Written by: Asmae Aboulfaraj
Edited by: Mariam Bourouah
The Moroccan educational system has witnessed a plethora of changes in the last decade. In this particular year, many dormant issues emerged to the surface; from violence against children and women to violence against teachers. Problems of bullying, abuse and harassment are no longer problems of students alone, but of teachers, students and administrative staff all alike. A hit, a punch or an insult, violence and abuse manifest themselves in various forms, all of which are present in our schools nowadays. On one hand, a category of people believe that this problem is generated from the students or the teachers while others think that violence is built on the DNA of our educational system. The problem lies in the fact that school aggressions are deemed normative. Whether it is a student abusing a teacher or vice versa, violence is becoming increasingly prevalent in our society to the point that it has become a real social phenomenon that exhausts our concern.
Violence is defined as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation” (World Health Organization 3). For many people, witnessing or being the victim of violence seems to be a daily problem. In fact, violence is pervasive in all areas of life. We find people getting abused in houses, workplaces, schools and streets. From within couples to strangers, aggressions are being normalized and regarded as common behaviors. In this case, children automatically imitate what they are exposed to and adopt it as a ‘norm’. They learn how to act according to their surroundings. This causes what we now see in schools; insults between students, jostling in the hallways and brawls in the courtyard. Notwithstanding the fact that violence is often seen as an inevitable part of human life, these acts are not justifiable; they should be banished and eliminated.
Although school violence is not a new phenomenon, it is still outrageous. Many parents perceive school as a safe place, an institution where learning is the main objective and where knowledge is accessed easily. However, hearing about school aggressions leaves everyone in a state of worry and despair. School violence’s main manifestations are displayed in physical, psychological, verbal or sexual abuse and harassment. In this regard, it is essential to differentiate between two cases of violence. Firstly, when an individual attacks another, and secondly when an aggressor attacks a group of individuals, or vice versa.
Previous studies have revealed the traits of weak victims and strong aggressors. The victims are usually children or adolescents who withdraw into themselves, experience low self-esteem and have high anxiety. Since these aggressors know that the victims will not stand for themselves, the latter prove to be their ‘ideal preys’. Additionally, abusers are usually unafraid of using violence to attain their objectives. These objectives are – most of the time – related to gaining attention, asserting superiority or dominating other people.
Violence does not acknowledge anyone’s gender, profession or status. In schools, administration staff, teachers, supervisors and students could all be abusers or victims of brutality. Violence against teachers carried out by students is usually verbal violence; however, this does not mean that they do not experience physical violence as well. Usually, when miscommunication occurs, some students use insults, profanities and acts of insolence to express their disagreement and to humiliate the teacher. This violence, then, generates daily tensions which affect the psychological state of the teacher. Social media and the news are bombarded with horror stories related to students stabbing and beating their teachers in the most horrific ways. These behaviors lead to lifelong disabilities, various mental illnesses or – worse – death. Nevertheless, teachers can also play the role of the abusers. There are still many classes where archaic methods of punishment are still used. Although schooling institutions have evolved, mentalities have changed and education has started to take a new path, traditional methods are still practiced till this day. These methods do not only harm these students physically, but they leave a scar that could never be healed. For that reason, finding solutions to this issue must be placed at the core of the educators’ focus.
“I used to teach geography in the Atlas Mountains, the students there were brilliant and respectful in all ways. When I came to the city to pursue my studies, I taught at a public school, and I saw change immediately. Many students were insolent. A student threw a huge rock at my back when I was walking out of school. I definitely gave up my studies and went back to the countryside.” Amine, a geography teacher, asserts. (see annex for more stories)
Unfortunately, these types of stories reflect a reality that Moroccan teachers live every day; a reality that breaks the hearts of all the teaching community. The question that we should all ask ourselves at this point is: what are the causes of this violence and how can we get rid of it once and for all? The answer is simple. Violence is usually caused by untreated psychological issues caused by the individual’s milieu, traumas and upbringing circumstances which develop and worsen over time.
One of the main causes of violence is the household. Family education plays an eccentric role in the development of the child. The emotional attitude of parents toward their children is the main cause of violence. The lack of affection and presence push the child to adopt a hostile behavior. Moreover, if a parent is showing some kind of hatred toward the child, even if it is unintentional, the child grows up with low self-esteem. This act would, consequently, render these children prone to violence. Further, when parental conflicts are repeated in front of the children, they are led to adopt unstable behaviors and develop a troubled psychology. For that reason, children need role models to follow, references to rely on and mentally stable family units.
Another factor provoking violence is school failure. For some children, failure at school could provoke violent reactions either toward their friends, themselves or both. The boredom that arises from the lack of interest, caused by the lack of positive results, induces a spirit of revolt in these students. Powerless and unheard by their communities, they only express this revolt through anger and ferocity. Hence, these individuals find themselves in a vicious cycle of violence and failure. I personally understand this feeling as I experienced it myself. I still remember how my self-esteem was shaped by my grades. Similarly, in my teaching experience, I noticed many students who developed physical and psychological diseases such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or severe anxiety all due to the stress of the grading system. All of this is to say that ‘unnoticeable’ and ‘insignificant’ matters lead to great consequences.
School is a hierarchy where there are power dynamics, and violence is a response to this hierarchy. The importance of a student-centered approach in teaching is enormous. However, the problem lies in what is being taught in the first place. When we go to school we learn maths, geography, French and many other subjects. Indeed, these subjects are important, but we do not have any courses that focus on our personal development and our life skills and manners. How to be confident? How to stand up for yourself? How to help other people? How to love yourself? These are all important areas we assume are innate or taught at home. But what if a child does not live in the best conditions or in a safe environment? What if their only reference is some abusing parents? When they go to school they are expected to put on their best behavior, but what if the best behavior they know is that of a terrorizing parent or a brutal guardian? Therefore, as the student spends much of his/her time at school, the educators must empower these children before teaching them these subjects.
Teachers, contrastingly, are not taught actual classroom management until they practice teaching as a profession, and hence, face reality. Once a teacher, they find themselves in front of a myriad of psychological problems that they need to fix before teaching. In that sense, educators find themselves pressured by time constraints, lesson plans, violent students and unsolved problems. This could lead teachers to exert an excessive amount of power and control that could create anger, resistance, and ultimately, violence. It is the power/resistance dynamic that creates this feeling of superiority/ inferiority which, in its turn, creates another vicious circle of violence. On that account, what can we do to march toward a world where violence in schools is prevented and eliminated?
To achieve a lasting effect, change must come from the core of the problem. The main objective is to help students develop self-esteem, tolerance, communication skills and respect toward themselves and others. Adopting empowering approaches that are in favor of inclusion, equity and peace should take place immediately. The educational system should implement, in all schools, courses that will help students, teachers, parents, and administrators to communicate effectively with one another. For this, a favorable situation of dialogue between these individuals is necessary. Teachers, specifically, should receive appropriate training to prevent falling into situations that involve violence.
Another way to fight against violence is to set up a well-equipped outdoor environment that encourages positive activities – while keeping social distance. It is very likely that some children act more aggressively when they are bored. For them, annoying others is the only way of having fun and getting out of their boredom. In this sense, creating multiple activities will help these students form a healthy bond with their teachers, staff and classmates; hence, preventing violence and abuse to a certain extent.
Further, schools must involve professional counsellors, psychologists and therapists in the fight against violence. This will mark a radical change in all areas of development and reform a system we all aspire to achieve. These professionals will teach all individuals coping mechanisms that will help them dissolve their problems, heal their past traumas and develop positive attitudes towards life. Having them in public as well as private schools will help prevent not only violence, but also many other unnoticeable mental illnesses that could lead to great disasters.
All of the above makes us question the world that we live in, or rather question ourselves as educators. If we do not work toward stopping school violence, we will fail the world, fail the next generations and definitely fail ourselves. The school system is already breaking down. Thus, let us start by eliminating violence in our own communities. The change starts with us, educators! We are the catalyst that will turn the system upside down. It only takes one person to make that ripple of change. As hopeful educators, let us work hand in hand and make this world better, for us, for our kids and for the generations to come!