Skip to content

Think-Ed: Out of our minds and beaten?

Stuart Middleton


17 May 2010

Have we all gone stark raving mad?

It is a clinical diagnosis of insanity to continue to behave as you have always done but expect different results.

We are constantly showered with clear evidence that we have issues in New Zealand with violence and booze – the two are not unrelated. In schools this past week we have grappled with two major issues – booze and violence. And yet the solutions offer little hope.

If ever we needed courageous leadership it is now.

Take booze for example. The government backs off and leaves the issue of youth drunkenness unresolved. This in turn leaves schools somewhat on their own grappling with the issue – especially as it expresses itself in the form of school after-balls and the 3am swill that they have become. Schools continue the mantra – they are nothing to do with us. They are wrong – they are everything to do with schools since it is schools that provide the network used to set up these insidious and dangerous functions. The school ball is the first and necessary half of an evening which has as its second half the school after-ball.

The answer is clear. If schools want to stamp out the after-balls they simply have to abandon without compunction the practice of school balls completely. Don’t hold them and then there would be point in after-balls. Young people could simply get drunk as they do on the other 51 weeks of the year. Or do they? Perhaps after-balls actually entice young people who are not yet heavy drinkers a little further along the path.

It is not as if school balls themselves are entirely plain sailing. For many years drink, hotel rooms, pre-balls have all contributed to the looseness that has found full-expression in factories and other seedy environments throughout the rest of the next. The first segues into the second as smoothly and seamlessly as a Viennese waltz.

It was once and still might be a tradition for retiring principals to express to their colleagues their great relief that they would never have to attend another school ball.

What is most appalling is the seeming connivance of parents in all this. Quite clearly there are parents who are prepared to assist their children in either helping organising these events or at least participating in the deception that is involved. If schools do not have communities behind them then they might just accept that the cause is lost.

I wonder if the expulsion of students attending after-balls would achieve an improvement. It wouldn’t but it would make for interesting television and perhaps the school that sacks 100 senior students for attending an after-ball on the grounds that they had wilfully disobeyed instructions, had put other students into risk of harm and had brought disgrace to the school. This could be supported by a good police effort in bringing charges against all adults involved.

Of course, you think, this would never happen and you would be right. That is how large the gap is now between the values of schools and the behaviour of the community.

Otago University has taken quite some time to steel itself to the reality that it has to take action against the lawless and drunken behaviour of many of its students. Perhaps their hesitancy has been a degree of doubt that this is what the community actually supports.

As a community we cannot continue to leave educational institution isolated on these issues of moral values and behaviour.

Right in the midst of the ball season and all that goes with it now we get a survey that shows support for the return of caning. Here are a few simple questions:

Would the teacher stabbed in his back in class have been expected to whip out his cane and joust with the perpetrator? Would caning have had any impact in the girls’ school where a student was carrying knives? Or is it intended that girls be caned as well? Would caning produce an environment in which bully decreased? Is it a coincidence that those supporting this latest call for caning to be reintroduced see it as a package involving the legalisation of smacking and the use of longer prison sentences? What chance do schools have to get it right when the community seems quite unable to get an agreed position?

I have said it before – the only safe place to draw a line about physical punishment is where it is clearly and without exception banned.

Of course there are a huge number of wonderful things happening with a great number of young people. But the focus is constantly on the bits that are going wrong. What a pity, what a great pity.

And one other thing – it would be so good to ban those stupid hand signals that seem now to be de rigueur across all groups within the community. It only socialises the use of them by gangs and those who use them aggressively.  And that is exactly the process by which drinking to excess became normal and how we ended up with the view that order can only be maintained in schools through physical punishments.

Published inEducation


  1. Rod Rod

    Putting the world right in a few paragraphs.
    I wish I had the answer to the youth drinking problem and could voice it without a feeling of hypocrisy. Lowering the age for legal purchase wasn’t a step forward. Young drinkers argue that at 18 they can vote and fight for their country, why not be allowed to drink ?. The drinking is not a problem, drunkeness is. With that comes irresponsibility. 18 years of age heralds a social exceptance towards adulthood, that does not mean that we have to dump all privaledges of adulthood on the youth on that first day. Push the alcohol purchasing age to 20 or 21 when the maturity of mind is more advanced with an appreciation of consequenses and let society broadcast that drunkeness is unacceptable.

    Canning was a very effective behaviour modification tool when I went to school. Exceptance that it was a barbaric practise is wide spread but where is the better or equally effective alternative ? Psychologists proclaim that punishment must be administered swiftly. Delays cause the perpetarator to shift the association of the punishment from the crime to the punisher. Hand wringing board meetings and family meetings cause delays. A defined line in the sand with quickly administered consequences is the solution. A parent normally drops everything (work included) to rush to the aid of their sick or injured child. They can equally rush to a disruptive child. Enforce the parents to attend school to observe their ‘darings’ in action. This would embarass both parents and child and hit the parents in the pocket.

    The whole world is an educational institute. Schools play a formal role but parents and society have to shoulder much of the responsibility when setting guidelines of behaviour towards alcohol, driving, violence and education.

  2. The relation to alcohol is a cultural one. In the European countries where the children are progressively introduced to alcohol, such as France or Italy, there are a lot less binge drinking taking place. Young people are learning to drink moderate amount of alcohol safely within the family environment/supervision. They do not “lose it” when reaching 18 -or much earlier in a lot of cases- then get drunk every weekend for several years.
    It seems that nowadays, a lot of parents are expecting the education system to raise their children in their stead. Why not running drinking classes in tertiary institution/school? Any chance to get such courses appearing soon? 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *