If you happened to read reports about the proposal for bullies in Osaka to be suspended and sent to specialised classes, you may have noticed that the plan specifies that bullies and bullied students not be sent to the same alternate educational facilities. If you assumed that this was specified simply from a sense of scrupulous attention to detail, you were wrong. In many parts of Japan both groups of students are sent to exactly the same special schools. The thought process goes something like this: There’s a special school that deals with bullying problems. Student A is too traumatised by his experience as the victim of bullying to attend a regular school, so we’ll send him there. He has a problem with bullying. Student B is a serial bully who is disrupting school life. She has a problem with bullying, so we’ll send her there.
I am not making this up. Really.
I occasionally have the privilege of volunteering at a residential school (known to my co-workers as “the prison school”, which they amended to “school for kids whose parents are in prison” when I looked shocked). This school is a great facility with dedicated and wonderful staff who do an amazing job in very difficult circumstances. I would never question or seek to diminish them or the work that they do. But the school itself acts as a sort of repository for “problem” children referred by other parts of the system. There is no differentiation between children with problems and children who have been causing problems. This leads to the peculiar situation of hypothetical child X and hypothetical child Y sharing a dorm bunk and a class. Imaginary child X has been picked up by the police repeatedly for shop lifting, under-age drinking and attacking other students. Imaginary child Y’s father is in jail for murdering her mother in the family home and she recently attempted suicide. Problems, right? Basically exactly the same, right? General bemusement at the entire Japanese response to social issues aside, I can see some advantages in removing the rigid distinctions we draw in Australia between victim and perpetrator. Drawing a sometimes arbitrary line between someone who is a victim and someone who is a perpetrator tries to create clean orderly boarders in a situation that is inherently murky. I think it is fairly uncontroversial to say that most children who exhibit seriously anti-social behaviours have probably suffered from an inadequate upbringing, and attempting to unpack and redress those foundational problems is more beneficial than reacting punitively when they act out. I wonder if there is a country that has struck a successful balance between these two extremes?