Should Jai’s death force a rethink of bullying strategy?
By all accounts Jai Morcom was your average Aussie high school kid. The 15-year-old student had a good circle of friends who describe him as a peaceful and happy young man.
Last Friday, Jai found himself at the centre of what sounded like a fairly routine schoolyard squabble, a fight over who was allowed to sit at a lunch table.
The result of this squabble was anything but routine. Jai Morcom is dead. He was bashed so savagely – possibly because he was trying to break up the fight – that he died of massive head injuries on Saturday morning.
Mullumbimby High School on the NSW north coast is now a major crime scene. There is every chance that one or more students at the school will be charged with attempted murder or even murder over Jai’s death.
The school is experiencing a hellish ride as the students and some parents go public with their version of events. Some say the fight was the result of tensions between the jocks and the emos – that is, the sporty kids and the introverted gothic kids – and that Jai got caught in the middle. Some blame the principal and question the extent to which bullying had gone unchecked at the school. Others blame the Education Department.
Aside from the specific tragedy for Jai Morcom and his devastated family, this case is unnerving for every parent and student in that it shows the absolute worst case scenario of schoolyard bullying.
It also seems to suggest that for all the noble and often successful anti-bullying strategies that are put in place in the early childhood years – framed around role-playing and education and awareness – there might be a need at the high school level for something which is tougher and more punitive.
Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception in the community – and it fuels enrolments at private schools – that the state system has given up the fight on discipline.
Teachers in the public system will tell you that one of the biggest problems they face is an inability to take any significant action to weed out the recidivist trouble-makers.
This is because the rights of the student – albeit a student who is making life hell for the rest of the class – have been elevated to such a point that they can almost lord it over their teachers.
That’s not to advocate the re-introduction of corporal punishment – especially as the studies show that the worst bullies often act like they do because they have been beaten themselves at home or by other kids. Giving these kids the cane is unlikely to make them more peaceful or civilised.
But it seems that schools must now jump through far too many hoops in order to exclude a teenager who has threatened or used violence against other students. The onus has swung too far towards defending their right to an education, versus the right of civilised students to obtain one without fear of being victimised or attacked.
For all his flaws, former Labor Leader Mark Latham made a very good point some years ago when he talked of the inversion of the good Samaritan principle – where you see somebody bashing an innocent person and immediately wonder, what must have gone wrong in that poor man’s life for him to attack a passerby at random?
Given the shocking result of bullying at this north coast school, it’s worth asking the question – are we helping the right people here?
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