School's real job — repressing dissent, enforcing conformity

Issue 

By Arrow Tong

School is oppressive. There are no two ways about it.

For one, school (and students) are supposed to be "apolitical" — and school authorities try to keep it that way. Political repression tries to keep us quiet whenever we do take a stand against injustice.

This was highlighted by school responses to Resistance's walkouts against racism. During the walkouts, teachers were going to amazing lengths to stop students from leaving class to fight for something they believe in. Even teachers who supported the walkout were made to keep students in class.

At Adelaide High, the school I attend, not only did we have to fight attempts to stop us walking out, but we have had to fight for the right to remain politically active since then.

After the July walkout against racism, all students who attended the rally were given detentions and made to write six letters to politicians showing their opposition to racism.

This was a blatant attempt to make students conform to the political and social standards that the education system upholds — as though letters to politicians will change anything. The school has even banned us from sticking posters up around the school.

When young people become politically active, the education system tries to silence us and bring us "back into line" as quickly as possible, through rules and regulations and through intimidation.

But it's not just signs of political rebellion which are crushed. The whole way the education system works and deals with students is oppressive.

How many times have you disagreed with a teacher on what they have been teaching but known that if you speak out you will get immediate detention?

How many times have teachers told you to be respectful towards them when you

know they have no respect for you?

How many times have you quickly turned the other way when your principal walks past because you know your tie is not straight and you're wearing the "wrong" socks?

The justification is that this is necessary, that this is good for you, that it teaches discipline and "if you are worried about getting into trouble, don't do anything wrong". But is having a political voice wrong? Is having an opinion wrong? Is wanting to wear your own style of clothes wrong?

Such justifications don't stick. The fact is that, at school, how you're taught is more important than what you're taught. School is oppressive so that whilst we are still young and optimistic for change (and therefore a threat), we can be crushed and made to conform.

The school system seeks to hand us over to the work force, obedient and complacent and not a threat to the system that we always knew was not quite right.

So we have to stand up for ourselves and insist that we have rights.

We have the right to have a say in how and what we learn, not just to have it imposed on us: it is our education and our future.

We have the right to learn, to find out the truth, not just to be trained to go into the work force as mindless drones who obey all authority.

We have the right to have a say in running our schools side by side with teachers. We all have to work in the same environment, we should all have an equal responsibility and say in how the school works. (And this doesn't just mean through a token and powerless SRC.)

We have the right to wear whatever we want, to express ourselves and our opinions.

And not only do we have a right to these things, we have the creativity and vision to make them work — we know the concept of democracy and fairness better then most politicians or education department bureaucrats do.

But the education system will not hand equality to us on a silver platter. We have to get organised and fight for these changes.

[Arrow Tong is a Resistance member, an activist at Adelaide High and one of the organisers of the high school walkouts in South Australia.]

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