Monday, June 9, 2014

Cloaked in Guilt?

I'm not certain what prompted this memory. I'm not even sure where I am going with this blog. It may not have an ending. It's just a memory with some thoughts. Perhaps this is just another "life was simpler then" kind of a blog.

When I was attending elementary school a hundred years ago, we had cloakrooms. These were small areas for coats and other belongings. They were separate from the classroom, but attached behind the chalkboard where the teacher usually lurked. I believe there were doors or openings of some description at each end. Those were the days when boys had one side and girls the other.

Every now and again, something would disappear from the cloakroom...a toy, food, money. Fortunately, there was not the vast array of electronic devices back then. I'm not sure where teachers received their training, but it was severely lacking in almost every area of tact, acceptable discipline, and psychology. They did the best they could with what they knew.

The violated party was always believed, and when something presumably disappeared, the interrogation began.

Teacher:  Johnny had a $2 bill in his coat pocket and it's not there now. Has anyone seen it?

Students: (Staring innocently at one another, looking around the room and at the ceiling as if $2 might magically fall from the sky.)

Teacher:  If you took it bring it up here now, or put it on my desk before the end of the day and nothing further will happen. (Usually there was more lecturing about honesty being the best policy and a future life of crime and imprisonment if this money wasn't immediately returned)

As far as I know, nobody ever confessed. Sometimes, the whole class was kept after school because of the dishonesty of either the thief or the accuser. We had to think about what had happened and the consequences of "our" actions. Baffling. Punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty. I feel a religious blog developing...perhaps another time.

What I remember and hated most about these events was not the incensed rant by the teacher. It wasn't the staying after school or sitting with our heads down for what seemed like an eternity. What I hated most was that I always felt horrible. Part of it was empathy for the person who suffered the loss. Part of it was the shock that someone in our class could do such a thing. And finally, some of it was fear. I remember sitting there unable to look up, as if I had done something wrong and no, it was never me. But I wondered. I was so afraid that the teacher, as he/she looked around the room would think it was me. What if they thought I was capable of such a heinous act of thievery? I imagine my face reddened a few times, giving my fear even more credibility.

A similar incident occurred one time in a secondary school class. The difference was that someone actually confessed. He hadn't done it. Everyone knew he hadn't, because the explanation for the lack of the missing item on his person was something like "I threw it away" or "I gave it to a guy in the hallway". The thing was, he was the class clown, someone who was always getting into trouble anyhow. He figured he had nothing to lose. The class was released on time at the end of the day and he was a hero.  Is that called, "taking one for the team"?

Odd though, it never occurred to me or bothered me that anyone other than the teacher might think me guilty. I guess peers were not a concern of mine. I was more worried about what the authority figure thought whereas the student who confessed, was just the opposite.

So what's my point? I don't think I have one. Perhaps things had more value at one time.  Maybe teachers had more time? Were they trying to instill some kind of moral values into us, or, as in my case, did they just create a lifetime of guilt in some. Nowadays, if you bring something to school and it disappears, so be it. You take your chances. Shouldn't have brought it in the first place. There's no time for the lectures,or the drama.

As I ending. Just some thoughts.

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