I do, in fact, care who started it

I do, in fact, care who started it February 20, 2013

The great Randall Munroe takes on one of the classic Stupid Things Adults Say to Children:


The “If all your friends …” bit always bugged me. It’s closely related to the teacher-favorite “It doesn’t matter if everyone else was doing it.”

Teachers love to pull that one on the one kid they’ve singled out as “an example.” So the whole class is talking or disrupting or whatever and they focus on one child to bear the brunt of the punishment. The kid protests that everyone else was doing the same thing and the teacher says that doesn’t matter.

Of course it matters. It matters a great deal. It suggests that the rule isn’t really a rule at all, merely a pretext. Arbitrary and selective justice is not justice. The kid is right. He or she is a fifth-grader, and the kids who get singled out like that aren’t usually the best students in the fifth grade, so they probably aren’t able to articulate why what the teacher is saying is horribly wrong, but it still is wrong. And the kids know it.

Even worse is another favorite of teachers or other adults breaking up fights between kids: “I don’t care who started it.”

Really? You don’t care who started it? You don’t find that morally significant at all? You don’t find the distinction between aggression and self-defense worth considering in evaluating the situation?

St. Augustine cared who started it. That was, for him, a major factor in whether or not war could be considered justifiable.

But teachers don’t care about St. Augustine, and they don’t care who started it.

Again, the kids probably can’t articulate why what the adults are saying there is wrong, but it’s still wrong. Utterly wrong.

Teaching kids that aggression and defense are morally indistinct is wrong. Teaching kids that rules retain their legitimacy when selectively enforced is wrong.

Yeah, I know, all the other teachers are saying the same thing to their students. But if all the other teachers jumped off a bridge …?

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