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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 October, 2003, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Video nasty sparks Polish soul-search

By James Coomarasamy
BBC, Poland

The outside of the Torun Construction High School is as unprepossessing and unremarkable as its name suggests - a long grey building similar to hundreds you can find up and down Poland.

Inside, the corridors are neat, dull - and certainly no more unruly than other secondary schools I've visited in the country.

Teacher being attacked
The teacher was humiliated by pupils
But the events which took place in one of the classrooms - and were last month shown on national television - have sparked off an impassioned, nationwide debate.

It was here that a pupil decided to take a video camera to an English lesson - not for a school project, but to record the sustained humiliation of his teacher by most of the class.

The petrified, passive schoolmaster - who's now left the school - has a karate kick aimed at his body, a rubbish bin tipped over his head and, in one part of the tape, an assault on his ears by a cats' chorus of different mobile phone ring tones.

Somehow - and it's still not clear exactly how - the tape found its way into the hands of the state TV station, turning a local tale of a terrorised teacher into a national scandal.

We know we did wrong but you can't say we committed acts of physical violence
Pupil in class
Talk shows and phone-ins have been dominated by the issue of classroom discipline - with people across the country asking why such an incident happened and, on occasion, comparing present-day Poland unfavourably with the more ordered, communist version.

The school's headmistress, Teresa Blaskiewicz, says the media has exaggerated the incident but admits that she's never seen anything like it during her entire teaching career.

She's reluctantly had to expel eight of the pupils involved, partly - as she says herself - because of the media spotlight.

'Just a prank'

One of the other boys who was in the classroom that day - and spoke to me on condition of anonymity - maintained that it had just been a silly prank.

"We know we did wrong," he said, "but you can't say we committed acts of physical violence."

The pictures would have shocked most countries, but it's unlikely they would have provoked such a prolonged bout of soul-searching as they have in Poland.

I have to admit that I'm the deputy education minister and I don't have a clue what drugs look like
Franciszek Potulski
According to the Polish director Robert Glinski, whose acclaimed film "Czesc Tereska" was one of the first to deal with the new disaffected generation - this is because the generation gap in Poland is so much wider than in many other countries.

He says that today's Polish school children are the country's first post-communist generation - and have grown up in a different society to their parents - with different freedoms, different pressures.

This dislocation was emphasised when I spoke to the deputy education minister, Franciszek Potulski.

He played down the incident in Torun, but reflected - almost as an aside: "I have to admit that I'm the deputy education minister and I don't have a clue what drugs look like. Maybe we should make sure all our teachers recognise them."

It seems that the Torun video could - inadvertently - have some educational value after all.

Teacher's anger at pupil attack
10 Sep 03  |  Wales
Violence 'widespread' say teachers
03 Apr 03  |  Education
Teachers send message on violence
08 Jul 03  |  Education


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