Tuesday 25 February 2014

Five years of avoidable misallocation


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.


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.).


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.


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.


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.



Anonymous said...

My sister attends an elite girls' private school where parents are notified about a 1 hour after school detention. For her, and I presume many of her peers, the stress this causes at home dwarfs the discomfort (and commensurate punishment) of being forced to spend 2% more time a week at school. Obviously there is a point of delinquency where parents should be involved, but this seems, as you say, sheer sadism.

Of many appalling pieces of work of hers I've seen, I saved the worst, a process of formal brainwashing (it must have a name of its own like the Delphi Technique, but I haven't found it yet). An exercise for 12/13 year olds called "Person + Purpose" has lots of boxes containing a "value" to be ranked by importance to oneself e.g. "to be good", "to please yourself", "to care for the environment". There were several that any enlightened child was clearly supposed to consider "less important" - "to be famous", "to spend, spend, spend", and some to be preferred "to love others"; including de facto lib ones like "to be individual" and "stay true to your beliefs".

The abomination is revealed in several boxes being purely religious - "to love God", "to serve God", "to seek the reward of the next life". Unless a child has been brought up so, they cannot claim these as important to them personally, and so must rank them "less important". This is clearly the purpose of this otherwise inane exercise, to make them claim these positions for themselves. One can't think "well, I don't know much about religion, but it is obviously important, and I ought to find out", the impression that is sought is instead "I don't know about this, so I have to be honest and say it isn't important to me...and nobody has taught me, and I'm lazy and weak, and its MY choice, and it *can't* be important!". The discomfort of being in no position to assess these concepts is to be transferred into a general aversion for them. The student can then complete the process by Pritt-sticking the box "just to get through" under "most important".


Thomas said...

I remember that time as being very tedious and unpleasant in an American public school. There was lots of bureaucratic-type processing and test-prep memorization, with general liberal propaganda, but no individual student attention. Certainly, it wasn't clear that actually becoming educated in any sense was actually important. As boys, we were eventually given to minor acts of vandalism, goofing off through entire class periods, mocking the administration - especially once we discovered nothing was ever done to stop or correct this destructive behavior either.

Karl said...

What, your school didn't have a Sorting Hat?