Fear of Victimization
By Sharon Philogene
When she walked up to me, I was sitting outside a classroom, and her son was in tow because it was the day set aside for vaccines for students. I moved towards her away from the few other parents in the area and when I got within earshot, she said, "miss, he does not want me to tell you, but he does not always understand what is going on in one of his classes, and he does not want to ask the teacher.' The young man then chimed in, "well, miss, I did ask but the response I got -miss, it does not make sense to ask again." I realized from the response detailed to me that he thought the door was shut to dialogue, so he wanted to leave well alone. If I feigned ignorance of such situations, it would only take a few weeks for me to experience what I know has been going on for a while at our schools. I decided to participate in a meeting scheduled for form 5 students at one of our high schools since I have a vested interest in a student there. I had two concerns and voiced them. Well, I was able to voice one, to which I got a very cultured, respectful response. The other, I was barely able to articulate since the laughter which interrupted my every attempt to get my voice heard was clearly a dismissal of my concern. I am no fool! It was George Orwell who said, "in a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." If it is fait accompli that one's institution is perfect, why listen to "noise"?
I am a teacher, but since I also wear another hat at school that requires me to listen more than to talk, to pay attention to what is overtly expressed and what is not; I am just going to say it to colleagues; some students and parents prefer not to communicate with us. I am not going to excuse myself; I am not going to single out anyone. I am selling it as I bought it; we are often unapproachable; we do not listen; we believe we are always right, and those who dare approach us, do so often to the disadvantage of their children. You are mounting your horses trotting around bearing banners screaming "stop generalizing". I am standing my ground because it is systemic and in schools where the seat of power is almost totally in the hands of the principal, it is worse. In fact, countless times, I have heard parents say, "if I was not afraid of how the teacher would treat my child, I would go to the school to talk to the teacher, but it will soon be over. It is only a few more weeks, months, years before I see the back of this teacher and this school." I listen to them and think, you are right, but during that time, your child will suffer and the ill will take root and like a parasite feast on every vulnerable child. Fear of victimization is a long-sung chorus by many in society and unaddressed wherever it rears its ugly head, it can only empower wrongdoers, and rob others of the opportunity to flourish.
Fear of victimization empowers the feared and in so doing, it ensures the perpetuity of wrongdoing because silence signals that all is okay. Often, during meetings with parents, the message communicated is that parent, school, and the student all play a part in student success. Yet, many parents fear mediating for their children because of the consequences of their past mediation efforts, or that of their friends and family members which had been relayed to them. For example, students have been shamed in class especially at the lower levels with the words, "go and tell your mother again". At the secondary level, teacher ire with parent intervention is often seen through denied opportunities to participate in lessons even when students express a desire to do so by raising their hands or denied opportunities for leadership roles in class when the teacher has the final say. Often, students whose parents mediate for them for one reason, or another become invisible to the teacher in question. These consequences can often be ignored by parents, but what is feared above all else by parents is a child's receipt of a poor grade because of that parent's mediation efforts. Many parents hold the view that many teachers cannot separate professional duties from personal feelings and that fear deters their involvement even when they are convinced it is necessary.
Fear of victimization can also handicap the growth and success of individuals and communities. When students' voices are stifled even though their parents, there is little opportunity for them to grow. Denied opportunities at school mean denied opportunities to gain experiences that could possibly determine or complement their paths in life. For instance, a child denied leadership opportunity at school could have identified his/her knack for community activism had that opportunity not been unfairly withheld. Education is supposed to contribute to the wholistic development of children and as teachers, we must ensure that our actions foster such development. Most importantly, we must recognize that children whose voices are stifled often grow up to be adults with stifled voices. These adults will "see no evil and hear no evil" and when "evil" will rear its ugly head in their homes and communities, it will take root and the cycle will continue since we as teachers would have played our roles in their installment of permanent blinders to evil to avoid victimization.
Finally, I know writing this will earn me the condemnation of some colleagues, but it is what it is. I remember when as a student my voice was silenced, and how difficult it was for me to find it when it mattered. I am not advocating for parents to bully teachers or disrespect teachers; I am calling for the respectful airing of concerns and consideration of solutions. I am hoping that we will all understand that every child's voice matters no matter its medium and that from every voice can come the opportunity for reflection and growth. I am calling for teacher reflection on these words taken from George Owells' "1984" "if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever". Education is meant to empower not suppress! Teach respectful airing of and discussion of concerns through modelling. If we continue to suppress the voices of our students because we fear the "noise" they make will throw us off-kilter, silence will continue to be the default way of dealing with issues. It is our responsibility as educators to be agents of change. Let us begin to lend an ear so this generation and those to follow will be emboldened to address the issues that concern them and in so doing, we will play our part to eradicate the fear of victimization.