Kids have always had fights at school. Is it any worse now? That question has vexed me for a few days. My career in education had spanned three decades. My memories of kids having fights are a long one. These fights range from low-level to serious incidents where police have been involved. The fights take place in classrooms, the school yard and on the way to and from school.
The fights may be light-weight punch ups, pushing and right through to those fights involving weapons. I can even remember the occasional use of BB guns.
Is it worse now that it used to be? You hear people talking about their ‘school fights’ almost in a fond way. Hindsight has a way of distorting the truth. What may have been serious at the time of the fight morphs into a quaint almost funny or nostalgic memory for some people. They forget that the ‘other party’ may have been traumatised by the event.
Fights can happen at the drop of a hat; a look, words or threats can trigger a fight, sometimes right under the nose of a teacher. Ask any teacher in most school and you will hear anecdotal descriptions of how fights start.
Fights may also be triggered by outside-of-school events. That is where the differences between ‘now and then’ start to emerge. With the advent of Facebook and other forms of social media, combined with the ‘instancy’ of texting, you have a volatile mix. The precedents for a fight are quickly followed by the event of as fight. Today’s fights are just truncated forms of the fights we have always had--- or are they?
I am pretty sure that the constants of fighting remain more or less the same---it is the intensity of the interaction that is possibly more serious now. There seems to be a growing disengagement of feelings and consequences around the fights. When discussing the incident after the event, the participants often display little or no remorse. It takes a great deal of ‘talking’ to impart any understanding of ‘where fighting could lead.’ Am I looking back at the fights of the past with rose-coloured glasses or is that my instinct that things are worse now are really hitting the mark?
I feel that girls now are more likely to fight than they did in the past. There reasons are often different and they hold on to the reason for the fight longer. What is similar is the network that feeds the fights. The fights that ensue defy any description of ‘lady-like’ behaviour. The young women of today no longer hold back when they feel they or their reputations are being attacked--- they get stuck in just like the boys.
Within minutes an ‘indiscretion’ on the part of one of the ‘fightees’ will have leapt across the ‘cell phone cosmos’ and sucked in an audience. If it is an arranged fight after school at an agreed venue, then the numbers attending can swell to large numbers. Ask the police and they would know what I mean.
Where does all this leave teachers and those who work with our young people? Teachers are like anyone else. They don’t like violence and their capacity to deal with it amongst their students, varies just like anyone else’s. It is not any easy task, either preventing a fight or breaking it up after it has started. Teachers can and are in real danger when a fight occurs, wither through accident or intent. Many abhor being in a situation where their safety is at risk. Many teachers regularly put their bodies on the line in order to resolve a violent situation. Those talking about increasing class size would do well to remember that.
Where too from here? Fighting, bullying; both are related. One can arise from the other. There is no magic wand. We will always have conflict and sometimes it results in violence. Schools run appropriate programmes to lessen the effects of fighting or to find other ways of resolving differences. Our modern age just adds new dimensions. I am sure that if Socrates was able to read this, he would recognize many truths. Sometimes, one reaches the conclusion that nothing has changed.