Balancing rights vs responsibility


IN THE ongoing national discourse on school violence, several commentators have advanced proposals, most of which are not novel, that should be considered by the authorities as a means of addressing what many have termed a national crisis.

While the Ministry of Education’s cultural transformation policy acknowledges the need for the social re-engineering of the society, beginning with the school, unfortunately there’s nothing new in the translation formula that has not been mentioned or attempted before. The policy outcomes, though laudable in intent, are woefully inadequate for a problem much larger in scope and complexity, and which quite conspicuously avoids the root of the problem.

At a recent public symposium on crime, one scholastic commentator renewed the call for parents to be held accountable for the crimes committed by their children, substantiating his call by a recent court decision in the US to hold the parents accountable for a gun-related offence committed by their minor. This suggestion is consistent with the view that the cultural transformation should begin in the home and community.

Teachers have consistently been saying that the deviance and indiscipline displayed by children in school can be traced to the homes and communities from which these children come. Not only are teachers confronted by parents who are irate and irrational in their defence of their children’s truant ways, it has become patently evident that their parenting approach is now based on a formula emphasising rights and entitlement but devoid of responsibility.

The home is one of the most important social education institutions in the development of a child. It is where fundamental principles of morality and social conduct are imparted from a tender age. It where social order is ingrained. Children learn what they live, modelling behaviours and attitudes of the significant adults in their lives from a tender age. The propensity for many adults to abdicate these parental responsibilities must be arrested.

Unless radical steps are taken to hold parents accountable for the wrongul behaviours of their children, the social decay will continue with its devastating social and economic consequences. The balance between individual rights and societal responsibilities must be restored. For too long the narrative has been disproportionately focused on the right of the individual, while neglecting the good of the society at large.

Teachers have been completely emasculated when it comes to disciplining children. This in turn fuels frustration and feelings of helplessness – a mental state that sadly pervades many of our schools. The cards are seemingly stacked in favour of "children’s rights," making the current arsenal of discipline tools available to school officials completely inadequate to the task.

The complete lack of respect for authority being displayed by minors has assumed unprecedented proportions. Their disregard and refusal to respond positively to verbal instructions from school officials have become the norm in many school cultures, with no means of redress for teachers.

Behaviour modification strategies available to schools have been largely ineffective when dealing with students who have minimal levels of self-regulation and behaviour limits. Something drastic and radical must be done to address this avalanche of indiscipline that has taken root in many of our schools, beginning with the true empowerment of teachers and school officials to deal decisively with errant pupils.

Rather than reigning in school officials (under the pressure of political correctness) over measures adopted to deal with iniquitous behaviours of students and their parents, the authorities should instead focus on truly displaying the supposedly zero tolerance position on school indiscipline.

Child and parental rights cannot be championed in a vacuum; it’s a recipe for anarchy and entropy and must be counterbalanced by concomitant responsibilities, lest the long-term interest of the very child is undermined. The recent overtures by officials of the Brockton High School in Massachusetts, USA, to call in the National Guard to help address school violence, substance abuse and student indiscipline are a poignant reminder of how the situation can deteriorate if not addressed promptly. A similar and burgeoning crisis is facing many of our schools.

Thanks to the children’s use of camera phones, the country has been able to gain glimpses into the daily reality of many of our schools. It underscores the dire state of discipline in many of our schools, which if not urgently addressed will cause us deep regret. The daily occurrences of classroom fights, illicit activities such as drug/alcohol use and sexual acts, gang affiliation and a general atmosphere of lawlessness have caused many teachers to even become fearful for their personal safety.


"Balancing rights vs responsibility"

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