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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  • Ha :P

    If anything I suspect teenagers would be prone to taking Valium or Codeine to help pass an hour or three in a boring teacher’s class.

  •  I had a college professor whose voice was the most powerful tranquilizer ever. Didn’t matter how well-rested, alert, or caffeinated you were going in – within ten minutes half the class would be trying to prop their eyelids open.

  • banancat

    I really hated the “advice” from adults that boys only teased me because they liked me.  So what?  It’s suddenly ok to hurt someone just because you want to bone them?  It’s ridiculous.  But unfortunately that attitude continues into adulthood.

    Also, my brother used to tease me a lot and so many adults told me that he only did it because he liked to see my reaction.  They told me to stop getting upset and that would make them stop.  What I heard though was basically that I was just being whiny and annoying.  At least my brother teased my quietly and it was easy for adults to ignore, but then I had to go and ruin it for the adults by crying in my loud voice.

  • I kinda get the bad advice.  I mean,  if you’re a parent and your child is dealing with teasing and the teachers aren’t helping, what are you going to say?

    “Well, if the teachers won’t help you, just give them a bloody nose and, if you get in trouble, tell the teachers that, if they’d done their damn job, you wouldn’t have had to get violent.”

    Really, that’s what the advice-givers are down to, in terms of anything that would actually get something done.  And, they’re not allowed to give that advice.  They’re not allowed to admit, to children, that the adults around them have failed them.  Of late, there’s been a different advice, to simply wait it out.  Grade school isn’t forever, then High school isn’t forever.  And, there’s some truth to it, but it doesn’t help right now, or for the next four years now does it?

    At this point, asside from having lawyers gather together for pro-bono class-action suits against schools that have a record of letting bullying get out of hand… what is there to do?

    Well, one thing to do is admit that, when a school fails to protect its students from bullying… it has failed and they have to go to other options.

  • Cissa

     Something like 35 years after I’d had any contact with my sister- and
    at least 4 years since she died- I still have nightmares regularly about
    her bullying and hurting me, and I had no recourse. If I complained, I
    was blamed; if I fought back I was blamed; she learned that she had
    impunity, and i learned that no one cared about the circumstances. OK, it was an abusive family in other ways, too, but this is probably the aspect that keeps haunting me.

    I was the older, by the way- which meant that i was required to be infinitely understanding and tolerant, and she had NO  requirements whatsoever, especially since she was my mother’s pet.

  • Quixote


    You can certainly voice your spectator’s opinions, but that doesn’t mean
    they’re worth anything, especially when they contradict the experience
    of actual participants.

    I was an actual participant, or do you not consider the experience of the student to be valid?  Certainly you don’t seem to *care* about their experience, but do you simply ignore it’s existence too?

    The “no one expects anyone to be perfect” line shows that you are talking out of your ass.

    Here’s another opinion from this spectator: Don’t blame me for the perfectly reasonable statement made by GDwarf. You can go back and confirm that you screwed up, but why would you? You’ve already decided that my opinions aren’t worth anything.

    To reiterate: No reasonable person expects teachers to be perfect, but they do expect you to treat your own job with a degree of professionalism that includes not making things worse.  But by all means.  You seem to have decided that, because the job is difficult, you should simply have an array of excuses handy.

  • Guest

    That question isn’t unanswerable, as while the vindictiveness of the ‘winners’ was an issue there were a number of larger issues in the start of WWII. Not the least was the manner and reasons that Germany ended up surrendering, that lovely little depression most of the world went through, etc, etc.

  • A wise man once said “If someone slap you in the cheek….SMASH him upon the other!”

  • Tapetum

     Sorry – I have reason to believe in the veracity of my child, while I have no experience of his teachers. Am I willing to believe that my child is sometimes at fault? Sure. He’s no more perfect than anyone else.  But having had teachers either blatantly lie to my parents, or have views of what happened that were diametrically opposed to what was actually going on, and having had my parents side with the teachers and school every time*, I’m not going to make that same mistake with my kid. If you’re going to accuse him of lying, you’d better have some evidence, and/or it had better fit with my understanding of his character.

    *This uncritical acceptance of everything any teacher ever said about me ever, no matter how little it looked like the daughter they knew, was naturally followed by incredible hurt and bewilderment that I didn’t go to them for help when a teacher started molesting me. Why on Earth would I have gone to anyone? My entire history was that the adult would be believed and I would not be.