L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

16 June 2009 Blog Home : June 2009 : Permalink

Youth and (Ir)responsibility

The actual truth and what one reads in the newsmedia are frequently very different beasts. Hence I'm writing this post with a monster caveat that it is based on the data presented in a Wapping Liar article and said article could well be omitting or distorting the truth.

To summarize the article. A 16 year old schoolgirl at a decent British (boarding) school got rather too drunk and when put to bed failed to stay there and instead fell out of a window. As a result she has become partially paralysed. The girl and her parents are now suing the school claiming it failed in its duty to be "in loco parentis".

Dr Crippen rightly points out if the school is found liable boarding schools and other institutions are going to clamp down on the freedoms of those in their charge lest they too suffer. In fact I think he is too generous, I suspect that no matter what the outcome of this court case, unless it is swiftly dismissed out of hand, a clamp down will occur as institutions decide that additional safety and mollycoddling is the only way to be sure that the children in their charge do not subsequently sue them.

This is, surely, a big mistake. Kids need to have the boundaries relaxed gradually otherwise when school's over they jump into freedom in a bad way and probably kill themselves while binge drinking at university. Or procreate unintentionally. Or do lots of drugs. Or kill themselves when they've borrowed(stolen) their parents' car one night. Or....

To be truly in Loco Parentis, it seems to me, requires that you occasionally relax the discipline and "see what happens". Sometimes of course what happens is more tragic than expected but I don't see any way to predict that in advance. Shit Happens and boarding schools are actually (in my experience) quite a good way to leanr how to spread one's wings without coming a cropper. I got drunk at age about 13, did all sorts of slightly dangerous things and survived. So did all my peers. The drug dealer did get expelled I admit. As did a few other real losers. But then those expulsions, and the other lesser punishments for less serious offences, taught the rest of us the basics about freedom, responsibilty and the critical requirement of obeying the 11th commandment.

If I had hurt myself or got arrested or whatever I don't think it would have ever occured to me that I should blame the school. I did once suffer a touch of hypothermia on a school expedition to Snowdonia, I and my fellows had enough training to recognise the danger and took steps to counter it so we all stayed as warm and safe as was possible and didn't attempt the riskier ascent we had intended. In these days of low risk, I assume we'd never have been permitted to go out on our own and thus we'd never have actually learned what hypothermia looks like. Alternatively of course there would have been one stressed teacher minding a couple of dozen kids and unable to pay attention to all of them and therefore probably missing the first signs of hypothermia. If you're taught to let the experts look after you, as children seem to be today, then the peers of the kid with hypothermia probably wouldn't have said anything until he got a lot worse and thus caused a major incident.

Now if the school has a history of serious incidents that's different, but suing a school because it failed to perfectly manage all its charges 100% of the time is ridiculous.