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Friday, April 16, 2021

My call-out note for those who contribute to a school’s toxic culture

One fine day, the school management decided that the main gate entrance and exits will be separate for girls and boys.

Author: Saibal Bhattacharyya

This is a call-out note for my teachers. Well, I have had amazing teachers in the very same school, who I am still in touch with. All I want you to do is introspect if these are the right ways for a child to grow in an already toxic society like ours.

Like every other institution, my school (Springdale High School, Kalyani) was no different. My first exposure to homophobia was in the 6th standard in ‘Life Science’ class, where I was playing ’thumb fighting’ with my fellow classmate. Our teacher pointed out that two boys hand in hand is not desirable. And how, the whole class laughed.

Let’s not talk about the taunts towards my habit of carrying handkerchiefs, inclination towards bright colours, disinterest in sports, from my classmates and teachers alike.

I am not even taking in account the violent bullies in classes and seniors alike with open threats about violence in the ‘School Confession’ pages when someone came out as gay, but what bothers me is the management’s blind eye towards this toxic culture.

Also, in our co-ed school, girls and boys sat separately. As a punishment, our mathematics teacher often used to make boys sit amongst girls and vice-versa.

One fine day, the school management decided that the main gate entrance and exits will be separate for girls and boys. Imagine what damage the very school is doing to the growing minds of teenagers, segregating children on the basis of assigned-at-birth genders.

Can you do a simple google search about child psychology and how to handle genders at school level?

I was once asked to stand outside of the classroom in the corridor during biology period because I mentioned the word ‘call-girl’ whose meaning I was unaware of at that time. There was no explanation from the lady teacher about what the word means, and if it is bad, why so!

It’s a separate thing that most of the teachers in India aren’t aware of the more ethical way of ‘detention’ as a punishment instead of physical harm. Irony died a painful death every time our art teacher literally beat up students and smacked them with wooden rulers for not drawing and painting properly. Imagine how a curriculum designed to fuel creativity is the cause of physical harm for a student.

On Valentine’s Day, two of my classmates performed salsa on ‘pyaar ki ek kahani suno’ on the school stage. They are great dancers by the way, so shoutout to both of them!

Later that day, we got moral-policed and lectured by our mathematics teacher on what we can and cannot do in front of elders in our culture. What is decent and what’s not. She did this culture-shaming to both of them by making them stand up in front of the whole class. They apologised for the dance.

The underlined slut-shaming in front of the whole class, of the female students who had a couple of romantic partners and were maybe sexually active, has hardly ever been talked about. It was incorporated in our head at that age that sex is bad. That’s it. No sex education, nothing about safe sex, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases.

There was one vague attempt though. I don’t recall the exact subject name, but it was something like home science or life study, but, it was a mere tick in the checkbox for the school. Our biology teacher just skipped it and asked us to read the sex education chapter at home.

You realize how impressionable young minds are? That all these incidents are well impregnated in my memory for life? How traumatic these can be for a child struggling mentally and can also push someone to something fatal like being suicidal or suffering PTSD ? Everyone’s emotional quotient is not same.

Dear Schools, please have licensed child psychologists and run your curriculum through them as well. And, if you do not have a license, please do not act as a therapist for a child. It is illegal.

I am not being ‘unfaithful’ to my teachers. They need not be put on pedestals for no reason. They are humans, and if they are wrong, call them out.

My mother is a teacher, and I have nothing against teachers. In fact, it is one of the most difficult jobs out there. You are a life coach for children.

I have had few good teachers as well in the very same school. I am grateful to my physics teacher who equally nurtures his creative side and writes very well. I am grateful to my Physical Education teacher who never judged for me not taking interest in sports. While the boys played football, I happily stood beside him and watched the match without participating in it.

I am also sorry to my closeted gay teacher who we (yes, including I) made fun of. We did not have any idea of right or wrong. We were never taught.

I apologise to you. I am very sorry that this society forced you to stay in the closet, I am sure it’s a very tough journey and I am sorry for adding to that struggle.

There’s nothing wrong in introspecting one’s faults and growing from that. We all have good and bad in us.

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  1. I am glad you spoke everything so calmly and you are so strong and I wish you are doing great in life. And I am totally with you on this, SHS has so many people who actually can ruin you thoughts and mind forever.


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