Tales out of school

July 12, 2020

Students bullying teachers is a phenomenon that cannot be viewed in isolation

Who would have thought that it would take a global pandemic for students to reflect on the prevailing toxic culture within the educational institutions of Pakistan? Being dubbed as the second wave of the me-too movement or the “brown me-too,” a social media campaign has surged of late. However, this time, going beyond only gender-based violence it is addressing the issue of bullying and harassment on campus.

As a student, I’ve been a part of the prestigious Aitchison College. Without doubt, it’s not just a school but a leadership camp and has effectively demonstrated its success in that which is reflected in the achievements of its alumni. Albeit, like every institution in the country, there’s a dark side to the school manifested in a slogan “bully or be bullied.” Aitchison alumni have come out addressing their experiences with this horrendous practice. However, there’s another side to the story that is being ignored, and as inconceivable as it may seem, it’s a fact that teachers too are a victim of this ‘culture’.

Aristotle once noted that the nature of individuals is developed by societal culture but as the anthropologist Margaret Mead demonstrated, it’s also the other way around. In simpler words, a sociological interpretation of Newton’s third law would assume that cultural normalisation occurs by a loop process. Students bullying teachers is a phenomenon that cannot be viewed in isolation; it’s a developed cultural setting that goes both ways and then also beyond. In an elitist institution like Aitchison, where most students come from influential families, being a victim of the emotional distress caused in the school, the frustrations were projected on someone weaker. Since most students enjoyed a level of privilege in society, the weaker target, if not other students, would then become the middle-class, relatively underprivileged teachers. Naming, shaming and even direct insults were directed towards them, more explicitly for the males while relatively toned down for the females. Our prime minister, himself an Aitchisonian, also once stated that the school ‘normalised’ a brown-sahib elitist mentality.

Subconsciously, we all felt — or, let’s say, the society had taught us to feel — superior, in a lot of ways, to the perhaps non-elite faculty. After all, there’s nothing much that could be done to the son of a politician who himself would inevitably grow up to become a politician; the insults would be repaid when they took pride in the success of their students.

A teacher in the school, who was a very humble soul and also happened to be a brilliant Urdu poet, spent his career being compared to a food item, a disgrace that wasn’t shied away from being expressed even in his presence. Heartbroken he once remarked: “We get paid only to get insulted!”

In all my remorse I was a fervent part of this moral degeneracy, overburdened and bullied, my frustrations were projected where they could. While I would offer my apologies to the teachers, the awakening didn’t occur until I took a vacation trip to Canada following my graduation from Aitchison. By chance I got to pick up my six-year-old cousin from her public school. While the sight of a public school is quite unimpressive to an Aitchisonian, one particular scene that day resulted in an awakening that was long overdue. I merely observed my cousin having a petty interaction with her teacher, but it revealed much more than that — sheer professionalism but also a spiritual connection.

The teaching community, not just at Aitchison but in the entire country, is mistreated and deprived of the status it deserves. Simply blaming the students is not enough; the entire education system needs a complete overhaul that gives both teachers and students the space to breathe and develop a healthy relationship. Mere declaration of teachers to be “ruhani baap” isn’t enough; they need to be treated as professionals and paid for their services accordingly.

Secondly, the sanctified religious and societal status of teachers demands special privileges for them — the bureaucrats have them, the teaching community deserves them even better.

A nation that does not value its teachers will never progress and history stands witness to that fact. To all my peers out there, maybe it is time we students offered our apologies and began campaigning for the status our teachers deserve.

The writer is a former Aitchisonian, currently pursuing bachelor’s degree in Commerce at York University, Canada, where he also serves as the community director for Pakistani Students Association.

He tweets at @Khan__Bahadur

Tales out of school: Students bullying teachers is a phenomenon that cannot be viewed in isolation