Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Punishing the innocent

or at least naming them as associates of someone who has done something criminal or stupid or.... well, you get the picture.

There is currently a case in the media here that concerns me. An idiotic young man went off and partied while he was waiting for the results of a Covid test. The test came back positive. He was alerted to the results - and still went on partying. He claims he didn't get the results until the next day - or, rather, didn't look at them. 

That is actually quite likely. If he was feeling okay he probably would not have bothered to look, especially with some alcohol in his system. He was an idiot and showed no sense of responsibility - and yes he should be appropriately punished.

What bothers me is that much is also being made of the fact that he went to a fee paying school and that he is a member of  X family. Now he no longer goes to school and his surname is not the surname of X family. Why is the fact that he went to a fee paying school being mentioned at all? And what has the fact that some of his relatives happen to have the surname X got to do with what he is alleged to have done?

Obviously all this is considered newsworthy by the media. 

I can remember two incidents when I was at school. The first was an occasion in primary school. I was eight at the time. My fingers had been jammed in the classroom door one afternoon through no fault of my own. The skin had broken and I was sent off to get some first aid. My hand was still throbbing when I returned to class. There I found a very subdued class. Nobody said anything at the time. I don't suppose they dared to even speak. At the end of the afternoon everyone was "kept in" and made to write out twenty lines relating to some misbehaviour which had occurred while I was not there.  The teacher included me in the punishment even though I had not been there. It took me far longer than everyone else to write the lines, indeed so much longer that I missed "play time" for the next three days.

Years later I was told by another teacher who had been on the staff at the time that Mrs H.... had been queried about this by other members of the staff. Her reaction was apparently that I was a member of the class and that the whole class had to be punished. I still wonder what she would have done if a child had been away ill that day.

Some years later I can remember being late for a chemistry lesson because I was doing something for another teacher. When I arrived the chemistry teacher was clearly furious with the class. One of the boys had done something very stupid and very dangerous. Nobody had attempted to stop him, indeed had apparently encouraged him. The teacher chose to punish everyone. He included me in the punishment even though I had been absent. There were some looks in my direction. I said nothing. I knew what was happening this time. And yes that time I got an apology, "Sorry Cat. It wasn't fair but I couldn't be seen to treat you differently." No, he couldn't. The Senior Cat was the head of the school. I might have been a stroppy teenager but he had acknowledged it "wasn't fair" and apologised. I accepted it.

I thought of those things again when I read the reports about the young idiot. In the first instance what occurred was wrong because the "punishment" I received was actually far more severe. It took me far longer to write those lines. Mrs H... should simply have accepted what I had done on the first day if she wanted to include me even when I was not there.  In the second instance the teacher was in a difficult position. He chose a course of action that might have seemed unreasonable - and acknowledged it. In both cases my peers recognised what had happened. Mrs H... could never get anyone to volunteer to help after that but the chemistry teacher had actually done me a favour.

We don't need to know the young idiot attended a fee paying school because there are plenty of young idiots who have attended both sorts of school. We don't need to know who is relatives are, particularly those who don't share his surname. They weren't there and there is no need to include them. It is not who people are that matters but what they are that matters. 



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