Social correction versus bullying?

By Sarah O’Brien

The term “social correction”, implies, bringing an individual back into line with what is considered socially appropriate in the given culture/continent/creed/context in which they reside. Social correction as an idea makes sense, particularly when correcting ideologies about racism, sexism, homophobia and so on. It can serve a purpose in those contexts, because it is actively seeking to quell an insidious wave of human behaviour that is damaging to us all.

Etymologically speaking, the term correction has an array of meanings which are applicable in a number of contexts. One such explanation sees correction as punishment intended to rehabilitate or improve. Paired with terminology like social, correction becomes the ultimate display of panopticism-citizens policing other citizen’s behaviour, judging them by whatever standard they see fit, as long as it remains in keeping with the majority. In a wider context, social policing in this manner, is actually very necessary.

Modern society moves like a well-oiled machine, steam rolling over any who refuse to cooperate. More often than not that cooperation protects us. It maintains a status quo that allows people to sleep safer in their beds at night, safe in the knowledge that where they live, murder, theft and so on are not considered socially acceptable and therefore should anything happen, their perpetrators will be held accountable-punished if you will.

But in a narrow context, is there a place for social correction and when does it cross a line and become bullying? In a school yard, there has always been children that are that little bit different- from their attire to the irreverent cowslick that refused to lie flat on their heads or maybe it was the way the spoke and how they interacted with the world around them. Children who are considered “different” often encounter jibes and taunts, most of it seemingly harmless.

It seems almost instinctual for people to close ranks and seek out difference, like a bloodhound tracks the trail of a fox. The baying for punishment, to protect whatever fragile clique they themselves are a part of, seems to go hand in hand with the persecution of others. In most instances, playground bullyboy tactics are forgotten, people move on confining their experiences to that of their childhood self.

What happens if the very teachers, charged with regulating their student’s interactions and maintaining a level of professionalism at their post, believe that textbook instances of bullying are simply cases of social correction? The power is redirected onto other students, who are now serving as judge and jury.  Students who, at that age, lack the mental capacity to enforce positive social ideologies. The result is a student who is creatively stifled. A student who might no longer wish to explore what they can offer and contribute to society at large, all because they had a teacher, a system that failed them. That in and off itself is an institutional abuse of power.

The long term ramifications of allowing children to behave this manner, negatively impacts both the student and their subjugator. The school responsible will turn out two less than well rounded individuals, one who believes they aren’t good enough and another who will live their life according to the behaviour they have been socialised into believing is acceptable. Social correction is not the same as bullying, but unfortunately it often masquerades as such.


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