So, two kids have a brief brain explosion at an airport ...
(photos from Facebook)
There is the Blog by Brendon Malone doing the rounds on Facebook entitled "Son, Your Character is More Important to Me than Legal Action". This takes the writer's personal point of view as the parent of a two year old and imagines what this two year old might say in his defence, if as teenager he had been sent home having broken the law on a sports trip. It basically argues that the boys parents have undermined the school's view of the code of conduct and by doing to have done a disservice to their children's upbringing and character. A commonly held position on this issue.
I agree with Malone that kids need consequences and that it is bad for parents to be wishy washy on rules.
I disagree with Malone's application of these principles to the current case. Malone's argument is fatally flawed for four reasons:
- Malone starts with the assumption that the finding of the breach of the code of conduct was come to in a fair manner. As discussed in my earlier post, most of the vitriol on this issue fails to understand that the complaint and the judgment are about the failure of natural justice in the investigation and the finding of the breach.
- Malone argues that the circumstances of a breach of rules, regardless of the circumstances or the rules, are irrelevant. REALLY? Would Malone really want his two year old-come teenager to be subjected to punishment on this basis? How does Malone propose that the seriousness of a breach of a rule is determined, if not by circumstances?
- Malone states that disproportionate consequences are not a valid argument with respect to a breach of rules. Again, REALLY? So, Malone essentially argues that any breach of a rule is in itself justification for the application of any penalty.
- Malone assumes that if the school doesn't exclude the students from the Maadi Cup then the school is powerless and cannot enforce rules. By Malone's logic, once capital punishment was made illegal society should have thrown up its hands and said "oh no, all murderers are going to get away scot free and there is nothing we can do"! Surely people clever enough to educate our children have at their disposal an imaginative array of consequences to apply to a breach of rules. (A point made in the Press Editorial 25 March, 2015)
Let's say "M" has signed an employment agreement stating that a breach of health and safety procedures constitutes serious misconduct and may result in dismissal. M has been a star employee on a dairy farm for 8 years. He's young and has made some silly mistakes as he's grown into his role on the farm, but he's clever and always gives 110%. M is getting married on Saturday afternoon. He is feeling excited and anxious as he is finishing milking on Saturday morning and he didn't sleep soundly the previous night. Milking takes longer than expected, M is running late to get ready. There is a health and safety rule that you must wear a helmet on quad bikes. M can't find his helmet. He doesn't have time to walk back to his quarters to get ready. He jumps on the bike and races home for a shower. Another farm worker sees him and tells the farm manager who tells the farmer, his boss.
According to Malone, the employer would be entitled to fire M without hearing his side of the story, without taking into account his employment history, without considering other outcomes that could be appropriate and without taking into account the effect of dismissal on M. According to Malone, it would morally wrong to challenge the employer on such a decision.
As a parent of two boys, I believe that teaching boundaries is important. I also believe that blind obedience is not a value I promote in my kids. The principles of natural justice, hearing the other side of the story, proportionality and keeping an open mind, loom large in our house. My kids' side of the story IS important. What are we teaching our kids if we say their voice doesn't matter? If, in a bad temper, I apply a punishment that is manifestly unfair or if I fail to hear my kids' side, my kids have the strength of character to say "Mum, I don't think that was fair, because ..." That doesn't mean they don't know consequences, that doesn't mean I'm soft. It means we try to be fair.
If rules, and their enforcement, aren't fair and we aren't interested in being fair, then it's not our children's moral character I am concerned for, but ours.