Online Archive  
Issue 2 - February 1972
Who Are The Brain Police...?

Security is an important factor during the early years of a child's development, and the boundaries imposed by authority are to him a secure defence against the outside world; but a need to develop a mature and well balanced independence means that these boundaries have outlined their necessity after the age of about fifteen. It is then that restraint becomes not only superfluous, but a means of preventing the emergence of a responsible adult, especially in the case of the older school pupil.

Broadly school rules can be divided into two categories; firstly, rules which control the academic side of education, and the specific rules of a particular school. It is the rules of the latter category which pose most problems for the Establishment in enforcing them, and for the pupil in trying to abide by these rules without them becoming an infringement of his or her own personal freedom. Rules which try to govern personal appearance such as uniform specifications and restrictions on the length of hair benefit neither the staff nor the pupils, and rather than aid the pupils' educational progress, disputes over such examples of petty officialdom have led to punishments such as expulsion or suspension which actually diminish or destroy the pupil's academic chances.

An examination of pupil opinion in one of the county's main secondary schools has produced a pretty clear picture of the effect of such unnecessary restrictions. A chief complaint from the sixth form is that length of hair is restricted, along with a ban on beards and moustaches, and that minute details of uniform are rigidly enforced; e.g. the penalty for repeatedly failing to wear a tie is loss of prefect status. Compulsory games are also a point to be considered, especially when time spent on the hockey or football field could be more profitably employed in academic work. From the fifth form comes the complaint that segregation of the sexes is enforced even in co-educational schools. Although this separation is supposedly voluntary there is an official "imaginary line" drawn in classrooms, halls and even school fields.

The prefect system is another subject of controversy. It represents an extension of the control exercised by the staff, and comes under attack not only from the lower school, who suffer under it, but also from many prefects themselves, who believe that their function is unnecessary and dislike being forced to oppress fellow pupils.

Discrimination against girls is another abuse which is not supposed to exist anymore, but is quite strong in many schools. Apart from girls being discouraged from studying sciences, which is nothing but arrant male prejudice (or possibly jealousy), girls in schools are considerably more restricted than boys. In the particular school under consideration rules about uniform are more strictly enforced on the girls, whereas the boys are allowed a certain amount of choice, and in schools in general, minor offences such as practical jokes are punished more severely and regarded as more serious when committed by girls.

The imposition of such rules comes in many cases from the mistaken belief that society can only be perpetuated by the conservation of the prevailing system, but what the traditionalists have failed to realise is that stability is not always achieved by standing still. In the struggle for survival the losers are always those who have retained old techniques to meet new challenges. Society is changing and the adolescent with it, and attempts to deal with the school child of today with the methods of 20 years ago are doomed to a pathetic failure, pathetic because it is the pupil who suffers from the deluded policy of a traditional approach to education. In Britain we retain the anachronism of the absolute educational despot; the head who has total control not only of the internal discipline of staff and pupils, but also of the academic policy of the school, a practice now obsolete in more advanced nations, where the 'director' of the school administrates a uniform national policy. The adoption of such a system in Britain would not only level the appalling differences between state schools, but reduce the amount of personal control exercised by the head over the academic direction, and ultimately the future careers of his pupils.

This personal supervision can be beneficial, but in many cases it results in a pupil's progress in an entirely different direction to that which he himself would have chosen. There have been instances where a head's private prejudices have been involved in his sanctioning or forbidding the pupil's choice of 'A' level subjects. And this unnecessary control has in many cases extended so far as to influence choice preferences in applications to universities, colleges and other educational establishments.

It is this type of control which is entirely unnecessary to either the educational welfare of the student or the administrative efficiency of the school. The authority of the head is supposedly a substitute for that of the parents, but when a headmaster exercises such control over his pupils as no parent would ever consider necessary for the control of their own children, there is obviously a fault somewhere in the system. The head in his position of 'in loco parentis' becomes more of an absolute despot than a father figure, and this is an abuse of his responsibility. Quote: "Legally, 'in loco parentis' means 'representing a parent'. For those over the age of majority the headmaster could not claim to represent their parents as their parents have no authority over them. So anyone over 18 can tell their headmaster where to stick his maternal affections if he tries to throw that one at them."

The very fact that headmasters are able to exercise such a control indicates that Britain's national policy of education is at fault and the way things are going no politician is sufficiently concerned to give the whole absolute system the clean out it needs. This means that any change has got to come from within the structure of the educational hierarchy and if it isn't going to come from the top it must come from the bottom, from the people who really matter.

Pupils and teachers will have to make it their responsibility that education in Britain really works - for everybody. Schools are not merely administrative devices, they are communities with a life of their own, evolving according to the laws of their being, and if hidebound authority is restricting this evolution by its conservative policy, then a disintegration of the system is inevitable.

What can we do to help the evolutionary process? A first step is to set up school councils, school action groups. However pupil power is regarded with distrust or amusement by many people concerned with education - not least the pupils themselves. Our educational system teaches us that politics is taboo, a subject for adults only, and limits social awareness to such valid but innocuous activities as decorating pensioners' bungalows and sponsored walks. This, fostered by the completely exam-orientated nature of teaching, has created the present climate of apathy. What students fail to realise is that the running of their schools could, and should, be in their hands. Through school councils and committees making their presence felt, the school administration can be made to acknowledge that the pupil is a person who attends school to be educated, not to be moulded into that necessary commodity the 'average biddable citizen'.

The school and especially the sixth form, represents a hitherto unrealised asset to those wishing to create a more socially and politically committed society, an asset which is at present wasted because so little is being done to inform pupils of what is going on outside of their own world. If utilised properly the secondary schools could prove themselves a valuable force in the community. With the development of social and cultural activities the unity that is being lost with the disintegration of the mining villages could be rebuilt through the young. If school pupils are not helped to realise their potential and not encouraged to fight against what they believe to be injustice or abuse, we will find ourselves with a generation of adults who are docile, completely dominated by and submissive to the authority of the Establishment.