I once heard my sister say to me, “Isn’t it only fair that a problem child causing disruption gets expelled from school?” It was not for the rhetorical nature of the statement that I failed to respond with negation, but because I knew this was a brutally honest opinion which I daresay, more than a few parents would nod their heads in silence.
I am indeed familiar with the anxiety felt when one’s own child gets harmed by a troublesome classmate, but to concede that I would be willing to expunge someone’s child for the well-being of my own puts me too much at unease. Besides, unlike my sibling who has her kids at a private elementary school, I let my son go to a state school where expulsion is impracticable. Moreover, a brief engagement with one such youngster taught me that confrontation and not indifference is the key to procuring trust and compliance from unruly children.
During the first four years of my son’s junior school, I went in to sit with his class every day for lunch. This was to allow my son to enjoy his bento among his friends who ate school meals laden with allergens that were hazardous to him. Anyway, in my final year of chaperoning, I watched my son’s class collapse into dysfunction with several boys retrogressing from gambol imps into hell-raising nincompoops. There was one kid in particular who seemed insistent on throwing himself into self-destruction.
My first impression of the kid was that of a mischievous but observant child, whose sturdy build and playful demeanour carelessly attracted attention from much of his peers. I saw him as a genuinely happy nine year old at the beginning. But as the year progressed, he seemed to become hoarded by vexation, which on occasions seethed and visualized into his midday meals belched out across the classroom floor. I doubt if he was at all comfortable with his own antics, for even though his eyes were wild with defiance, they were also fraught with desperation.
The incident occurred when we were nearing the end of the final term. When I entered the classroom at midday, half the class and the teacher had already left and descended down to the school kitchen to collect and bring back their buffet lunch. The remaining fifteen or so children were scattered across the room studded with clustered desks of quadruples. Some chatted, others read books. As I settled myself at one of the makeshift tables disposed around the centre of the room, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then suddenly, a boy in gray hoodie came darting from the rear into the fringe of my vision, closely followed by another figure.
It took a moment of concentration to realize that the pursuer was the kid. Grabbing the prey by the scruff of his hoodie, the kid dragged the boy with one arm to the end of the room and kicked him twice, hard. I saw the hoodie boy collapse wanly to the ground. “That’s enough! Stop it.” The kid never turned to look at me but he heard me alright. With a languorous air of yeah-like-you-can-stop-me, kicked his victim with another powerful thud. I shouted.
“I wouldn’t even try to stop you if you were just fighting. But you know what? It takes two to fight. What you are doing is ASSAULTING a person who haｓ shown no will to fight back!”
Maybe I had the face of an ogre with glinting eyes and baring fangs because my booming out silenced the theretofore jeering crowd. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. I had a boy to help put back on his feet. By the time the teacher returned with the her troop of white coats rollicking with pots and pans brimming with hot meals, the classroom was back to order.
As lunch commenced, I noticed that the kid’s meal was left untouched. No wonder, for he had retreated in the safety of the soft shell of his sweater, curled up into a red ovoid perched neatly on a kiddie chair. Sporadic quivers of the sweater told me he was crying. It pained me deeply to see him so.
I walked over and crouched by his side. Stroking his back, I talked to him. “You had your reasons for acting the way you did, but I never even bothered to ask, did I? I slammed you outright and left it at that. I am sorry.” The carapace jolted, and I heard the crack of intense sobbing, an uninhibited protest against a self righteous adult that I was.
Bear with me a moment longer, for I have yet to provide you with the complete picture. Return to school the following day and what do I see, a ring of boys tossing amongst themselves a piece of stationery that the hoodie boy was adamant to have back. And who would the assailants ultimately consign the object to, but the kid? Yes, let us all hold our breaths for the bully to rout his prey, to enjoy the spectacle as a guilt-free crowd. On that day, however, the kid refused to participate. He had been devoting his time to make paper tops with a bunch of crafty classmates before being handed over with the filched object. After a momentary pause and taking no offence from the hoodie boy’s indignant voice of, “Give it back, please!” he let the object roll out of his hand and quietly returned to his handiwork.
Some of the wily boys tried to intimidate the hoodie boy a few times after that, but without the kid as their backer, the hoodie boy could stand up for himself. I saw the bullying game fizzle out to nought.