30 Minutes in the Life of an Amman School

الخميس 15 نيسان 2010

Boys School

Written by Raghda Butros

Today I had a meeting with the headmaster of one of Amman’s public boys’ schools who I was told by several people was cooperative and progressive. As I waited for him outside his office while one of the kids called him down for our appointment, I was trying to get a feel for the school and to compare it to the many other public schools I had been to in recent years all over Amman. It seemed to be fairly clean, the boys were mostly all in class, and the building was in good shape. I was beginning to think that with what I heard about the headmaster and what I had seen of the school, I had finally stumbled on a positive example of a public boys’ school in Jordan.

I was mulling this over when a man came raging down the stairs in front of me and then proceeded to repeatedly and indiscriminately beat a 12 or 13-year old boy with an iron rod. I could hardly believe it, though I had witnessed this very scene many times before in the boys’ school in Jabal Nathif and elsewhere, but never by the headmaster, never quite so sudden and brutal, and not in the frame of mind I was in, which was one of positive anticipation, rather than expectant dread.

The headmaster saw the appalled look on my face and so spent the next half hour trying to make up for it, by showing me what a compassionate and kind person he was. He called all the boys who walked in “Baba” and seemed to listen to their requests with a semblance of tolerance and interest. To show me how dedicated he was to reforming the school, he proceeded to tell me how he had try to turn down a boy just the week before, whose father was a “zabbal”, and who had recently moved to the area from Zarqa. The father complained to the Ministry who then asked the headmaster to allow the boy to join the school. He said the boy came in also looking like a “zabbal” and that he would be the bad apple that would eat away at all the good apples that were his students. He said he tried to stop the ministry from allowing “nawar” from getting into the school, people as he said from “Hay Nazzal” or other similar places. All  this in an attempt to show me that he was a dedicated and progressive administrator, who wanted the best for his school and students. All the while not realizing how downright prejudiced he sounded.

He said the problems faced by students stem from their negative home situations, and I attempted to convince him that this was even more of a reason to show them some compassion and care at school. He agreed in theory, but said that when the boys misbehave, he can’t control his anger and lashes out at them.

As a professional educator, surely he should have means and knowledge to be able to control his temper and not respond out of anger and frustration, but clearly such tools are not at his disposal. He is a product of the very same system he is perpetuating.

A father was in his office to complain that his son had

come home the day before all bloodied and black and blue. He was apologizing to the headmaster for wasting his time with his request to know who had done that to his son. Two groups of kids came in complaining that other kids had attacked and injured them in the break. A woman called to ask why her son was expelled and the headmaster said it was because he beat up another kid in the playground for bumping into him by mistake. In response to the fourth graders who were beaten by a boy in the sixth grade, the headmaster asked a man in his office, most likely a teacher, to go handle the situation, at which point the man grabbed the same iron rod with a look of sheer glee on his face and said he would deal with it. Faced with another appalled look by me, the headmaster said to him “bil3agel”, meaning beat him, but not too hard. A couple of other also teachers walked in, both carrying their very own sticks, a teacher’s trademark it would seem.

Given all this violence in the space of just half an hour in the life of only one of Amman’s hundreds of public boys’ schools, it’s no wonder there aren’t more incidents of violence such as the ones which have recently taken place. In fact, I think it’s a testament to the spirit of Jordan’s youth that they are not more aggressive, given the fact that they are subjected to violence at home, at school, on the news and everywhere they seem to turn.

I said it before and I’ll say it again. Only when the weakest one of us is strong and respected, can we be a strong and respectable nation.

Originally posted on Hamzet Wasel’s site.