Nine years ago while I was doing a diploma in middle school education. I was sent to two different schools as a student teacher. At the second school I was put with a class that had a serious bullying problem. The problem bothered me so much that to this day I still think about it. This class had six girls and twelve boys. The girls were an incredibly tight-nit group. The boys on the other hand had several groups but by in large got along with each other well enough except for one of them. Every day there would be at least one instance in which one of the boys would say something and then this boy would shout something along the lines of why are you always attacking me. I asked the teacher about this but she declared that that was just how it was. That they had been a class together for years. The situation was like that when she got the class. This puzzled me even more. I felt strongly that I should help this kid but I didn’t know how. For one thing, I didn’t understand what exactly was causing this problem.
After years of reflection I realised that I had all the pieces to solve the puzzle. The problem didn’t lie with the way the boy and the others were interacting. It lay with how all the boys interacted with each other. The boys spoke to him the same way they spoke to the others. This I already knew and at the time was trying to point it out to the boy. He took it as me siding with the others and suggesting it was his own fault. This hadn’t been my intention. The question I didn’t ask at the time was why the boys talked to each other that way in the first place and why it was triggering this boy in such a way.
While I was there I taught the class about Japanese sports days. They are quite different to Australian sports days. While there are individual events the majority of the activities are based around co-operation. How effective the group can work together as a team determines if they can win or not. I taught two events to that class. One was called the caterpillar race. The idea behind this race is that contestants feet are tied together. Like the image below. I divided the class into a girls group and two boys groups. The girls won the race easily. The two boys groups couldn’t get more than a metre before breaking the rope.
The next activity was the typhoon game. In this game three people hold a bamboo pole and run together in a straight line. When they get to a witches hat they have to go around in clockwise. They then have to run to the next witches hat and run counter clockwise. After that they return to the rest of the group where the run the bamboo pole under the others legs and then over their heads. Again the girls easily won this race. The boys were barely able to do it. They had the same problem that they had when they did the caterpillar race. They couldn’t work together. In both instances the fastest runner dictated the pace preventing the group from being able to keep up causing them to fail.
This activity highlights exactly what was wrong with that class and why that one kid was so isolated and hated. That class was highly competitive. Every boy considered himself to be the best. The downside to such an atmosphere is that they all wanted to prove that they were the best. This led to a culture of criticism and ego. The boys would say to each other “I’m better than you, you can’t do …” the typical response was much the same thing. “No, I’m better because you can’t do …” So when the one boy who wasn’t competitive said “Why are you always criticizing me?” he wasn’t wrong. The interesting thing about the situation is that the boys didn’t understand that they were criticizing him. They thought, “but I say the same thing to everyone else.” The teacher was also highly competitive and so she couldn’t see what the problem was either. She inevitably sided with the boys because they were exhibited behaviour she valued.
My conclusion is that this boy experienced years of bullying because of a system failure. The system prized competition over everything else to the point that those that weren’t competitive suffered. There was no actual bully in this situation. It was far worse. The entire society was against him unintentionally.
What would I have done differently? It’s hard to know. I don’t have a clear answer but I do know the fundamental problem was a society so competitive it couldn’t understand how working together could give you a competitive advantage. If I had a year with them I would have constantly used group activities like the ones mentioned but also pushed group activities that rely on the group using their collective skills to succeed.
Part Rant Part Adorable Baby Story Part Insight
Before having a baby I had no idea there were crawling races. Now however I have been enlightened. There are in fact crawling, walking, running and pushing a pusher races. There are probably more but that’s what I know about so far. Prior to having a baby I never thought I would put baby in one of these events. However, we have put our baby in three of these so far. You may wonder why. It’s a good thing to wonder.
First up we entered our baby into two crawling competitions for the simple reason that she loves crawling. The first time round she just sat their soaking up the attention. Good on her though because she was very happy. The second time round she even won the race. For those who have never seen these races though you may wonder what it looks like. The competitions are held in shopping malls to attract people with babies who would probably not have gone to the mall that weekend. The course is usually five metres long. There are five lanes and babies have to get from one end to the other. There are onlookers all around the track cheering and generally having a good time. Or just waiting for their baby’s turn. Parents try to get their babies to crawl unassisted for the five metres. This usually involves jiggling the baby’s favourite toy in front of them. For us it was using the video camera because our baby loves cameras. Tragically I did not press the record button. Silly daddy.
You may think that this kind of event sounds cruel or exploitative. I hadn’t really thought so until the weekend mainly because our baby always has a great time at these events. We took baby to a pushing pusher race because she loves pushing pushers. We arrived a little bit early so we had to wait for a few heats to finish before we could race. The whole time we waited baby was desperate to get to the race track. Next to the track was a playground area full of children but our baby quickly saw through this ruse and crawled straight for the tracks. When it came to our heat I had to hold baby back from the pusher. The announcer was going through the names and i was just thinking “Shut up and let us race.” When she called go baby jumped onto the pusher and sped down the track to the finish line in less time then it takes adults to walk down. I was tempted to turn her around and have her race back the other way since the rest of the group were no where near finishing. She had a great time laughing and smiling the whole time. Oh, there was no prize for coming first. Just bragging rights and a cool video if you pressed the record button. Purely for the fun of it.
Hang on though, I just mentioned that now I thought it was a little cruel. My story sounds very positive. Well for our baby it was but for the others there were tears and tantrums all round. Why? I couldn’t really figure it out at the time nor could baby. She was looking at the babies enviously as they got to be on the track playing. Don’t worry when the competition was over I let baby crawl all over the tracks. As we watched a few more heats though I started wondering why the parents were here. I knew why we were here but I didn’t know why they were here. At one point I noticed one green shirted boy chucking a tantrum on the track and remembered him from earlier. He had been playing in the playground area. When I saw him he was crying his eyes out. I don’t know why but he was. No one comforted him though. He ran out of where he was and knocked his head on the doorway and cried more. No one came. He tried to get through the doorway again at the same time as three other kids did and he ended up on the ground crying. Still no one came. I was amazed though to see all the kids patting him on the shoulder saying it was OK. However the parents were no where to be seen. I was even tempted to go in there and comfort the kid but I knew the last thing the kid needed was some lanky white guy coming in and comforting him. The mum eventually came after a good fifteen minutes of crying. It may have been longer since he was crying when I had arrived. So why did that parent bring her son to the race? The kid didn’t have any fun at all. He was balling in the playground and spent the race on the ground banging his fists. I never asked the mum why she was there. Maybe the boy was just having a bad day but he wasn’t the only one crying.
So why were the others crying? Some stood there crying while their parents dangled toys in front of them. In previous crawling competitions I’ve also seen the babies cry at the starter line. It’s pretty obvious if you think about it. There are a tonne of people around them and their parents just put them on the ground, walk away from them and sit five metres in front of them. They probably feel abandoned in an overstimulating environment. I don’t know about you but I find malls intense enough as an adult imagine what it must be like for a baby.
Other children that were crying were just lying on the ground not wanting to push the pusher. When our baby pushes away a toy it’s usually because she’s playing with another toy, she’s getting sleepy or because she wants to do something else. Of course I’ve never bothered trying to make her play with a toy she didn’t want to. So what’s going on here then? The kids probably wanted to keep on playing in the playground. Or maybe they were just tired and overstimulated. For me the point is really that if your kid doesn’t want to push the pusher don’t make them. It’s meant to be a fun event. In this guess pride or embarrassment obviously gets in the way. You may wonder what i would have done in baby didn’t want to push the pusher. I can’t imagine it happening but if she was there crying I would have given her a hug.
So overall what did I learn on the weekend. I learnt that if your taking your baby to an event make sure you’re taking them because you think they’ll enjoy it. More importantly though; if you’re taking your baby to an event that you think they’ll enjoy do what you can for them to help them enjoy it. Play and interact with them. Have fun with them. It’s their day after all.