Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Barbarians at the Gates

One in 20 primary and secondary school teachers in the UK has experienced sexist bullying from their students. This is, of course, repulsive, and there's really no excuse for it being tolerated.

But alas.

Struggling mightily to say something stupider than "Boys will be boys", the National Union of Teachers' general secretary, Steve Sinnott succeeds in saying that such behavior is "completely unacceptable" but that schools could not "close society out at the gates".

Oh? And why not exactly? Isn't that what hierarchical cultural institutions tradionally do?


Anonymous said...

i was recently told a story of a woman who recently completed a postgraduate course at a certain northern English university whose name rhymes with weeds. she apparently was having problems with a postcolonial sociopathic letchurer.

perhaps you could write a post on how academia fosters sociopathy, and how lame excuses like cultural relativity breed institutional discrimination (an example which are personal favorites are "well, you know, it's spring. all the girls are wearing their short skirts..." and "well, you know, america is ahead of britain in gender policies." harumph. here's a thought: maybe if you fired someone who engenders abuse, they won't have the opportunity to do it again. or maybe you are just happy knowing that people around the world are talking about how your university perpetuates the politics of hate.

Rufus said...

Fosters sociopathy?

Well, I guess the problem is that too much sociopathy is tolerated. What struck me about that fellow's statement was that other cultural institutions, say Churches, or even Hospitals, have no problem kicking out people for behaving badly. But, with schools, there's an attitude of "well, what can we do? He might sue us. And the problem lies with society at large."

I have no idea, frankly, how cultural relativism breeds institutional discrimination. Maybe it does; I've just never thought about it. I think the larger problem is that academic institutions have no idea just what it is they do. They don't understand that they play a large role in shaping the values of society, and tend to abstain from holding people in their institution to any sort of restrictive standards, and that applies to students as well as faculty members. It's gotten pretty bizarre really. And, as you say, often very pathological.

Hiromi said...

I have no idea what anonymous meant in his/her stream-of-consciousness listing of the sins of institutions of higher learning, but anyway, something in your patient reply caught my attention:

I think the larger problem is that academic institutions have no idea just what it is they do. They don't understand that they play a large role in shaping the values of society

Can't it be argued that universities are also pluralistic institutions? In which case, it'd be damn hard to determine just what values should be instilled.

Rufus said...

Well, pluralism is a value, of coruse. But, that's a lame answer.

But, yeah, I don't think we can remake people, or that we should even try to. However, I do think that we can maintain a certain environment and a certain mindset about... well, thinking and communicating basically, that applies to those who choose to enter our doors while within our halls.

So, maybe a person comes from a culture in which it's acceptable to bully women (which is starting to seem like all cultures). But, the academic culture can impose its will within its gates, and essentially exile those people who do bully women. Sure, they might bully whoever they want on the outside, but we have the right, as closed institutions to set standards that apply within our gates.

Where I think it's a problem is when the rules negatively affect specific cultures by limiting behaviors that pose no threat to others. It's a bit unpopular for some reason, but I think there's no problem with students wearing the burqua, or being fully shrouded while in class. That doesn't harm others. But, a culture's right to express itself should be limited when that expression directly harms others. So, even though laddish culture, and various religious cultures, seem to be okay with 'putting women in their place', and I've seen disgusting examples of this in the lecture hall as well, the university cannot function with that behavior and is justified in removing people who engage in it. And I think this equally applies to secondary schools. In fact, I think some sort of punishment for laddish bullying is absolutely critical for making it clear that bullying is not acceptable within the public sphere.

I hope that clears up the distinction I make. I'm very tired after lecturing all day and not as clear as I'd like to be.