Friday, June 13, 2014

America, The Paradise of the Bullies

Héctor Alejandro Méndez
Killed by bullies
The dreams of a 12-year-old child from Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, will never come true. Hector Alejandro Mendez, a student from the Secondary School "Eleazar Gomez," was killed last month by bullies from his class, right in front of his teacher. Four of them held Hector Alejandro by his arms and legs, swung his body, and then threw him against the classroom's concrete wall twice, causing brain injuries and a state of coma that led to his death on May 20.

Now Hector Alejandro's  parents want justice. They are inconsolable and blame the teacher that was in charge of the students at the time. But it seems like they have run into a wall of bureaucracy. Mexico cannot force the questioning of minors, and the teacher and assistant principal that were on duty have obtained judicial orders of protection from arrest.

Hector Alejandro's case is not isolated. In fact, Mexico is the number one nation when it comes to bullying, according to research conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in its 34 member countries. Mexico is the paradise of the bullies. The OECD found that 40 percent of its public school students have been victims of harassment by their peers. That's 18 million children living in constant harassment.

And boys are not the only ones being bullied in Mexico. In the state of Zacatecas, the bullying of a teenage girl in May was filmed and posted online. A group of students from her secondary school tell the victim to get on her knees and ask for forgiveness. Then one girl pulls her by the hair and makes her fall, all while the rest of the group cruelly laugh and film.

America: The Continent of the Bullies

While bullying has been on the rise in Mexico, it is also a big problem in the United States and throughout the American continent. According to research by the National Education Association in the United States, 83 percent of girls and 79 percent of boys attending 6th to 10th grade in public schools have reported harassment. This statistics are worse than those found in México.

For example, Anthony Avila, a student at Gompers Jr. High School in Joliet, a suburb of Chicago, was walking home from school on June 2nd when he was ambushed by a group of classmates. One of them asked him: Do you want to fight me? And Anthony answered that he would, if that's what it took to stop the harassment. But instead, Anthony got beaten so severely by several of the boys that he had to be taken to a hospital. The bullies also took a video that they later posted on YouTube. "People call me names, Anthony told ABC7 Eyewitness News the following day. "They call me 'devil worshipper,' just because I am shy." 

And it seems that the cruelty among teenagers only keeps getting worse. On Saturday May 31st, two 12-year-old girls from Waukesha, Wisconsin lured another teenage girl into a wooded area, then they stabbed her 19 times in order to please a mythological creature from the internet, called "Slender Man."

While Mexico and the United States are paradises for bullies, many other countries in the Americas are just as bad. A study by the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) found that 58 percent of sixth graders in Argentina are victims of bullying by their peers. Sixty percent of sixth graders in the Dominican Republic are victims of bullying as well. But Colombia was the worst according to ECLA, with 63 percent of its sixth graders being bullied across public schools.

What is happening in America marks a cultural contrast with Europe, where there is also bullying, but in much lower proportions. Take Sweden, where a study published in the International Journal for Public Health found the amount of victims of bullying to be at 8.6 percent. In Spain, 10 percent of public school children are harassed. It is also important to note that CEPAL found that Cuba has the lowest percentage of bullying victims in America, at 4 percent, and Uruguay follows, with 10 percent of its students reportedly being victims.

Mexico: A Nation of Thieves

Bullying is not the only problem for children in public schools. The Mexican Ministry of Education found that 46 percent of students in elementary schools, and 43 percent of students in secondary schools have been robbed by classmates. These are alarming statistics. They show that public schools in Mexico are the breeding ground for future criminals.

Bullying in Mexico has been increasing in the last ten years. Interesting, the report "Study at a Glance 2014" by the OECD found that of all its member nations, Mexico and Turkey have the lowest life expectancy. Mexico's average life expectancy, however, has been decreasing only in the last ten years, coincinding with the drug war that is still being fought there. Bullying in Turkey is bad as well, with over a third of male students reporting being victims.

What Can be Done About Bullying?

A study conducted by researchers from the Universities of Seville Córdoba, and Florence, details that bullies have a problem processing the feeling of guilt, and that during confrontations with their victims, they "tend to show little feelings of guilt and empathy toward other people's suffering, experiencing pride and indifference towards others, motivated by personal benefit and social recognition. They "are cold aggressors who disconnect themselves morally from the situation based on egocentric motivations and high levels of pride and indifference."

Trixia Valle Herrera, from Fundación en Movimiento, a Mexican organization that helps bullying victims, says that "this is enough¡ Protecting criminals of any age is taking us to the ungovernable nature of anarchy. Discipline has to be a part of education. No law against bullying works if there is no discipline and clear and strong consequences for unacceptable behavior."

Teachers are Part of the Problem

Back in Ciudad Victoria, the parents of Hector Alejandro are still mourning. "We want justice against the teachers. My son's life was in their hands, and they did not want to act," said the father.  Minors are protected from persecution, and they don't even have to give a statement under Mexican law. So nobody will be punished for this crime, even though Hector Alejandro went to his teacher, Denise Serna Muniz, and to his assistant principal, Sandra Luz Garcia Garza, to ask for help before the day he was fatally injured in his classroom, during Spanish class. Serna Muniz keeps claiming her innocence, saying she was never aware that students playing violent games. Many find that hard to believe.

Whatever strategy Mexico takes to improve its schools, and stop being the number one bully, teacher training and accountability have to be part of it. Research by this country's Ministry of Education (SEP) in its public schools found that "there is great discretion when it comes to handling bullying." And this fact is very evident in their study. Only 9 percent of principals talk to aggressors when bullying happens, and only 21 percent of female teachers report harassment. Although it should be noted that female teachers do much better than their male counterparts, who only report harassment among their students seven percent of the time.

As far as accountability in the United States, it could be said that physical aggression is taken seriously in this country, even when it comes to minors. The two twelve-year-old girls from Wisconsin that stabbed their girlfriend 19 times to please "Slender Man" faced a judge two days ago, and were initially charged as adults, although that probably won't happen. The boys who attacked Anthony Avila and then published their bullying on YouTube, have been suspended from Gompers High School, and the Joliet Police Department is conducting an investigation on them as well as on eight other students accused of harassing other peers.

The European study concludes that "for bullies, we believe that intervention must begin with emotional education, starting with neutral situations, and then little by little introducing more meaningful and close experiences, because that's when their personal and egocentric motivations gain speed, and guide their behavior in a cold and calculating way."

"Schools should be safe havens for students — places where students can grow, learn, and realize their full potential," says Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. "It is the responsibility of school districts, with support from their states, to provide anti-bullying training," Van Roekel, continues. "And it is crucial that the bullying prevention training include not only administrators and classroom teachers, but also school bus drivers,  office employees, custodians, and food service workers."

Link to Spanish story.

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