Around this time of year, stories always start to emerge about initiations at schools. Someone, somewhere takes things a step too far, and someone gets hurt or humiliated in a way that goes beyond the ostensible “all in good fun” ethos of the practice.
But is it ever all in good fun? On some level, I believe it is. I was born with the curse or blessing of having that part of my brain – the one that finds humiliation of others amusing – missing. I have sat through office stork parties completely befuddled by the need that we feel to celebrate something significant by having the mother-to-be dunk for chocolate turds in a potty full of lemonade.
However, my less uptight friends tell me that everyone’s having a good time, so, feeling like Mr Spock from Star Trek, I try to integrate with this notion of fun, while feeling completely alienated by it all.
I feel the same about initiation. Every time a report emerges about this process going too far, which is prohibited in the Schools Act by those spoilsports in government in any event, I find myself baffled by the version of it that wasn’t too far. What was the point, anyway?
Any new Grade 8 who isn’t intimidated beyond all imagining anyway by having an entire school full of boys larger than him (or her) after having been the biggest fish in the pond, probably needs therapy rather than initiation. There’s no need to cut them down to size; they can work it out for themselves.
Even in its least problematic form – where no one’s getting bashed with cricket bats or being forced to simulate rape – it all just seems a bit pointless to me. I went through an initiation process at an all-girls school, and it seemed to me that both the then-standard sixes and the matrics were vaguely embarrassed by having to go through the process of thinking of and executing the humiliation of making a younger girl bark at a rosebush.
As I was reasoning out this column, I happened on a solution for the need to initiate or institutionalise the rite of passage (cough, bullying, ahem) into high school. Instead of letting boyish high spirits soar, how about having the matrics identify or initiate community projects – soup kitchens, community gardens or building projects – that the new grade 8s then have to do the grunt work on.
This satisfies all the purported benefits of clarifying rank, cementing respect and taking down a peg, with the added benefits of serving a community and taking a fraught situation that perpetually causes problems – especially in privileged schools – and turning it to the greater good.
Of course, it might not be fun of the highest order – like I said, that part of my brain is missing – but I think it’s an elegant solution for a situation causes no end of problems for a fairly scant return in pleasure or status for a limited few.
- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.
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