Advice to Minister of Education Halvorsen; get over you analysis paralysis and get busy on the ground

The story of how a Norwegian- Israeli teenager has suffered anti-Semitic harassment for several years, culminating in Monday’s fire branding event has now been made known to the wider world, thanks to bloggers, press releases and letters of concern by the Wiesenthal Center, and also main stream media in Israel (thank you, Times of Israel, but you might want to update your information, we are Norwegians, not Danish, and have been so for quite some time now… Also, please note that the story first appeared in Norwegian on miff.no, and that I have merely translated the story by Conrad Myrland).

The personal story of this young man and his family is horrific, and a disgrace for all of us. For over two years now, the school authorities have had the knowledge that this is a person in a very vulnerable position, and although concrete steps try to mitigate some of  the child’s suffering through the efforts of Brusetkollen School and Resource Center, it is obvious that no real efforts to monitor the situation, or to have a concrete action plan as and when the problems would resurface. In stead, the school system, in particular the teacher who is, or should be, the first port of call, have let this child badly down.

Sadly for us Norwegians, we have become accustomed to that bullying in schools is not something that the powers that be take seriously. It is awful when a Jewish child has to hide his identity in order to avoid being bullied,  just as it is equally awful when any other child, of whatever ethnic background have to endure humiliation and violence as if it were some sort of karma they cannot escape.

At the same time as the two surveys on anti-Semitism in Norway  have been made public (in addition to the one released by the Municipality of Oslo last year, concluding that Jewish children are targets for anti-Semitic hate crime), other surveys on bullying in Norwegian schools have revealed, for the umpteenth time in as many years running, that Norwegian teachers and head masters do not intervene in cases of bullying, but prefer to pretend that a problem ignored is a problem solved.

This attitude of avoidance appears to be a historical problem, being the central theme in a much loved Norwegian book by Alexander Kielland – “Poison” penned in 1883.

Norway continues to have a high suicide rate among children and teenagers, and a study commissioned by the Government in 2002, showed that 5% of high school pupils in Oslo had tried to commit suicide, while 32% of the students responded that they had thought of committing suicide or harming themselves in another way.

It is tempting to speculate that some of these attempted or contemplated suicides could be triggered by the trauma of being a victim of bullying.

While one study after the other confirm the same depressing truth about bullying and our acceptance of it, our political leaders, whom we have given power to intervene, continue be more interested in doing more diagnostics, more analysis and drawing up yet more fanciful but ultimately unimpressive paper tigers, rather than actually do something.

We have a criminal code, what is wrong with actually applying it? Or, why cannot teachers be suspended pending further investigation, or bullies kicked out of school? Is there no action that can be taken against head masters and other senior school staff who fail to follow up and investigate claims over bullying? Why is it tolerated that those with responsibility can sit on their hands and do nothing?

The ongoing analysis paralysis within the Ministry of Education is as dangerous as it is cowardly. Come on, get cracking, apply our beautifully redacted Criminal Code, frighten the bullies and their quiet supporters, show them that actions and inactions alike have consequences, that there is a stiff price to pay for destroying another human’s life.

As a medic, I know that the best approach to cure cancer is to first remove the tumor, and then administer chemotherapy, specifically targeting the tumor cells. The much more frightening situation is when you realize that the tumor cannot be excised, it has spread. Then all you can do is to try to alleviate pain and hope for the best.

Let us hope, as Norway is becoming more and more diverse, that we can excise this terrible cancer we have diagnosed, before it makes our whole society sick.