13 October 2012

Shaming Kids

It's been a running theme in society since the time of Plato that the current generation of kids are spoiled, decadent, out of control. Well, maybe, but there's one thing that hasn't changed; that some adults think it's okay to shame kids.

Getting the bus to work this week, a kid of around ten, dressed in a primary school uniform, boarded the bus without his bus pass. Okay, he probably should have mentioned this to the driver, but he was probably too shy to do so. Anyway, after the kid sat down, the driver pulled the bus over and roared "Get down here!" No one moved. The driver got out of his seat and stood in the aisle. "You - with the skateboard. Get down here!" The poor kid walked up to the driver, who shouted "Where does it say that this bus is free?!"
"I forgot my pass" stammered the poor boy.
"That's no excuse! You ask for permission to board or pay! You don't just get on! Now SIT DOWN".

And the poor kid did sit, and promptly burst into tears. Luckily there was a schoolfriend of his on the bus, with his mother, who attempted to comfort the boy. Me? I'm not so good at the comforting business, but I did take the driver's card number, and have sent in an official complaint.

Why is this sort of thing apparently okay? I have seen dozens, heck hundreds, of old age pensioners board the bus with expired tickets. Occasionally a driver will gently say something, but in the vast majority of cases they let it go, and the senior boards without incident, or paying. Probably the sensible course of action. You can't possibly imagine a driver yelling at a pensioner who tried to board without paying, so why is it okay to publicly berate and shame a child for doing so?

I hope the kid got to school, played with his friends,  and forgot all about it, but I'm not so sure. I still remember an incident in year seven where I stood up slightly too early at a school assembly. That was all. I was called on to the stage and berated in front of the whole school for my ten seconds lapse in attention. I've never forgotten the shame and humiliation. And for what? Some deep seated belief that children represent original sin and need to be tamed? Because some adults are jerks who like to show they've got power over kids? I just don't get why it's okay.

04 October 2012

The Real Story Behind the Jones Backlash

The public reaction to the cruel, stupid comments made by Alan Jones at the Sydney University Liberal party fundraiser has been astonishing; the most successful social media campaign in Australian history; over 100,000 signatures (more than Jones's audience figures some morning), over 60 major companies pulling their advertising from Jones's program and his station 2GB, constant discussion on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.

The right, scrambling to find meaning in all this, have decided it is all part of some left wing plot to destroy Jones, and have rushed to defend him. The comments were made in jest, at a private function. He's said he was sorry. What more do we want from him? Paul Sheehan, the most coherent of the right wing columnists, ties it all together nicely in today's SMH. He describes Change.org, host of the largest petition to dump Jones, as "orchestrating a campaign" to destroy Jones (neglecting to mention there is also a petition on Change.org to keep Alan Jones "because he tells the truth" with, as of this writing, a whopping 67 signatories), and sees a sinister network of influence at play. He writes, "When you have all Jones' traditional enemies, the Labor Party, the Greens, the ABC, Fairfax Media, GetUp!, and now Change.org and more than 100,000 people, all baying for the professional blood of one man, the scale and disproportion of the fury begins to create blowback. Most Australians do not like a brawl involving 100,000 people against one."

100,000 left wing enemies of Jones, baying for his blood. That's what the right think this is about. They are way, way off the mark.

What the backlash of Jones really means is this: Yes, we took offence at Jones's comments. Yes, it does in fact go deeper than that. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have snapped, had enough - not because they are part of a left wing conspiracy, but because they are fed up, disgusted with the level of personal abuse leveled at politicians in this country - much of which is aimed at the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who whether you agree with her politics or not (and many of those condemning Jones don't agree) does not deserve the death threats, obscene cartoons and insults to her dead family that are her lot on a daily basis. So no this isn't an isolated case regarding Jones's remark, but it was when our collective patience snapped, decent people said enough is enough, and it's time to stand up and end this culture of nastiness. If it is Alan Jones who has to bear the brunt of our wrath, well, he is the one who has orchestrated much of this tone of violence, disrespect and disdain (and has been doing so for years); as a leader in his field, he's emblematic of the culture; if he's such a great political influence, surely it cuts both ways. He's a big boy, he can take it, and I'm sure he's crying all the way to the bank. Such is the man's ego that anyway, he's taking it all as a sign of jealousy. Homophobic slurs and death threats against Jones are to be condemned, but it's time for all sides of the media and politics to take this campaign seriously; we're here, we're decent people, and we're angry. Don't get used to it - change things.

01 October 2012

Selective Schools The Magic Button?

I was recently moved to read a twitter friend's account of her experiences with her ten year old son, a sensitive, intelligent boy who was being bullied at school. They worried what to do, met with the principal, eventually made the difficult decision to move their son to a new school. One point that struck a dark note with me is their prior hope that they and their son would be able to wait it out until he got to high school, or specifically a selective high school, where he would be amongst children like himself and the bullying would stop. The reason this caught in my throat was I experienced the worst bullying of my life at a selective high school. I'm dismayed at the perception that bullying doesn't go on at selective schools, and that they're the answer for intelligent, bullied kids.

In my case it made festering problems worse. I arrived at selective high school age 11, young for my cohort, and with the manifestations of Asperger's Syndrome that would not be identified for another almost 20 years. In addition, there were problems at home, and I was, basically, an awkward, oversensitive, emotional wreck. It was hoped that after a friendless primary school experience, selective school would be where I "found my place". But even at a selective school, kids are still kids. They can immediately spot the outsider, the weak one. In this case I became the target, and the target of kids who had not only the streak of nastiness that bullies can show, but the intelligence to make their attacks all the more personal, insightful and vicious. The things I did "wrong" - from wearing an official school hat (I quite liked them) to reading the encyclopedia at lunch time - made me a target for physical and emotional bullying that has left me with scars to this day.

But no one would believe such things could go on. Smart kids were good kids, right? For me it was a dreadful time. My academic performance suffered, inevitably. Therein lies another issue with selective schools - someone has to be at the bottom of the academic rankings. Kids with a history of academic achievement, who would be the star pupil at a comprehensive high school, find themselves at the bottom of the pile with all the disincentive and damage to self esteem that entails. For some it is a spur to work harder; others never recover. Some of my former classmates are human rights barristers, TV personalities, academics, surgeons. Others have disappeared into the same pit of despair I languished in for much of my life.

As for my education though, by the end of Year Nine, I'd had enough and refused to go back; the school, with me marked as a trouble maker and failure, wasn't so keen to have me around either, so by everyone's agreement, I transferred to a comprehensive high school, repeated Year Nine, got heavily involved in drama and debating (it had a good performing arts program), and did well academically, and my teachers liked me, and if there was any bullying I was older and smarter and able to handle it.

I'm not a fan of the selective school system. I know it works well for some children, but it drains resources from comprehensive schools, and can have a terrible effect on the kids who go there who don't do so well there. I don't know what I'll do if BabyG wants to go to a selective school. And they're not the magic cure for bullying. If only something was.