Friday 12 July 2013


All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing” attributed – probably in error – to Edmund Burke.

As I've mentioned before, we chose not to send the two daughters to school like normal people.  I don't mention it often because it usually precipitates a tiresome debate about the lack of socialisation that we have foisted upon our children.  I'm not blazing-eyed and messianic about home-education - if it doesn't work for you and yours, that's fine - but this hectoring about "socialisation" is definitely an FAQ for us and so I suggest here that the "socialisation" that goes down at school is not always positive.

One way to expose this is to ask for an estimate of the proportion of children who are/were damaged by, say, bullying at school.  I was at school for many years myself and had a good deal of harmless fun flushing the heads of smaller chaps down the toilet, and it didn't do me any harm.  Scientists are always trying to quantify things, it’s the way we’re brought up.  Now I don’t believe that proportion can be much less than 10%, but even if it is as low as 1% that is still a depressing number of children who are exposed across the whole country because in 2012 there were about 875,500 children in Irish schools and 1% of these numbers is several thousand unhappy children.

But this least conceivable case has a disturbing knock-on consequence.  If only 1% of children in schools are bullied and, maintaining a rhetorical symmetry without much justification, 1% bully, then 98% of the people in any classroom, corridor or play-ground maintain silence while a fellow citizen is being biffed.  Perhaps in a bizarre way, it would be better to believe that larger numbers are bullied because it means that fewer are passive in the face of evil.  There have been numerous psychological studies, which show that people behave better if they are on their own than if they are in a crowd.  In one study by Latane and Darley in 1968, they had an actor stage an epileptic fit in a closed room.  A single person in a room next door rushed to help 85% of the time, but would only do so 30% of the time if they knew that four other people were also in earshot.  An interweb search for “Kitty Genovese” will reveal a far more serious and discreditable instance of the “bystander effect” that someone else will do what is necessary. 

This line of thought makes me wonder if 12-14 years at school conditions each of us to believe that we are not responsible for preventable evil that happens in front of us; that someone else will stop that child being bullied; that someone else will house that homeless person; that the police will break up that fight.  For a while, when the girls were quite small we were privileged to have The Beloved's aged grand-mother come stay with us.  This redoubtable lady had lost her sight but not her marbles and with great dignity would get up from the kitchen table to go to the loo.  If this was taking a little longer than usual, one of the girls would get up and often enough find great-granny circulating round the hallway trying to identify the doorway to the downstairs t'ilet.  It was no trouble to take her by the hand and  start her off in the right direction.  The correct action was obvious to a six-year old and clearly they were immediately responsible, so nobody would dream of telling them what to do.  Maybe that sort of early learning will make the girls, now grown, less likely to step over or round a a smelly old derelict when he falls over in front of them.

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