My husband attended a prestigious boys’ boarding school in England. I attended a co-ed secondary state school in the Waikato. It is no perhaps no surprise we have fairly different views on “hazing”, the practice whereby older students administer punishments or ritualised initiation challenges for younger students.
Hazing has recently come under the microscope, after a Year 9 student at Auckland’s King’s College brought to light an incident in which Year 9 students were marched out of their beds in the middle of the night with pillow cases over their heads and hands behind their backs.
While my husband doesn’t talk wistfully or fondly about hazing, he isn’t exactly disparagingly about it either. It was a “rite of passage” he says, “par for the course”, “didn’t do me any harm”.
So I knew, firsthand, that such acceptance of these long embedded traditions endured. Even so, I was still astounded by the number of people who felt compelled to publicly voice their assent. ‘It’s an age-old tradition – let it be!’ was the gist of one letter to the Herald. ‘The only surprise is that people are surprised that it happens’, was another. The underlying sentiment behind these views, typically articulated by men who have experienced it firsthand, appears to be that hazing is a practice that helps turn young males from mummy’s boys into men.
There is so much I love about what is happening in education right now. I love the way we have moved on from an approach focused solely on content to one that equips students to lead their own learning into directions that are best suited to their talents and passions. We know the working world our students will one day encounter will differ significantly from the one in which we occupy today, so let’s prepare them for that eventuality. Let’s give them the tools and resources.
Nothing about hazing ─ that I can glean ─ has any reflection on the New Zealand our students will one day reside, lead, and hopefully love. Nothing about hazing appears to arm students with the sorts of tools they need to take on the world after school. And if it does, then that needs to change.
On this basis, I was pleased to see King’s College take the matter seriously, despite the ‘toughen up’ mantra of public schoolboy alumni. Seven senior King's College students have been suspended until the end of the year and are required to do voluntary community service and go through anti-bullying programmes.
As a mother to a nearly six year-old son, I am already excited by the depth and scope of his education, at his prospects. The thought that ritualised humiliation and cruelty could one day be part of his education, leaves me cold.
I am not so naïve to think he won’t encounter this in other guises. Hazing is only one form in which bullying, as inevitable as it is repulsive, takes.
But if education can evolve beyond outdated and irrelevant practices, then so, too, can hazing. Let’s not leave education’s underbelly to continue to fester for fear of upsetting those who feel compelled to advocate for beating young boys with pillowcases over their heads just because the same thing happened to them twenty years ago.
By JUDE BARBACK, Editor