(This post will tangent a bit so if you are not prepared for a lengthy somewhat rambling read I would skip to the next post.)
Today in one of my M2 classes (about 8th grade, or 13-14 years old, for reference) I turned around to shush the noisy class when I saw, in the corner of the room, one of the boys brandishing a gun. I registered this with sudden horror and they tried to hide it as soon as they realized I saw it. I quickly walked over and saw, much to my relief, that it was only a black airsoft gun. Lesson in the importance of wearing my contacts? Mayyyybe. But it did look realistic.
I held out my hand, “Give it to me.” These two kids, I love them but sometimes they really are infuriating, tried to pass the gun from one desk to the next without me seeing and held out their hands and pretended to look confused like but I don’t have anything…I repeated, “Give. me. the gun. Now.” and the boy finally realized I wasn’t messing and handed it over. But not before showing me it was empty by pointing it at his face and pulling the trigger. (Never mind that it wasn’t a real gun at this point the last thing I needed was for someone to lose an eyeball) I was infuriated on multiple levels; the most basic for the disruption of class and working it’s way up to the perceived pure stupidity of bringing any sort of gun to school. I didn’t give the gun back after class like I normally do when I take their phones, and instead took it back to the office.
Once I got back to the office I brought it to the Thai teachers and asked them what to do about it. The homeroom teacher ultimately decided to talk to him tomorrow after class and suggested that maybe I should cut his grade as punishment.
….what. That’s it?
Yeah, that’s it. Admittedly I was at first totally mind blown. But I sat at my desk and thought about it for a bit. You know what I concluded? That’s it and for now that’s ok. That’s enough. I’m not in America. Sure Thailand is far from perfect; there’s unrest in the south, military coups and the recent Erawan Shrine bombing, and yes, there have been school shootings here. That being said Thailand does not have the same recurring problem that America seems to have with school shootings. Not yet at least, and definitely not the same caliber of damage. This boy is 13 years old. He was messing around with his friends. He has friends to mess around with. He lives in a different world than the American student who has to walk through metal detectors each day before sitting down to learn. He is spared in his innocence. I posted about this incident on facebook remarking that this is how I know I am no longer in America and a friend replied “it’s an innocent kid, and you know you are not in America when he waves the gun in the class instead of shooting 25 kids! ” How true and sad that is. Should he have brought it to school? No, that probably wasn’t the best idea. But this is one of the few times I will applaud this school’s actions (and here is where the tangent begins, you have been warned).
Imagine if a 13 year old kid did this same thing in America. He would be expelled, police would be involved, he would be slapped across the headlines and his life would never be the same. But…the attention! Imagine a kid feeing lost, alone, bullied, has family troubles, take your pick. He see’s the attention this kid gets from the media and the world and thinks, Hey, I could get attention too. That would show them. If you google “Thailand school shootings” you will get few hits. The most notable seeming to be a school shooting at Pak Phanang School in 2003. I have only found a Wikipedia post about it, in which the former Prime Minister Thaksin was quoted as calling this incident a “deplorable emulation of an example set in western countries”. Is this part of Thailand’s save face attitude and an attempt to deflect negative attention? Maybe. But there is definitely more than a grain of truth in that statement. What sort of attention did this 17 year old shooter get? Honestly, in comparison to shooters in America, not much.
Here’s an experiment to try out: google Pak Phanang school shooting. Now google Columbine school shooting. The Columbine shootings, which occurred four years before the Thai school shooting, is still making news. Let’s talk about glorification. You can find articles upon articles of the shooters; who they were, why they did it, what was their motive, how many people they killed, etc etc etc. They may be gone but their legacy lives on. A quote I found while trying to find out more about Thailand school shootings claims, “Not unlike the adoption of American consumer products (e.g. Coca Cola, McDonalds, and KFC) and film and music popular culture, disaffected individuals in other lands have taken their inspiration for mass murder from highly publicized American incidents.” (Madfis and Levin, School Rampage in International Perspective: The Salience of Cumulative Strain Theory)
The problem in America is the result of a snowball effect propelled by the media. Gun laws are not the problem. Lack of campus safety is not the problem. Bullying contributes to the problem, mental illness contributes to the problem, family struggles contribute to the problem, and the media pushes the problem forward with full force. The media highlights the problem, it glorifies the problem, it invites the problem to become an epidemic. I have known this before now, it’s a fairly glaring fact. However I have not seen this applied so clearly in real life applications until living abroad.
I think of my student and I don’t ever want him to have to go to school in fear, or to live in a world of such shattered innocence. I know it’s natural to feel so much pain you want to the world to know of the injustice caused to your family and community. I know it’s natural to yearn for sympathy and support. The media grabs this and runs with it. I’m not saying those in media are evil and mean to perpetuate violence, but by showcasing these tortured souls who acted out in such a horrible way only sends a message to others struggling with the same issues. When reporting these types of incidences focus on the victims. Focus on the heartache and the sorrow. Stop focusing on the perpetrators; stop focusing on their actions, their motives, their history, their lives. Stop giving them the power. It’s not only America that is watching, the rest of the world is tuning in as well.