There’s an interesting UN Charter on the Rights of the Child. It talks about the child’s right to safety, to receive appropriate care, including medical care, to be protected from exploitation, including child labour and to be protected from abuse.
These are rights which hardly anyone will oppose. However, there are other rights which are much harder to measure and enforce. These are: the right not to be denigrated, to be treated with respect, to have his/her views and opinions heard.
Trinidad and Tobago is actually committed to supporting this Charter, but it isn’t obvious in the way children and young people continue to be treated here. As mentioned above, there are certain rights to which everyone will at least pay lip service. However, when it comes to anything requiring that adults treat young people considerately and respectfully, most adults immediately explode.
Their objections generally boil down to this: if you treat children with respect, they will at once break all rules and trample you into the earth, and everything will swiftly become chaos and anarchy. It’s an interesting and depressing fact that most adults think that ‘discipline’ and ‘respect’ are mutually exclusive concepts, at least as they apply to anyone under 18.
It’s just plain depressing to observe how the majority of adults respond to children and young people; dismissive at best and abusive at worst, most of the time. Some of the worst treatment, sad to say, happens in the nation’s classrooms, the place where young people are supposed to be learning about respecting themselves and others. Teachers frequently throw restraint to the winds in the way they address students:
• “Are you stupid?” “You ____ (unprintable expletive)!”
• “Why did they give me you donkeys to teach?”
• “Everyone in this class is going to end up sweeping garbage on the streets!”
If the student objects in any way, the teacher really loses control and the student ends up being reported and punished, for disrespect, of all things.
So the message to minors is essentially: Take the abuse and shut up. Given that fact, it’s not surprising that most adults react so violently to the idea of curtailing their privileges. After all, many of them have been secretly waiting to be grown up so they can turn around and treat children as abusively as they themselves were treated. One of V.S. Naipaul’s characters in Miguel Street, savagely beaten by his father, used to say: “When I have children, I go beat them, beat them.”
What to do if you are caught in this situation? If it’s happening at school, it’s very difficult, but you have some options. Firstly, it should be reported. If you have parents who will take action, then they should be told. Write down as much as you can recall, including dates when different things were said. Take a friend who has seen and heard the abuse with you to convince your parents – chances are, the teacher didn’t mind if there were witnesses.
If reporting it is not feasible, then your next safeguard is that it’s temporary. You will be moving on from this person’s class, so hang in there. Keep reminding yourself that this is for a limited time. Try your best to avoid the teacher’s notice while you are in class. This doesn’t stop all teachers, but it might work in your case.
Finally, if all else fails…succeed. It is the one unanswerable revenge. Imagine that teacher’s face when you get a top grade in that subject and glory in it in front of them. Especially if you happen to do better than students who were favoured over you. Don’t allow anything or anyone to take that final triumph from you. It is an unforgettable moment.