Most of our school lives are founded on the values of discipline and respect. But has the actual meaning of these values gotten lost in translation?

A few weeks back we (The Hindu In School newspaper) received a fiesty letter from a young girl. This school kid could not understand all the fuss about silence. Why are we expected to keep quiet all the time? Why do class monitors waste their time complaining about people who talk? She simply did not get the point of being afraid to talk, even between classes. What are we afraid of? Teachers? That notion she found especially absurd given that teachers are around to help us and not terrorise us.

The kid had a point, really. Being talkative is just one of the qualities that most of our schools taught us to look down upon. I remember one pained teacher complaining to my mother about my disruptive tendencies. She called me the clown of my class, but even while at the receiving end of admonishing glances, I remember stubbornly being proud of myself. Perhaps this girl too was disgruntled after a PTA meeting.

Rules are rules

Inquisitiveness in children is another quality grown-ups frequently frown upon. When kids question the motive behind practices that don’t make sense to them (what is the point of polishing our school shoes, my brother asked me once), we accuse them of talking back to us. We do this instead of admitting that said practice may be rather pointless, but rules are rules.

Kids are taught to think twice before pointing out a mistake his or her teacher may have inadvertently made. To contradict a teacher could be interpreted as disrespect. When the principal walks into class, he or she is usually greeted with an awed silence. Because to be noisy in the presence of the head is again seen as a sign of disrespect.

Fear and respect

Isn’t this a somewhat flawed perception of “respect”? Aren’t we taught that respect should be earned, not something you are automatically granted because of the power you hold? Knowing this, why do so many of us groom children to blindly display pseudo-respect to persons just because they are elders, or at a higher social standing, even if they may not have done much to deserve it? At what point exactly did we come to confuse respect with fear?

I say "pseudo-respect" because in being submissive to somebody we supposedly respect, I think we end up insulting their intelligence. If a professor/boss/family elder makes a statement we disagree with, why do we let it go? Shouldn’t we offer them the chance to earn our genuine respect by countering them and possibly engaging in healthy discussion? If we just nod our heads, too afraid of a confrontation, we are in a way assuming that this person we “respect” will not be able to reason out his/her stand and possibly admit he/she is wrong.

The less we argue, the more cemented in society unnecessary rituals become. I wonder how different our lives would be if we all bothered to find out from our parents why exactly we do certain things. Would the domestic staff be allowed to sit on the sofa? Would astrologers still be in business? Would we have had to polish our school shoes every day?