Recently my wife and I went on a primary school tour for our first child, two, who'll be starting school in 2012. On the tour we walked through a particular private boys’ school with a rich history and strong traditions dating back to the 1870s. Since the land on which the school sits was only first settled by Europeans c1840, and first linked by rail to the commercial centres on the coast in 1867, the school is well and truly part of the region’s supporting architecture.
The school tour was made up of the usual suspects: mums and dads in big, shiny pickups, wealthy professionals and businesspeople, folks with a corrupted English accent – must’ve lived here for at least a decade – and so on, all looking for some place that could provide a worthy education for their sons. To say that I felt like the odd one out would be an understatement of grand proportion. The school principal proudly explained the school’s unique approach to educating boys, occasionally pausing to point out a new building project or explain their use of technology in the classroom as we walked through rooms full of six- and seven-year-old boys doing reading, art and even a prep class doing public speaking. Ok, so that was impressive – a five-year-old boy giving a talk in front of a group of his peers about a topic and getting marked on it. They get ‘em early, here.
The thing that disturbed me (apart from feeling out of place) was an inner urge that I noticed as the tour wore on – like being in a place like this, surrounded by concerned parents – either existing members or would-be debutants to the Old Boys’ Club – was awakening an emotional beast in me that I’d forgotten was there. For no outward reason that I could discern, I began to feel all rebellious and defensive, like the school and its principal represented ‘the man’, and like I didn’t give a rat’s hind parts about anything to do with this place. It’s the sort of thing that gives rise to delinquency, vandalism, graffiti, all those seemingly pointless acts perpetrated by seemingly disturbed young people, some (many? most?) of whom (I suppose) are acting out on a physical object the frustration and anger they feel inside.
My own schooling wasn’t that bad. Sure, the school I attended from Year 7 through to graduation was somewhat authoritarian, and it was no secret that I didn’t see eye-to-eye with my teachers on some of the things that went on. It was also clear that I had trouble respecting authority in that place – at the time, I thought my disrespect was justified. There was one incident in particular, involving a new teacher, where there was a particular assignment which the whole class hadn’t done due to a miscommunication. I attempted to negotiate with the teacher (in front of the class, silly me) in order to lessen the punishment we were all about to get, and for my trouble I got some extra detention time, and had to write out a letter of apology. I should’ve totally refused to write one – it would’ve worked out better by far. Instead, I wrote one which was frightfully condescending, dripping in sarcasm and full of thinly veiled messages about the school and the teacher in question. It wasn’t well received. There was more than one incident like this during my years in high school.
It’d be fair to say that those times left me with a chip on my shoulder around the topic of schools. More to the point, I chose to accept that chip and embrace it, act out of it, think out of it, rather than letting it go. I thought I’d forsaken the part of me that wrote that letter and moved on, but the school tour the other day made me wonder if I’ve just finished school, and not really MOVED ON
So what’s a man to do? Just ‘get over it’? Forgive someone? Release the negative energy to the universe? Pray? Write a new, soppier apology letter to make up for the nasty, pointed one I wrote ten years ago? I figure that the past is the past. I can only recognise it for what it is, and regardless of how proud of it I’m not, it won’t change – my response to it is the only thing I can work on, now.
More than anything, I’m deeply concerned about not passing this vibe on to my son. I don’t want him to grow up disrespecting authority the way I did. He already stares wide-eyed at me and copies lots of stuff that I do. For his future to be better, I must change. At some point (and soon), I’ll need to make a transition to obeying the authority figures in my life BECAUSE OF their position, and not IN SPITE OF it. Disrespect is never justified. Even if an authority figure does something that makes you feel they’re completely unworthy of respect, you can still respect their position. Honour the title, if not the person wearing it. If all else fails, respect them as a human being with their own intrinsic value. Value is something to be deeply contemplated. Everywhere I go, society holds up a mirror to my face, and if I value nothing, then I see nothing but emptiness in myself. If on the other hand, I recognise the true value of the things around me ...