Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Kids, morality and rites of passage..

Yesterday evening, my youngest came home from school and with a slightly nervous look on his face, confessed to me that, for the first time ever…  He’d been given detention!

“What did you do?” I enquired.

“Well, me and Luke were playing and he splashed me with water.  So I spat water back at him and one of the girls got some on her and she told the teacher and now we have to do detention.”  He gushed, in a single breath.

Then he looked at me and waited.  Was he going to be told off?  Was I going to be angry or maybe even laugh?   Was he going to get another punishment? 

I could see all the thoughts whirring through his head.  I stood there for a moment thinking about how best to tackle it.  I have always strongly believed that a punishment for bad behaviour at school should not be dragged out at home as well.  One crime.  One punishment.  And then it’s over.

And lets face it… He didn’t hurt anyone.  He didn’t break or steal anything.  He was just having a water fight with his friend.  Annoying and messy for the staff – but hardly the first foray into a life of crime…! 

I told him it wasn’t the end of the world.  I was glad that he hadn’t done anything terrible.  But what I really wanted to say was:

“Who was the girl who told on you?  What a little snitch!” 

And then, later on, I thought about it some more, because of the events of last week.  And I realised that I simply can’t blindly defend the appropriateness of teachers’ punishments.

Last week, I bought my kids some new pencils.  My eldest has terrible writing and I was advised to buy him the expensive pencils, which are triangular rather than octagonal.  I gave the little one three to take to school.  He decided to sharpen both ends of these pencils.  He’s a kid.  They do stuff like that, right?

Because they were sharpened at both ends, his teacher decided that they were dangerous.  She took all three from him and kept them herself.  When my son told me what had happened, I was really irritated.  He’d only had the pencils for a day and I had to make a special trip to get them.  Then he made the observation that as the teacher had kept them, surely that meant she’d stolen them.

And what could I say?  He was of course completely right.  Had the teacher returned his pencils to me at the end of the day, it would have been a completely different matter.  But she didn’t.  And he’s seen her using them. 

It reminded me of an incident I had as a child.  Having never been in any kind of trouble at school, I was punished for doing something I hadn’t done.  I was not allowed to defend myself or even speak, unless it was to confess.

That was the day I lost all respect for authority.  From that day forward, my respect has had to be earned. 

So here’s the minefield I have to cross.  My child’s eyes have been opened to the fact that figures of authority don’t always have our respect. 

And so this Friday, my son will have to do his detention, for doing nothing more than being a bit silly.  And whilst he does his time, his teacher will still be using the stolen pencils.  I could go into school and ask for them back – after all it’s not a matter of pencils, it’s a matter of principle.  But what parent wants to get a teacher off side over a pencil?

Unfortunately in life, for children and parents alike, we also have to learn that whether we have respect or not, sometimes we have to play the game…

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