Poor excuses for behaviour

A recent conversation with an academic in the field of regional inequality in education has resulted in some circular rumination for me – so circular that I am compelled to post after almost a year’s blogging hiatus. I was chatting to said lecturer at a recent community event, explaining that the school I work at has some serious behavioural issues present, and a bit of a lack of strategy and leadership on the subject. He replied that there are huge social problems influencing this situation and that most of the students don’t live locally, but are bussed in from poorer villages. The locals would never deign to send their children to a public high school of disrepute! (And this I know to be true).

To be fair, it was a short, and as such a fairly shallow conversation, but it reminded me of some similar mental circularities that descended on me when I was writing this paper on consensual cannibalism. Armin Meiwes ate another consenting adult. To cut a long story short, prosecutors couldn’t find any extenuating circumstances, like the usual parade of excuses like childhood neglect, poverty, or even minority status, so Meiwes was gaoled for life; it seems that even though he didn’t commit a crime as such, the unexplainable nature of his urges was evidence that society would be unsafe with his foibles on the loose.

Some googling of criminal ‘excuses’ led me to this really interesting article about the way the white middle class derive huge satisfaction from rationalising the crimes of the poor, and in a way which they don’t do for equally destructive white collar crimes, such as those perpetrated by the Bernie Madoffs of the world. I wondered to myself whether rationalising conduct disorders and generally shitty behaviour in schools was also symptomatic of staff ‘knowing what’s best for poor people‘. Is explaining behaviour in terms of extenuating circumstances disempowering students? Is it giving up on them?

It seems that a lot of these conversations about what’s best for students go on behind closed doors. If there’s a trend towards self determination in Indigenous affairs, why not other areas?

Image: Richard Hickock and Perry Smith shot by Richard Avedon. For more info read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.


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