The issue of the miscreant rowers was overlooked in amongst all the fuss. The issue was not the appropriateness of the school’s response nor was it the insertion of lawyers and injunctions into the process.
Put simply the issue was this: Why do some young people not sometimes seem to have an innate sense of right and wrong. Here were two kids – let’s not be impressed by their athletic prowess – who took it upon themselves to leap on the baggage system at Auckland Airport, an act that was in itself contrary to the law, reckless in its lack of regard for safety, plainly stupid on every count and quite the sort of thing we have come to expect in the YouTube obsessed and hyped-up environment that young people grow up in and lust after.
So what is a school expected to do in response to this?
Well taking them out of the rowing boat at the last minute would be an excellent punishment but more so on the seven others than on the offenders. Collateral damage doesn’t just happen in war! A hastily put together process to consider and administer justice seldom works and even less so in the heat of the moment.
Placing them under “house arrest” might have been considered. That would see them denied some of the pleasurable moments that the other members of the team might have. This a sort of remand on bail because ahead of that they would face the hearing and the sentencing. To try and conclude the matter away from the school and in a hurry was ill judged.
If the ongoing safety of the group had been an issue the perpetrators should have simply been stood down and sent home but it wasn’t so no useful purpose would have been served (see above).
It was my experience that often when there is an incident in a school environment or activity, there is often a demand for swift action – “justice must be dispensed and seen to be dispensed”. In a way that is somewhat reminiscent of the British District Officer in George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant, the decisions made in school discipline cases seem often to be made pour encourager les autres rather than to treat with fairness, balance and appropriate severity the miscreant student or students. I remember on a number of occasions as a Principal in a discipline hearing arguing along the lines that “this sort of behaviour can’t be ignored, we couldn’t run a school if everyone behaved like this.” Was I on these occasions just a little bit scared? Just like Orwell’s officer?
The judge that granted the injunction simply decided that the punishment did not fit the crime and the situation took a couple of Gilbertian turns as newspaper columnists waded in with demands which suggested that Guantanamo Bay was too good for the likely lads and /or that this was the end of the power of Principals and the Boards and perhaps western civilisation with it.
It is probably a good thing that Principals and Boards are reigned in now and again. I am told that it is not unknown for disciplinary hearings to be attended by lawyers. I am told that sometimes that they are necessary.
There is an old saying that “justice delayed is justice denied.” It might just as much be the case that justice rushed isn’t justice at all. The quick trip by the Principal with lawyer in tow didn’t seem to help much in this case.