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Most of us will have seen still and video images of a disturbing, violent assaut by one Wanganui schoolgirl on another. (And maybe some have wondered, as I did, whether we really needed to see that footage again. And again. And again.) It was a horrible act and one that has been deservedly condemned.

What really got me thinking about society’s responses to this, & other acts of violent, physical bullying that have hit the headlines recently, was the editorial in today’s NZ Herald. Why? Because it seems to be pointing the finger at one particular part of the community – our schools. This is understandable – up to a point! – when, for example, we see bullies ‘stood down’ for a few days and then allowed back to class. But what about this?

The expelling school [on occasions where the perpetrators are expelled] has already failed to give the culprit an environment that makes him or her feel sufficiently dignified to respect the rights of others.

This may, or may not, be correct. But why stop at pointing the finger at schools? Children are in their care for around 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 40 weeks a year. So is it right to sheet the blame home to schools alone? What of the family; the whanau; the community; our wider society? Messages about self-worth and the rights of others need to come from all quarters, and if the school’s actions and expectations aren’t supported by people whose actions and opinions matter to the bully, then frankly whatever happens at school may not make much of a difference. (This is not to say that schools shouldn’t try!)

And in any case I wonder if we aren’t inadvertently giving our young people quite the wrong message here. Remember, there’s more to bullying than physical violence: emotional & mental bullying are also common, and made easier by the pervasive nature of electronic communication. (Hence the actions of Ngaruawahia High School’s principal, who is seeking to ban cell phones from the school – although that won’t stop their misuse outside the premises.)

Now, consider some of the currently popular ‘reality’ shows on prime-time TV. I would argue that they almost normalise a culture of bullying, with ‘weaker’ contestants reduced to tears on a weekly basis. How are schools supposed to deal with bullying, how are children supposed to get the message that bullying – in any form! – is just plain wrong, when such behaviour is presented as part of the evening’s ‘entertainment’?

It’s not just the responsibility of schools. This is everyone’s problem. What’s that saying again? It takes a village [a community] to raise a child.