Saturday, June 02, 2007

High School Students Bullying Teachers On YouTube

This video, shot by a student at a Beijing school a week ago, shows a boy approaching his teacher and slamming the man's hat down over his face before returning to his seat. Later another boy throws a plastic bottle at the teacher as students in the classroom burst out laughing.

The video was subsequently posted on a blog and picked up by numerous websites. In China the video has flared a public debate around youth’s morality. For older Chinese, the incident was a painful reminder of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, which saw similar scenes of students humiliating and beating up their teachers. On YouTube the video achieved significant popularity – over 600,000 views, 30 honors, 222 times favorited, in less than a week.

A few months ago I observed another popular YouTube video in which a high school student mocks and humiliates his teacher. The video was also widely viewed and made it to the national news:

School pranks are not a new phenomenon, and indeed they are often performed on teachers who have limited authority and low status at their work places. Bullying almost always entails public humiliation and YouTube supplies a massive audience of people who appear to be amused by watching others being humiliated. And so does FoxNews by putting it on national television!

Another example of teacher abuse comes from Italy:

In a series of two videos, high school students can be seen "touching" and "fondling" their teacher. The young teacher didn't seem to react despite the obvious sexual abuse. Consequently school authorities construed her passivity and lack of resistance as indications of her approval and encouragement for groping behavior. As a result, the teacher was suspended. Without knowing all of the circumstances of the case, to me the teacher appears dissociated and emotionally flat -- a response typical for survivors of sexual abuse when they are being repeatedly victimized.

YouTube enables us to record, play and rewind events in which we participate. It also enables us to share our experiences with thousands and millions of people, and make them even more meaningful and interesting. As a result, YouTube enables greater visibility of behaviors that typically take place behind closed doors. Now we can see what is happening and what can happen in high school classrooms, because teenagers record events on their mobile phones. YouTube has not invented school pranks and bullying, but has made those practices both more visible and more public. The above reviewed videos make us more aware of the abuse that is taking place in schools and of the hazards of the teaching profession.
What we cannot see in a three-minute YouTube video are contexts, circumstances and trajectories of events. And yet on the basis of a three-minute video, people’s lives have been ruined and their careers destroyed. The fact that so many people have seen and applauded public humiliations of private persons at their work places is even more worrisome than the acts of abuse themselves.