Friday, March 30, 2007


Bullying at school, particularly cyberbullying, is causing increasing concern all over Italy. Today it is reported that the national helpline set up at the beginning of February is receiving, on average, 120 calls a day. These are mostly from concerned families and teachers, with fewer calls from the pupils themselves, which would indicate that those most affected are still reluctant to talk about it or seek help. The majority of incidents seem to be taking place in middle schools and the occurences drop as the students become older.

In such a family orientated society and one in which most young people seem happier at home and more "open" with their parents than their British counterparts, it is surprising that the problem is so widespread. I watched a 12-year-old boy cuddling up to his mother in the hairdresser's today and reflected that most British children of that age would run a mile from such a public display of affection towards their parents, so infra dig would it seem in the eyes of their peers.
Children, of course, have always been capable of great cruelty towards each other and as a teacher I came across many forms of bullying: physical, verbal and that most insidious and literally soul-destroying kind, exclusion bullying. The sort of cyberbullying that goes on now did not exist when I left full-time secondary teaching in 1996 because the internet was fairly new to most of us and mobile phones were in their infancy; most people didn't have access to one and there were no camera phones or digital cameras. Was it inevitable, then, that once the technology became widely available ways of misusing it would be found just as they have with regard to every invention known to man? Sadly and probably, yes. [And I would be the last person to deny mobile phones to children, a dreadful nuisance though they can be in a classroom. In general they can function as safety equipment for children and the advent of texting was a godsend for some profoundly deaf students I later taught.]
The Italian curriculum does not provide the sort of "pastoral" slots that a British school timetable does: secondary school pupils do not have a "form" teacher and so there is no "form period". [I've always been unconvinced of the value of both; in my experience if a child has a problem he / she will not automatically go to their form teacher but to the teacher they get on with best.] There is no weekly PSHE ["personal, social and health education" or whatever it is called now] period, either. This, in a British school, is where the subject of bullying might be tackled in discussion and a perceptive form teacher [for, whatever his / her subject, it is the form teacher who teaches this period] might become aware of some undercurrents here, though, again, so might any teacher worth their salt during any lesson. So whether the introduction of such a slot in the Italian curriculum would help to combat the problem is a moot point as far as I'm concerned.
Perhaps the most hopeful aspect of the figures released today is the decrease in all types of bullying as the children progress through the education system. [I cannot find any definitive information as to whether this is also the case in Britain but what I have read suggests that it is not.] Italian students learn to debate at a much higher level than British children once they leave the middle school and it just may be that the inclusion of philosophy as a discrete element in the curriculum has an effect on their thinking. [Most of my teacher friends here are appalled that the subject is not taught in Britain.] Whatever type of liceo [upper school] a student attends, he / she will have to have read the Italian classics. A country that teaches some of the ideals of classical philosophy and values its own contribution to world literature has, in my opinion, a better chance of solving the bullying problem than one which undervalues and even ignores them. Certainly, workplace bullying is not as prevalent here as in the UK and, although this may be connected with the different lifestyles and rhythms, I like to believe that it is also an indicator of the acquisition of wisdom with age.


Anonymous said...

Wow oh wow! Sicily Scene has had a make over. Very good it is too. The text font is easier to read quickly WL - and we all need help with that these days.

Greetings to Sicily - I do think of you and Simi so often. It seems so brave of you to have uprooted yourself and succesfully made a new life in a new country. I'm making all this fuss about 31 miles!

We do have a really nice home now - one we wish to share with so many more. Just have to get my Pete better first

CityUnslicker said...

Anti-inelltecualism is rife in the UK and has been since the 60's.

This has many effects here in the UK. 'swots' are bullied, kids are cool who don't study, learning is not valued. This then leads to lives of crime and the desire for instant 'big brother' fame for doing nothing as no skills are learned.

It is a sad tale and I am glad to see italy is not in such a bad place from your artilce.

Lee said...

Bullying, no matter where it happens, is a sad blot on society. I don't recall bullying when I went to school. Perhaps it did occur but never to me or amongst those I befriended. I never faced it in the workplace either, fortunately...for them! ;)

jmb said...

Il bullismo, obviously a universal problem. Interesting that it seems at its greatest in middle school in Italy. I would think that the exclusion type of bullying would become more of a problem in high school. Perhaps that's more a North American problem.
Interesting post.

James Higham said...

Wonderful post, Welshcakes, on a subject I feel strongly about, as you know. I really can't add anything - you've said it all.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Shirl. I had to do the makeover to get testimonials, among other items, on. Glad you like the font. I need help with that, too, having broken my specs last week! They are irreparable so more expense! You're not making a fuss at all - moving is always hard, even if you move next door! You and Pete are always in my thoughts - you both deserve every happiness.
C/u, I agree with everything you say.
Jmb, thank you. Yes, I'd have thought exclusion bullying, in particular, would increase in upper school but for some reason it does not seem to have done so here.
Lee, your co-workers were fortunate indeed! You would have sorted any of this nonsense out immediately!
Thanks, James. I know you feel strongly on the issue too. It brings such untold, terrible misery to so many and it is all so unnecessary. It is hard enough being a child without having to cope with this.

Ballpoint Wren said...

Sadly, we seem to have given up on the classics in the US public school systems. And forget about philosophy!

Cyber-bullying is a huge concern here right now. Yesterday I heard an interview on the radio: a father whose teen son killed himself after his classmates posted all over how a girl he liked turned him down, and how he was probably gay. The public humiliation of it was too much for the boy. Heart-breaking!

Sally said...

Hi Welshcakes - I've been away for a couple of days bearing a large jar of caponata with me as a present for friends who love Italy too and don't know Sicily at all, let alone the food. Caponata should ease them in gently. Came back to see your mouthwatering casserole with its rosemary sprig, I love your food photos. Quick word on the poster - I lived in Rome for a year when I was 18 (in the 60s, tempus fugit indeed) and was endlessly hassled, how I love being the age I am now in Italy - no woman is ever invisible, it's the best of both worlds - hope you've had a good weekend

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Bonnie, I do think it's sad that in both the US and UK the classics are forgotten, except in private schools in Britain. And philosophy is taught nowhere in Britain before further ed. [I think I'm right in this.] What a terribly sad story you heard on the radio. Poor young man. My heart goes out to his family.
Sally, thanks for your kind words re food photos. you are right - best of both worlds being my age in Italy!


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