Set a bad example and you will get a bad reaction
It's no surprise that violence between college students persists when adults behave in an antisocial fashion
A YouTube clip of the project could pass as a trailer for a feelgood movie about male friendship. However, the "Vocational Gentlemen" programme advocated by the Army will keep looking for a happy ending. At a recent seminar held to evaluate the innovative attempt to end the violent rivalry between vocational college students, anything but extreme confidence was expressed by those involved. The boot-camp training programme that puts young rivals together in a bid to create bonding that can overcome "institutional hostility" might work for the participants, but what about those who aren't there, or future generations of students?
It's a well-intended programme. Critics who don't like the idea of trying to forge male bonding by putting rival youngsters through the hardships of military training might not have a better plan. Vocational-college violence, which sometimes claims the lives of innocent victims, invokes outrage and, often, outrageous proposals for remedies. Send the rival gangs to the border, some suggest. Or, better still, send them to work with the security forces in the troubled deep South. The boot-camp project tried to discard the sarcasm and look seriously into how military activities can provide a real solution.
The chronic violence among students has killed and injured many. One of the latest tragic casualties was nine-year-old Jatuporn Polpaka, a Grade 3 student who was shot last year when a bus he was riding was ambushed by armed vocational-college students. It was not the last straw, because the camel's back was broken a long time ago.
However, nothing has ever been done to effectively put an end to the senseless behaviour of some college students. Drastic measures have been proposed, including one that might be condemned elsewhere - exempting violent youths from legal protection due to their age.
More disheartening news was also heard at the evaluation seminar. Rival students have been utilising the social media to instigate hatred and plan ambushes and attacks. The social media, the participants at the seminar feared, could nullify parents' and teachers' attempts to talk sense into these young hotheads. The problem of vocational-college violence might even intensify.
Why are we at a dead end? We used to blame these kids for "blind love" toward their institutions. Fingers have also been pointed at peer pressure and a bad tradition that has been passed from one student generation to the next. While that might be true, it would only be partly true. A closer look at the broader social context could yield evidence that senseless violence driven by blind loyalty is not limited to wayward youth. Extreme prejudice is, in fact, a widespread symptom that has been wreaking havoc far beyond the walls of vocational colleges.
It's hard to teach youths the values of unity and respect for one's fellow countrymen when adults are insulting one another for fun on the social media. Violence affecting innocent people is all over the front pages, and all the villains are way past their teens. Firearms used recklessly and innocent people getting caught in the crossfire sounds horrific when students are the offenders, but Thai adults cannot really say they have set the younger generations a good example.
Violence among college students has always been treated as a separate social problem, a unique symptom associated with hormones, delinquency and peer influence. Maybe it's time to re-evaluate society as a whole because, obviously, Thais are heeding different standards regarding "violence". First, adults might have to reach agreement on what constitutes conduct unbecoming of ordinary citizens. They definitely have opposing thoughts on the issue. And as long as they disagree, how can they convince youths that hurting the innocent is bad, no matter what?
The real example must come in a national collective form. At the moment, violent students are like broken-home kids being taught by violence-prone parents that smoking, liquor and physical assault are bad. These youths might have been told the right things, but they haven't seen the right examples. To instil values, our youngsters will have to see those values being practised, in addition to hearing and reading about them.