The monster in us

December 14, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

As a high school English teacher, I’ve seen my fair share of monsters; monsters that kill, maim and terrify. I’m not talking about my students; I’m talking about the characters we get to study and analyze (not all monsters come with fangs, fur and green saliva). There’s Macbeth, a mass murderer; Tom Buchanan, in The Great Gatsby – a bully and wife beater; Jack, in Lord of the Flies, represents the primal instinct of savagery that exists within all human beings. “Kill the pig. Slit her throat. Spill her blood.”  

Recently, headlines have been rife with stories about monsters. At St. Michael’s College, in Toronto, after a group of boys committed a number of indecent acts and were subsequently charged with sexual assault, people took to social media and labelled the perpetrators ‘monsters’. Everybody had an opinion as to what could possibly compel young kids (14-15 years of age) to commit such heinous acts. They blamed toxic masculinity; videogames; the things kids see on social media, in movies, on YouTube. I have a different take: what if that type of behavior – bullying, hazing- has more to do with things our kids don’t see than it does about the things they do see? 

           I think one of the more prescient issues we are faced with today, is the lack of quality adult supervision in many of the spaces where young people congregate. I see it in schools; on the soccer pitch on Sunday mornings. Sure, there are adults in the buildings and parents on the sideline; but, how many are really paying attention to what’s going on around them? In my eyes, supervision is more than just about being ‘present’. I’ve worked in schools where adult supervision is negligent. I’ve seen what happens in a class when teachers aren’t dialed in; where administrators have checked out. What about the parents that spend more time on a device than they do watching their own children; or more time at the office than they do at home with their family? Young people aren’t as naïve and out of touch as so many of you think; they pick up on these things. If they see that they’re not being watched, how do you think they’re going to respond if left alone? Is it too much to suggest that maybe, just maybe, they do what they do in order to get us to pay attention? 

            Another thing they see, and eventually emulate, is the power dynamic that is evident in our schools. We don’t just teach students from the provincial curriculum; they also learn from what’s called the hidden curriculum- the lessons that are taught informally, and usually unintentionally, in a school system. These include behaviors and attitudes that students pick up while they’re at school. For example, at most schools I have worked at, the admin staff have their own parking spaces- the rest of the staff do not. There is also the power dynamic that exists in the classroom, where teachers usher the students around like cattle- sit down, stand up, be quiet, put your hand up, do your homework, class dismissed. There’s an ‘us versus them’ dynamic in every facet of their schooling. This is why schools do such a half-ass job of addressing the issue of bullying. Bullying is about power. How can schools deal with the issue when so much of what we do as a system contributes to the problem we’re trying to eradicate? Rinse. Schools host various ‘awareness’ weeks, but kids are already aware of the issues. Lather. And then we graduate them into an economy where the same behavior and systems thrive. Repeat. This is not a St. Michael’s problem. What happened at St. Michael’s College is a symptom of a much bigger disease.  

Capitalism is bullying — a competition with winners and losers; it fosters the impression that the weak deserve their fate and that the poor must capitulate to the rich and powerful. There’s a direct correlation between what children learn in schools and the behaviors associated with capitalism. We need to ask ourselves: How are students groomed for capitalism? What kind of school system does capitalism need? How do schools prepare students for a workplace that sees bullying as normal, and perhaps an essential, part of life?  What happens in corporate boardrooms also happens in workrooms, staffrooms and classrooms. 

I think the issue is best summed up in a commercial for Rogers Communications.  It’s called “Make Being There Possible.” A young girl is in a car; the car has broken down. She’s nervous, anxious. In one scene, we see her father in the passenger seat trying to calm her down. In the next scene, we see that the father is, in fact, in a train station, on his phone, talking to his daughter. He’s there; but he isn’t. This is 21st century supervision. We need to be present for our kids; we need to pay more attention to our kids. We need to be more aware of how we behave and how the systems that govern our lives are responsible for so much of the behaviors we abhor. Those children that committed those acts weren’t monsters; they were children. Before we point the finger at them, I think we should be pointing the finger at us. As Simon says about the beast in Lord of the Flies: “Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.” 

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