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How one teacher in Iran defeated bullying

by Cesar Chelala

Special To The Japan Times

For 8-year-old Iranian Mahan Rahimi, life had become a torment. Balding because of an unknown illness, he was the target of unceasing bullying at school — like millions of other kids in the world.

He had a physical characteristic that made him different from the rest of the class. In becoming bald, Mahan was also becoming a victim of ridicule.

Although higher forms of violence usually receive a lot of media attention, it is only since the 2000s that the issue of bullying, characterized as emotional, verbal or physical abuse, started to be addressed by parents, teachers and researchers. According to 2010 statistics, 2.7 million students are bullied every year in the United States. One in seven students from kindergarten through 12th grade is a bully or has been a victim of bullying.

With the increase in social networking, the modes of bullying have diversified and increased. Today, for example, cyber bullying has become a serious problem that can cause serious physical or psychological damage and even lead to the suicide. The 2010 statistics show that cyber bullying is on the increase.

According to UNICEF bullying and cyber bullying are two sides of the same coin. Despite some efforts by parents, teachers and school officials, bullying crimes are widespread. Bullying has a serious effect on children’s learning activities. It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day out of fear of being bullied and that 71 percent of students in the U.S. report bullying as ongoing.

This type of aggression can have serious consequences on children’s performance at school. It is estimated that over 280,000 students are attacked in high schools throughout the nation each month. One of every 10 students drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying by his classmates.

Sheikh Shaltoot is an elementary school in Marivan, a Kurdish city in western Iran. It’s where Mahan is a student. His teacher, Ali Mohammadian, noticed he was being bullied by his classmates as a result of his unidentified illness. As a result, Mahan became isolated and his classroom performance dropped.

The teacher decided to shave his head to show solidarity with Mahan. Soon afterward, the whole class decided to shave their heads, and the bullying immediately stopped. Next, the entire student body decided to shave their heads.

The country’s Education Minister, Ali Asghar Fani, invited Mahan and his teacher to Tehran to thank them. The governor of the province, Abdolmohammad Zahedi, conveyed President Hassan Rouhani’s congratulations and promised financial support for Mahan’s treatment.

According to doctors at Razi hospital in Tehran, Mahan has immune system problems. They have sent samples of Mahan’s hair to Germany for help in diagnosing the condition.

The 45-year-old teacher was selected as “hero of the week” by the popular Iranian TV show Paysh. Both he and Mahan have been the subjects of several Iranian media interviews. The actions of this teacher brought a smile back to the boy’s face and showed one way to stop bullying.

Cesar Chelala, M.D. and Ph.D., is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award.