Obey without question

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Written by:

There is a strand of thinking still alive in parts of the schooling system which is based on a much older view of the world.  That is the notion that the authority of certain institutions must be obeyed without question by those within their clutches.

Questioning, in whatever format, is seen as almost a treachery – an attempt to usurp the authority of the institution.  So no matter how small any questioning is, even as tiny as the ability of boys to wear a single earring in one ear, the failure to obey the rule is considered as a large matter, apt to bring the institution into disrepute.

These same schools, which may be overly fixated on matters such as hair and earrings, generally have nothing to say, and no rules at all, around other important questions such as sexual harassment and gay-bashing in their midst.

This culture of adherence to petty issues and no interest at all in broader matters is, of course, a direct inheritance from the dysfunctional colonialism of the British Empire, which saw the education of the masses as a way to protect the Empire from the nasty tendency of colonised people to want to have their say in how their nations were run.  This pre-occupation elevated loyalty and obedience above all other factors.

It is interesting to see at Mt Albert Grammar School in Auckland that even the Boards of Trustees, made up of parents of children at the school, support the old ways, or rather could not bring themselves to break away.  Not very surprising, though. MAGS is a peak institution, a standard bearer for tradition.

The school benefits from its position and reputation.  And, should a small earring in a male ear threaten that position, well it must be stamped out. Now.  Before it spreads. And then where would we all be? Earrings here, there and everywhere. It cannot be contemplated.

It is coming up to nine years since the last similar case hit the headlines (I am sure there are many that do not).  A young man was suspended from a Hawkes Bay secondary school for refusing to cut his hair above his collar. He offered to put his gorgeous curly locks (he had great hair!) into a ponytail but that was not accepted. Boys with ponytails? Sheesh!  The world would end forthwith!

So he took the case to the high court on judicial review.  He asked the question: does the school have the legal authority to force me to obey such rules? Unfortunately, that question was never answered because the court made a prior decision that, as the boy had offered a reasonable compromise in the circumstances, the school had a responsibility to engage with that solution.

Which means that the larger question, of whether schools can arbitrarily ban matters of personal taste and style that do not affect others, remains unresolved in law.

This kind of school has never responded well to being told they are breaching the human rights of students.  This is because, in their thinking, children do not accrue human rights until they reach adulthood or leave school.

I am keen to see the earring case go to judicial review.  Mind you, that road is expensive and time consuming.  There might be a lawyer, even YouthLaw, prepared to take the case pro bono.  The strangulated thinking of MAGS belongs in the 19th century, not the 21st

It is time for the remainder of the colonised thinking in the schooling system to move on.  Our schooling system should be one that enhances and supports all human rights.

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About Insight Aotearoa

Most of the blogs published here will either respond to initiatives elsewhere or will be ‘newsmaking’. Some will also be reflective in more general terms. The blogs will be topical and interesting. I like to inject some humour into my blogs.

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