And you! Keep your mouth shut, you idiot!

I picked this YT-video from a Facebook post (thanks Lee!), that is evidently choreographed to drive home an anti-bullying message. A great show, however the message is not so evident from the dance alone. So I decided to mash-up this with an article written by Editor-in-chief Trine Eilertsen at Bergens Tidende. I believe there is a fine line between a prank and what can escalate  to plain terror. I think it is worth making a point about of bullying and why it needs more attention. I believe bullying exists in the workplace too — but we probably learn this at school first!

Teacher Bjørndal’s method

And you! Keep your mouth shut, you idiot! 

Original (Norwegian). My translation with Trine’s permission.  

There is a knock on the classroom door of Class 9B. They are about halfway through a Norwegian class. Outside is the class teacher. When the class sees him, they sit up in their seats. He has that effect on them, and they realize that this must be serious when he interrupts them in the middle of another teacher’s class.

– I want to talk with Arne, Per, Lise, Ingrid, Gunnar and Tone. You will join me in the group room now!

The students look at each other questioningly, get up and go out of the class.

– “Sit down”, says the class teacher tersely, after he has closed the door behind them in the group room. “And listen carefully”

– Else was not at school yesterday. She is not here today either. She is at home. She has a severe stomach ache and cannot get to school. I just talked to her mother, who told me that Else has been that way throughout the autumn.

The pupils are unsure about what the teacher wants, look at each other, but recognize his story.

– Else did not come to school because she hates to be here. Besides others, you are responsible.

– “We? But none of us have ever …” Lise tries to explain.

There once was a teacher. He knew who he should be talking to when one of his students were bullied at school.

– No, none of you has bothered Else. It is not you who create a scene when she has to read aloud in class, who pushes her or passes comments about how she looks. It is Rune and Egil who do that. No, they count on the fact that you do not do anything to stop it. You all here, what you have in common is that you are among the most respected students in the class, best in the gym, best in schoolwork, good in football, or just popular with everyone. No one has greater power than you in that class. But you use the power to bask in glory, not to prevent Else being bothered by those who need to pick on someone who is even weaker than themselves. To make sure she does not gets to participate, to be involved. It’s pathetic, and I am tremendously disappointed in you, says the teacher.

The students stare at him, look down at the desk. Embarrassed. Have known the feeling. Have thought about saying something, but have not done it. Cannot say anything now.

The teacher continues. – I expect you, especially you, take responsibility, he says, and slams a hand on the table. I expect you to sort this out, that you do what you can to stop this. And to do it without mentioning this conversation. It is between us, and heaven help you if I hear about it outside this room!

SOME DAYS LATER during a Norwegian literature class. A weak teacher has once again been persuaded by Egil that Else should read aloud from the book. She is stressed, red cheeks, stammers, cannot get started. Rune laughs loudly, shaking his head. That’s when Arne gets up, the most athletic of the class, and points at Rune: “You! You keep your mouth shut, you idiot!”

Rune shuts up. He is told off in a language he understands, by a figure of authority he understands.

THE SMALL GROUP of students from the group room never talk about the special meeting they had with the teacher who they like listening to. They’re just trying to influence where they can. The pressure against Else is imperceptibly smaller and smaller, but students from the group room feel little pride. They are going to be ashamed the rest of their lives that they did not intervene earlier.

I KNOW THAT, because I sat in that group-room at the time, in the mid-1980s. I sat there and heard the legendary teacher Øyvind Bjørndal, a man respected deeply by all in the class, who gave me and several of my friends a real talking to, during an autumn when we had lost our way.

I have thought about the episode many times in later years. About the method of Bjørndal, so efficient, so basic simple. It is impossible to forget such an eye-opener, and it does something with our perspective about responsibility, for the rest of our lives.

Else can thank Øyvind Bjorndal that life was a little easier after a while. But we who sat in the group room might have even more reason to thank him.

Editor’s note: With the exception of the teacher, no students are mentioned with their real names.

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