side of her head, while I was looking away, and when I looked back she was holding on to her ear with the most confused look I had ever seen, then it happened again, the child slapped her on the left side of her head, and that’s when she realised that the pain was inflicted on her by someone else, and the sound as the hand hit her head, was associated with what she was feeling, she cried, sobbed and walked towards me. The child was unfazed by Storms pain, and the teachers merely glanced their way and then returned to what they were doing. The five year old was the son of the Church Minister, his wife was in the room, the child was untouchable.
The incident was unfortunate and very sad for Storm, but it was another reminder of how innate and how early we foster this culture of violence in our children. The slap was a non-event in the classroom of 30 students, nothing stopped, no one was sat down and asked to apologise, or explained that their action was wrong, no one was told that slapping is painful and that it should never be done to someone else. Basically, the slap was accepted as a part of everyday life, of socialising, of normality in a preschool. What the incident did show is that at a very early age we accept that these acts of violence, are ok and that you won’t necessarily be reprimanded if you were to hurt someone else. Of course there’s more at play here, the child was the son of the Church Minister, Storm is 1, a bully is a bully, but this was not the only incident involving a slap that day, on numerous occasions children in the same class slapped each other, and the teacher would occasionally rough handle one of the children to sit down, or do what they were told to do.
Perhaps these incidences don’t happen at all preschools, perhaps it was just not her lucky day that Storm stood next to this child, but evidence and experience shows that this isn’t a one off event, this sort of behaviour plays out in many schools, as evident in a recent Facebook Storm Campaign on 5 Violent Things, of which over 50 Samoans took part in.
In the social network survey, only those who went through the Samoan school system were asked to write down five violent things they experienced or witnessed in school in Samoa. All participants listed a variety of violent experiences which ranged from a slap on the face, to being whacked on bare fingers with a side of a ruler, to being forced to slap a friend who was talking by the teacher and much more.
It’s probably safe to say that a general acceptance of violence in schools, or the practice of it, means that the culture allows for it to occur, that it also plays out in other areas of the lives of Samoans. There was only one person in the Facebook campaign who said she had never ever experienced violence in schools in Samoa, her remarks were met with shock by others, who then related more experiences to her. It is sad that only one person said they did not experience violence in schools, and even sadder that so many people could easily come up with five violent things they experienced or witnessed.
There is more awareness about violence in todays schools and it is no longer acceptable, but that does not mean it is not happening, it still does. Violence takes the form of a slap in the head by a young bully, it is in the form of a teacher shouting at students, or threatening a child to be beaten up if they do not obey, violence doesn’t have to be physical it can be a psychological or emotional assault in the form of a threat, the effects of violence stays with a person for years to come.
Storm was out of sorts for a few days after the event, and one day shortly after the incident, she grabbed a stuffed animal roughly and slapped it on the head. Violence it seems begets violence indeed. As a parent, it is generally understood that sheltering ones child is not healthy, with many suggesting that exposing a child to reality as such is a good thing, to which I wholeheartedly agree with. I’m an open minded parent, I don’t fuss over Storm when she falls or trips, she knows this, so she does not fuss herself, I enjoy watching her overcome obstacles, whether it be a difficult skill to master, climbing over a chair to get to the other side, or finding a way to play with a child who snatches things from her. I am fine with these things, but if exposing my child means she is traumatised and physically harmed by another child, or that she learns to hurt other people, or accepts that others can hurt her without repercussions, then I am absolutely not fine with that. When she grows up and becomes a young woman she will learn that no person, man or woman, young or old is allowed to touch her without her permission and it is of utmost importance that she knows physical or psychological abuse of any type is NOT OK.
Unfortunately that 5 year old boy will be a twenty five year old man when my baby is twenty, that boy will be someones husband some day, and violence will be ok with him, he will slap, punch and beat up women with ease knowing that it’s ok. Why wouldn’t it be, no one ever told him it was wrong to hit another person, so he will continue beating his wife, comforted in the knowledge that when he was a child he slapped young girls around and the teachers did not stop him or tell him it was wrong, and importantly, his mother did not tell him it was wrong. He will never feel guilty about it, because he was never made to, he will never think it’s wrong to hurt someone else because he was not told so.
Violence is a generational issue, we should make sure that the children we raise today do not accept it as a norm tomorrow, unfortunately some don’t see this, and are currently nurturing wife beaters and violent husbands of the future.