Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Five years of avoidable misallocation

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At secondary school I spent five years allocated to the only groups where I had no friends.

So, in first and second year we were divided into six groups. I had friends in all of the groups except mine. I quite liked a couple of the lads - and was paralysingly in-love with one of the girls - but mostly it was just dull. Luckily, some of the academic subjects were 'streamed' and I had many friends in the top stream.

Then, from third through fifth year I was allocated to the only one of four houses in which I did not have any friends. Reasonable acquaintances - but nobody with whom I could relax and enjoy things.

The result was again a subtraction of possibilities. My sufferings were not acute, nor extreme - I merely suffered a much greater proportion of tedium then would otherwise have been the case; and since that period of life (aged 11-16) was one which is especially remembered, then this emotion is a large part of my memories for that era.

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The reason was apparently just random bad luck - these class and house allocations were done without taking any consideration for friendship or anything else. As kids, we were simply treated as interchangeable units.

It was apparently assumed that we would adjust equally to whatever situation we were placed in - and would 'make friends' in any class, equally well - or, anyway, what does it matter?

Considering how easy it is to make some adjustment for friendships (and enmity), and considering the importance and non-transferability of friendships, this attitude was very revealing.

(My kids schools have all allowed for a couple of friendships to be maintained in class allocation - unless there was a particular reason not to allow this.).

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When there is a significant problem, easy to fix, people know how to fix it; and yet it is not fixed - then it becomes interesting.

At one level, especially in terms of individual relationships between teachers and pupils, my school was simply superb - there was a great deal of care and personal attention. There was at this level a genuine concern that kids have a fulfilling experience, and a lot of teachers gave a lot of time and energy to that end (and I mean a lot - the teachers were a superb group of people).

But, despite this, in my school experience there were great tracts of registration, sports and lessons which were rendered simply dull by the lack of anyone with whom to share them. If I had been in any group, other than the ones I was in, things would have been significantly better - and yet there was never the slightest notion that pupils would be allowed or encouraged to change groups for friendship reasons, or that groups should be formed with this in mind.

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And this was, I think, purely due to an aggressively impersonal administrative attitude somewhere in the organization: a determination to ignore the human element in a situation when it would have been easy, natural, and all-round beneficial to take account of individuality.

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This is utterly characteristic of bureaucracy. The necessity sometimes to organize people as masses and to treat people as interchangeable units, encourages an intrinsic tendency to enjoy treating people as interchangeable units - the enjoyment being rooted in the fact that people are not interchangeable units, but can nonetheless be treated as if they were by exercise of power.

People in the administrative system then use the sometimes-need as an excuse for a very personal yet deniable satisfaction at their exercise of power, mixed with the enjoyment of a quietly-detached element of sadism at the sub-optimal human consequences.

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