I’ve spent a lot of time in the past year or so thinking about my childhood. There’s something about changing the 1 in front of your age to a 2 that makes you think a little bit about everything that’s been going on since your first scream (or snore in my case).
It turns out you don’t remember as much as you wish you did from when you were still discovering the world. I tend to believe that most of the memories that I have from before 7 are either invented from clues (such as photos or stories) or greatly altered by time. But a lot of the things that happened in school, especially in the second half of it are still incredibly clear, a clear proof of how much these times have shaped who I am today. And although most of those were happy times for me, there’s a “but”. There’s a “but”, because I was lucky. Yes, I had a happy childhood…but I had two aces up my sleeve. I was very smart and I was very strong (for my age). Most kids don’t have at least one of these. So there’s a “but”. The “but” is that it’s a cruel world out there in schools. For boys and girls alike, but especially for boys. We see it and we think it normal just because that’s what we’ve been through, but it’s not. And we unfortunately see more and more of the results of that cruel world.
I never really thought about it afterwards… sometimes I did and me and my friends laughed about it, otherwise we felt sad about it.. but we never really thought about it. What brought these memories strongly back in my mind was the power of the Internet. In the past year I’ve seen many YouTube cellphone-made videos of kids fighting in school. Of bullying still going on just like “back in the days”. Of close to no respect for the professors or the institution and for professors that are unprepared to handle the situation.
Damn…STILL?! I thought all of that would have at least improved. I mean, I started going to school 5 years after the revolution; nearly 20 years have passed since the revolution now, why is there no improvement? Moreover, it feels to me it’s getting worse. If I were a parent right now and I had to send my child to school I would be terrified. I couldn’t understand why the situation of schools can’t be improved in my country, but I got over it… I figured that that is just the way things are and we’ll have to live with it for now. We are a developing country after all, how much progress can I expect?
But… something interesting happened in recent months. I came to realize (not just randomly, but a lot of information happened to come my way at the same time) that this is not a problem that only my country has. It’s a worldwide problem that’s being greatly overlooked. I mean… who cares about kids getting bullied? Come on, they’re kids, they’ll get over it, didn’t we all? This is a wrong perception. A very very wrong one; and rather than go on about why this is so, I will recommend a book. It’s called “Nobody left to hate”, written by Elliot Aronson. It’s been published in 2001 by Macmillan as a reaction to the Columbine High School shootings. It’s a very interesting lecture which goes over the reasons why school shootings occur and how they can be avoided. It covers important social psychology topics, but don’t let that scare you, it’s written for the general public and it’s very accessible. Trust me… you will find it hard to let it go and it will shake your world quite a bit.
It’s probably not a coincidence that most (90% would be a good estimate) of the memories I have from those times are when mischief happened. Either I did something or my friends did something, or even people I didn’t really know did something. I genuinely don’t remember getting a good grade or getting praised for being an A+ student (I know I was..but I can’t really picture any specific moment) I don’t even remember the end of each year when I was getting prizes. But I PERFECTLY remember when some kids got drunk and how I felt about it, I clearly remember every LITTLE FIGHT that took place in our class, I even remember when some random kid broke the tap in the bathroom on the 1st floor and we were all called from our classes so that the guilty person would be found. I remember most of the ways in which we teased one another, I remember when I made one of my best friends so sad that he started crying, I even clearly remember a fight that took place in my FIRST MONTH of school, when I was 7 (it’s probably one of the only two or three memories I have from that specific period) Why do I remember these and not the others? I’m not sure… but after reading that book, I believe that the reason is that these moments all meant something fantastically important in our lives at that time. It was about proving yourself, about impressing, about being somebody. That’s why they’re still in there, live in my mind while many others have already faded away. As Aronson says, for us, as adults, we look at kids and say it’s just a phase they’re going through. But for those kids, that’s not just a phase. That’s their very life.
I’ll give you just one more example… a very common way of “proving” yourself (back in those days, but I don’t think it has disappeared in the mean time, although I wish it did) was showing that you’re the strongest by punching something very hard. That something usually was an object that would not suffer damage from these contests (you wouldn’t want to pay for a broken desk).. aka, a solid wooden closet or a wall. Let me repeat that, A WALL. A concrete wall. Kids were repeatedly and constantly PUNCHING as hard as they could a concrete wall. And they would face the pain with a grin on their face, not showing a single sign of emotion. Something tells me, that not even SWAT teams train in that manner. Why? Because the chances of breaking something or causing permanent joint or nerve damage are huge. But kids don’t know that. They don’t even think about when the pain is too great for them to take notes anymore. They just hope it will go away by the time the next provocation will come around. And they do that and many more things just as bad every day (notice I didn’t even get into topics like smoking, drinking or others), just for one moment of respect. Shouldn’t that, at least, worry you?
Those years shape our lives forever and cause irreversible changes in our character. And there is close to nothing being done to improve them. The parents blame the schools, the schools blame the parents. And in the mean time, we have teen depressions sky-rocketing, we have school shootings, we have a progressive decrease in academic ability and many more disasters. When will we start caring? When will we start DOING something?
* About the song: versurile originale, putin diferite, sunt ale lui Mircea Dinescu, poezia “Cintec de inima albastra”