Schools as a Microcosm of Society: Bridging the Gap between Kin and Others

By Maythe Han. Maythe has just finished a master's degree in Anthropology at UCL, London, UK

It was one of those rare hot, sunny summer days in London, and I was comfortably lounging on my couch in my flat. It would’ve been a great day, and I might have even gone for a long walk, if I hadn’t stumbled across the statement from the victim in the Brock Turner rape case whilst scrolling through Facebook. News of the case was everywhere: articles upon articles popped up, mentioning how the judge only gave Turner six months in jail because apparently, prison would be too hard for the delicate little rapist. Essays, op-eds, and petitions rapidly emerged, inundating my once-untroubled social media experience with (justified) outrage.

Turner ended up being released from jail early, serving only half of his already unjustifiably short sentence for “good behaviour.” I was genuinely appalled at the way this case unfolded, but initially, what shocked me more was the response from Brock Turner’s parents. His father pled that the punishment his son received was too severe for “20 minutes of action,” and his mother wrote a letter asking the judge to be lenient that fails to mention, not even once, the suffering of the victim. They completely ignored their son’s accountability in his crime against an unconscious woman. I was, and still am, disturbed and upset about the things Turner’s parents said and wrote, and I can’t begin to think how they could be so ignorant that they managed to neglect what brought them to say and write these outrageous things in the first place: their son’s violating and harming another human being.

But I also (albeit begrudgingly) realize that as parents, they were probably doing what they thought was right for their son in that situation. Most parents are rather myopic when it comes to their children. To them, their children are special little snowflakes who can do no wrong, unlike any other child. Their children are the exceptions to the rule, and their children above all others, deserve the best. This myopia, even though it might come from a place of love, contributes heavily to the upbringing of some seriously misguided people like Brock Turner. Unfortunately, it’s not a situation that can be rectified easily: most families are a relatively small and tight-knit unit of society, an insular component of the world at large. They’re most often formed by means of traditional kinship – by blood and not by an individual’s merit. In other words, no one gets to choose one’s biological kin, and most people deem blood to be thicker than water; that is, people often love their relatives blindly. Thus, it is perhaps impractical – and not conducive to helping anyone – to ask parents to be unbiased, to see every child with fair and unprejudiced eyes, and to treat their child as they would anyone else’s.

As such, parents cannot possibly be fit to teach children the diversity that exists within the spectrum of acceptable (and unacceptable) social behaviours; they may be able to speak to them about it, tell them axiomatic things like: ‘your actions have consequences,’ and ‘you shouldn’t harm other people,’ but they cannot act as impartial prosecutors to their children’s faults. Consequently, the responsibility of teaching social behaviour should perhaps fall on someone else, someone that has a comparable amount of contact with children to parents, and has similar kind of authority and influence over children: teachers.

It is now that I turn to the question: “Do schools and universities have a responsibility to educate their students on social behaviour alongside the academic?” To answer the question, I need to specify how exactly schools and universities can educate their students on social behaviour. Teachers are not, and therefore should not be treated as, parents. They shouldn’t be held responsible for students’ behaviours and misbehaviours, as the first function of their job is to teach school subjects to help their students progress academically. But I firmly believe that it is also their job to enforce the moral rules on what is considered to be acceptable behaviour in order to socialise students for the future, and their lives outside of school. Teachers, and by extension, schools, are not obligated to educate their students on social behaviour the way they teach the quadratic formula or explain what a dangling participle is. However, they do have a responsibility to hold students accountable for their actions and to treat every student fairly. Being a teacher should be more than just following academic curricula. It is to serve as fair and just moral compasses to students whose parents can’t do the same, to educate students not in the same way as they do academic subjects, but by ensuring that students know the distinct differences between the consequences that stem from what’s right and wrong. Students then get to learn social conduct by repeated reinforcement that encourages and rewards good behaviour and discourages bad habits.

Institutions that are committed to educating students shouldn’t be solely committed to providing academic education, but also – and perhaps more importantly – social education. Teachers and schools fill the gap in socialization that blood relatives fundamentally cannot. Classrooms are not just places where students learn what will help them score better on tests and exams, or get better jobs in the future; they are a microcosm that is representative of the society in which it is situated, a space that has the power to shape young minds by connecting people who do not have duties of kinship to one another, with the social glue that is behavioural education.

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