Monday, August 25, 2003

School Traditions

One of the big news stories that broke this past weekend was the report on the recent spate of student violence in a few local boarding schools. Of those reports, one that really caught my attention was the expulsion of 20 form five students from a prestigious all boys boarding school up north for their revival of a student secret society at their school. From what I could understand of the issue, this illegal group is more like a fraternity group which provided their members with extra privileges and protection from the school authorities. I have to say that the expulsion of these students are a bit harsh considering that they have to face the stress of changing schools in the middle of an exam year but if they were becoming a threat to other students then their punishment is a wise move. I just hope that they were given proper counseling resources so they could transition into their new situation easier as it would be a shame to have this incident impacting their future.

I did not go to this particular school while I was their age but went to another all boys boarding school of similar prestige. The first thing that one learns upon entering these boarding schools was that for every school rule written there are at least three more unwritten rules that have been passed down from seniors to juniors and that they were as important as the official rules in terms of observance priorities. I remembered a time having to learn all these rules, some by the hard way, in order to fit in with the order of things at the hostels. I guess that these rules were part and parcel of the isolated community that we were a part of during our stay in the school term. We were actually insolated back then as we hardly had any contact with people outside of the school grounds when school was in session. We only had each other to depend on and these rules make the function of the society a bit easier to manage.

Of course some of the rules are really colorful to say the least. I’m bound by honor and tradition not to divulge them to outsiders so I am unable to really provide a detail account of what they were. It would be enough to say that we had rules for almost every conduct of our daily lives from the mundane to the exceptional. Of course, all these unwritten rules are enforced by our peers rather than an overseeing group of selected seniors. You were forgiven if you unwittingly break any of these rules but if it becomes a habit, you’ll find yourself being excluded for most student activities very quickly. If the infraction involves the honor of another student or worse involving the honor of the school, it was not unheard that the person in question would be grilled by some of the student body. I have to admit that we had our share of physical punishment in these cases but we always drew the line against drawing blood, breaking bones or any such serious injuries.

Of course this meant that we became imaginative with how we punished those who didn’t toe the line. One of the most common was to order them to do deep knee squats for hours non stop. Those who have never had to go through can be thankful as it can get very painful after the first hour or so and by the time you reach the end, you would usually have problems walking straight for the next 2 days at least. I know this from personal experience and also as one who have ordered another unfortunate soul to do it. Another method of punishment that was common while I was there was having the offender become a bonded servant of an upperclassman for a certain period of time. The offender had to do anything that the upperclassman asked as long as it did not cause bodily harm. Some of the things that they had to do were a bit humiliating but this had to be taken in stride in fear of invoking harsher punishment. I’ve actually some people break down after a while of having to live under the beck and call of another.

Most of the traditions that we had back then were, in my view, quite reasonable as they helped us adapt to living on our own which for some of us were the first time in our young lives. Even the punishments that we received and later doled out to the lower forms were not as severe as those I hear of today. Rewards and punishment were used to get us to develop a sense of togetherness that we would carry after we leave school. Those who were at the receiving end would always get their chance to give them out to others in return with the same intention of building the sense of community. There was also an unspoken trust between the one punishing and the one being punished that made the system work. Sadly it seems to me that this trust is breaking down nowadays as abuse is reported more often in the papers year after year. It is sad that even in the hallowed halls of our elite boarding schools; lessons of tradition and honor are fast being forgotten.

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