Monday, 2 March 2015
Dyslexia Blog - It's no surprise to me that Jihadi John was bullied at school
When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 31, a friend suggested I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion. In 2013, I have set one of my objectives to use this blog to let dyslexics know they are not alone, to suggest that people who think they may be dyslexic to get an assessment and toget people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.
So this morning, Jo Shooter, Head of Quenten Kynaston School, former headmistress of Jihdai John, tells us he had issues with bullying at school. Why does this not surprise me? Previously I have wondered what in Islam could possibly persuade a man to murder innocent people? Now it all makes sense. I believe it is nothing to do with Islam. It is nothing to do with anything other than the fact that the Jihadi John is following the classic behaviour of bullies the world over. Bullying destroys your self esteem. It fills you with feelings of hopelessness. Bullying is all about power. It is about the use of power. Bullying profoundly upsets the way we think. We are bullied because we feel powerless to fight back. We accept whatever torments that the bullies give, because we are scared. I personally believe that victims of serious bullying suffer a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sadly for some, the way they deal with this is to become bullies themselves.
In the case of Jihadi John, it wasn't stated by Ms Shooter what the form of bullying Jihadi John had to suffer. Just suppose he was bullied because of his faith? Just suppose that he suffered years of torment? All of a sudden, maybe we can see that a man could be scarred. A man could hate. Ms Shooter said the school dealt with the bullying. Again we have to ask, how was this dealt with? For many schools, the cessation of bullying is the sum of the bullying being dealt with. I believe that this is nowhere near a solution. It is a a sticking plaster on a wound. Does it stop the poison from within from festering? Ms Shooter states that Jihadi Johns bullying was "not a huge concern" to her as Headmistress. Having made this statement, she fails to justify how she reached this conclusion. I would say that any child being bullied is a massive concern. As Jihadi John has demonstrated, it can be the seed of terrible behaviour patterns that can sometimes manifest themselves many years later.
A friend of mine at FCHS was bullied at school in the 1970's. He wasn't just called names. He was put into hospital following a vicious beating. His father went up to the school to ask for redress. The then Headmaster, Neil Kelly, told his father "You have to accept that Nigel is simply a very unpopular boy". His father did not accept this and he followed in my footsteps, transferring to Orange Hill Senior High School. By the time Nigel was 18, he was an alcoholic. In his 30's he took a massive overdose of paracetamol, miraculously surviving. Sadly he died last year, eventually the years of abuse caught up with him. Like most victims of bullies, Nigel turned his anger on himself.
I believe that all victims of bullying have some sort of issues with anger. This anger comes out in all manner of unfortunate and highly destructive ways. If we have had to endure submission to unreasonable behaviour of others, it upsets our abilities to interact with others. It is a part of human nature that if someone wrongs us, we want to get even. If we have been subjected to violence and humiliation, it is a normal human reaction to want to pay the perpetrator back. For some, the anger subsides and for some it doesn't. If the bullying stops, but there is nothing to give us a feeling of personal justice, then that can fester.
In the case of Jihadi John, could it be that his bravado and hatred towards his victims is simply a manifestation of him getting some sort of payback against those who wronged him. There is nothing more dangerous than an armed adult man, with a massive grudge, in a position of power. I do not excuse the actions of Jihadi John, but I do think as a society, we have to learn and we have to learn fast, that bullying in all its manifestations arethe cause of many of societies ills.
You may wonder why I chose to write this blog under the Dyslexia blog series? The answer is quite simple. I believe that dyslexics suffer a completely disproportionate level of bullying in the classroom and the playground. No one would ever accept a one legged pupil being ridiculed for their inability to run a 100 Metre race. No one would ever accept a blind pupil for being unable to paint a fine picture in the classroom. But it is perfectly fine for teaachers to ridicule dyslexics for their inability to read and write. Perhaps the worst aspect is that often teachers, will not recognise the dyslexia, and simply treat dyslexic children as if they are stupid. When I was at school, I used to feel physically sick before certain lessons, as I knew that the teacher taking it would pick on me, humiliate me and get my classmates to laugh at me. I used to feel helpless and angry. I also felt hopelessly inadequate. Sometimes I'd simply bunk off lessons, feign illness or just go walkabout. This was my way of coping. I learned to deal with it, but for a while at school, I was not only deeply unhappy, I had a period of petty vandalism at school. This made me feel able to get even and feel better. Whilst I feel no sense of pride at the bad things I did, I am pleased that my own personal anger did not end up with people getting hurt. What I find shocking is talking to parents of dyslexic, school age children, is that it seems that bullying still happens to dyslexics. Even worse, that this is from both teachers and pupils.
What we need is proper recognition of the effects of bullying. I personally suspect that in many instances, the bullies are simply indulging in payback for bullying they have suffered. Thankfully, it is rare for this to be as extreme as Jihadi John style payback, but that doesn't mean it isn't corrosive. I believe that in all cases where schools identify instances of bullying, simply getting it to stop is not enough. The issues of the bullies must be addressed. Why are they doing it. Do they understand the consequences of their actions and are they prepared to make amends.
I also believe that pupils should be able to report teachers who indulge in bullying. My starting point is that anyone who teaches at school should have the intellectual capability to win arguments with children by logic and reason and without belittling and upsetting them. If a teacher can't do this, then they can't teach. I believe that we need to ask ourselves what we want our schools should be doing. I expect a school to not simply be an "exam factory". I expect it to be an establishment that turns out happy, intelligent and well adjusted young people, prepared to take their place in society. To succeed in this mission, schools should not only have "anti bullying policies" but should have positive programs in place to ensure that bullying is recognised as abhorrant behaviour and the perpetrators are given help to see the error of their ways.
I am an enginee by trade. I believe that every problem is fixable. You simply need to analyse the cause and devise a fix. In the case of Jihadi John, I suspect that the cause was the bullying. He is just a sad victim who is unable to take his place in society due to his mental scars. I suspect in his case, the fix will be a missile fired by a US drone. My sincere hope is that we can devise a better fix for the net generation of children, one which will address the issues which caused the anger at root and before they come so deep rooted that they result in violence.