Are schools right in enforcing such strict boundaries between interactions between girl and boy students?

Sharing an email from Priya.

Dear IHM,

I was wondering if you would be interested in doing a post on this recent event:http://www.bangaloremirror.com/bangalore/cover-story/With-Baby-gone-our-lives-have-been-destroyed/articleshow/45972495.cms

This girl (and her mother) were shamed for befriending/giving a male student a hug and the girl committed suicide. My heart goes out to her and her family for suffering such a sudden and unforeseen tragedy!

Articles such as this describe the school’s apathy towards this tragedy:

http://www.bangaloremirror.com/bangalore/cover-story/The-day-after-Monalis-death-goes-unmourned-at-school/articleshow/45961373.cms

What are the thoughts of the IHM blog community on this?
Some questions in particular:

1. Are schools right in enforcing such strict boundaries between interactions between girl and boy students?

2. Is it even the school’s perogative to tell someone who to be friends with and who they shouldn’t be friends with? Should it be left to the student and the parents (in case of minors) to determine what level of ‘freedom’ and ‘openness’ they’re comfortable with.

3. Are teachers/principals in the Indian school system bullies? Unlike the West where bullying is a problem among students, I feel that in the Indian system the teachers themselves are emotionally detached disciplinarians who sometimes pick more on the weaker kids with complete disregard for their feelings and self-worth.

4. Has the notion of ‘counselling students’ in Indian schools progressed beyond yelling/hitting/humiliating and punishing kids?

5. Why is it that repeatedly in cases like this (and others of sexual abuse etc) that the school is more concerned about ‘being right’ than ‘being human’?

6. Just so we examine both sides of the coin, do parents actually expect schools to take strict disciplinary action if their kids are seen getting too friendly with the opposite sex? If this school didn’t report incidents like these and ‘nip them in the bud’, would parents (not of the girl in question, but in general) consider the school (staff) irresponsible? Are schools like this merely pandering to Indian parents with seriously backward ideas? If that is the case, can schools even realistically be expected to follow a different approach?

7. And lastly, an open-ended question – thoughts on how best to handle situations like these, both at school and at home?

Thanks,
Priya

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“According to my mom, friendship with guys should always be limited to academics, nothing personal.”

“She was warned several times and was used to unethical practices like friendship with boys.”

By an Indian Teenager – “Sometimes it seems like every single thing I do has the potential to be something ‘provocative’.”

Sexual abuse victim thrown out of school for being a bad influence on other students.

‘The liberties that are guaranteed to our citizens, cannot be stretched beyond limits nor can such freedom be made weapons to destroy our fundamental values or social establishments like families’

Love Marriages spoil the Family System of our Nation.

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Boys and girls holding hands.

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“Wonder how I survived for 4 years in this college!!”

No Education For The Fashion Conscious?

An email: I am 18 year old male from a traditional (read:backward) Indian family

 

13 thoughts on “Are schools right in enforcing such strict boundaries between interactions between girl and boy students?

  1. Having two children of school going age, I can’t agree more about the need to question schools and the schooling system about their responsibilities towards the all-round development of students. Prescriptive rules are not right in general and students need to be taken on as partners while imposing any sort of discipline, gender relations included.

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  2. Sorry for digressing from the issue but I can’t help but wonder. Was the boy in question also suspended? Was his parent also called and insulted in the school ? Or is the “sharm” only the burden of the girl even here

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  3. Answering #6 first since it is a kinda contrary POV: – yes, yes, no, maybe partially.
    i. and ii: Yes – with a caveat – It depends on the school – there *are* schools where interaction between boys and girls isn’t frowned upon. This school (NPS) is not one of them. For *this* school, the majority of parents want this kind of policing. You are expected to live by those rules… more liberal parents are free to choose other schools with philosophies closer to their beliefs – I know parents who have.
    iii. no: It’s a private school, dependent on its reputation to attract clientele. This school built up a reputation for formidable academics. Back in the 80s, NPS was notorious for not participating in many city-wide extracurricular tournaments as it would take time away from academics. I understand they have changed since. Is the school pandering? Keeping their paying customers happy would be considered wise.
    iv.maybe partially- there are other schools that have more relaxed norms. That said, most schools have to deal with general societal mindsets and no school that I know is fully ok with the idea. Back in the day when I was in HS (the eighties) there were two schools that gained a reputation for unwanted pregnancies among the senior girls, and which doctors in the city would be willing to assist in such cases – while some of it was undoubtedly teen hype, enough parents got to know about this and the schools had to put in some restrictions. With societal attitudes seeming to have tightened up since then, I can see more schools wanting to be more “safe” than anything else.

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  4. Priya raises some valid questions, in general about if and how schools should decide the level of involvement of the two sexes. I think it’s up to the parents. You get to decide what school your kids go to, so pick one according to your philosophy. Too uptight? Go for all-girls, all-boys. Parents know exactly the level and type of behaviour acceptable in the school they pick for their child. To turn around later and accuse the school of being too harsh is to deny your culpability in choosing a school where its philosophy and your parenting philosophy don’t overlap. Harsh. Sorry. Also, I don’t agree that suicide and sexual abuse are in the same league (# 5). They require thoroughly different approaches.

    For this incident in particular, what BM does not report is that the student had received two previous warnings for misbehaviour. Might it be possible that the school is silent, because it is being the responsible party here – protecting the rest of the students? If the parents really feel that the school is acting unfairly, why have they not released the entire content of the letters? I think the type of reporting in BM is sensational. The school might have over-reacted, so might have the student – with her gone, we won’t know. My empathy here is entirely for the parents. They’ll never know.

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  5. Now for the other questions: Turns out, all my answers are contrarian – sorry. I feel the state of education (like much else in India) is in a bad space now.
    1. It’s a private organization – they can set any rules they like, if they think their market will bear it. And so far, it appears the market does bear it. As a parent I would not choose such a school, and that is my prerogative.
    2. No, of course not. But they can set whatever rules for behavior they want on their premises – it is up to parents to reject or push back against such. Unfortunately, most parents in India have to cheery pick whatever aspect of a school is important to them in picking a school. Some parents do think outside the academics box and think of their child’s overall development and pick schools accordingly.
    3. Wouldn’t tar all teachers with the same brush – but I think emotional development isn’t of importance in general in India. Adults are routinely infantilized anyway – Why would teachers be any different? That said, there are lovely, empathetic teachers and those that are bullies everywhere – products of their own environments too.
    5.Schools are, in general, a (lucrative) business, first – relatively few who are in it for altruistic reasons. Natural that they try to protect their bottom line first. Change needs to be pushed from the customers in cases like this – are parents concerned that their children handle the aftermath of such incidents well, or that such incidents do not happen to their children? Will parents stand by a school that admits that it did not screen a potential sexual predator? Will parents stand by the child/family thus affected?

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  6. No matter what the “pholosophy” of a school or a parent might be, abuse is still abuse. Just because your student or your child violated your “dont talk to opposite sex” policy does not mean that they are now open to humiliation, degrading or abuse. This, I feel, is what is missing from the picture.

    And I still fail to understand why it is such a big deal to interact with a student of the opposite sex? My parents never ever restricted me in terms of the gender of friends I could have. Boys, as well as girls were more than welcome at my home. And you know what? I was one of the few girls who DID NOT have a boyfriend when I was 12-13 years old while the majority of my classmates from more conservative households were getting into a lot of experimentation. Maybe that was their rebellion?

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  7. I am an NRI woman. I left India in 1990, and have been living in the US since then. I include this information by the way of a disclaimer- I have not lived in India for the past several years, and may be quite inaccurate about my perceptions about contemporary Indian society. I attended a private Catholic ( ” convent”) co-ed school in India in the 1980s. While there was some mingling between the sexes, co- mingling was in general frowned upon. The environment is school was reflective on the social norms then- backward and non-progressive. Parents ( mine included) were conservative in their thinking, and did expect the school to ” moral police” us. I believe this caused a great deal of harm. We got no guidance from our homes about normal gender relations, sexuality etc, and our school teachers were just as ingorant. The India I grew up in did not really care about the intellectual growth of youngsters- all that mattered were school grades and getting into medical school or engineering school.We had to ” grow up” and forge our own world view, on our own. If this continues in India even now, it is probably because my generation now are parents and grandparents, and are perpetuating the same meme. And that is tragic. My children were born and raised here in the US, and now are in their 20s. While raising them, first thing I did was to chuck out all the nonsense I had imbibed in India about morals, sexuality, etc. The kids turned out fine. I think I would have inflicted a lot of damage on them if I had continued the kind of parenting I had.

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    • It’s nice to see another Indian parent who lives abroad and doesn’t spout every single thing she was made/forced to do as “great Indian culture” and shove it down the throats of their children. I feel there is both good and bad in our culture and it’s important for us to take an honest look at what is right, what is wrong and define a value system that makes sense to us based on a rational assessment rather than a fear of breaking tradition.

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  8. You raise good questions. Our educational institutions are really outdated in their understanding of child and adult development.

    My older son is 16 and we live in the US.
    -They have sex education class at school (their class discusses sexual development, sexual responsibility, safety, consent, the rights of individuals, boundaries, saying no, taking a no, the preferable minimum age, different orientations, genders, acceptance, sexual problems and host of other things.)
    – While picking teams for projects, the teachers encourage the students to pick people of different genders and ethnicities so it will prepare them better for the workplace.
    -As parents, we let our son know that interactions with the other gender(s) are normal and healthy. (Imagine a boy growing up without getting to know any girls as people with interests, hobbies, likes, dislikes, personalities … that would make him see women as nothing but objects on display …. and automatically make him fixate on women’s looks and bodies.)
    – We don’t do any stereotyping at home (you are a boy, you can’t cry). Both my sons help me out in the kitchen and around the house. So, they don’t see girls as a different species.

    In India, in the absence of such a class and environment, parents need to provide some form of sex education, and there are excellent books on the topic. Most importantly if you have boys, teach them girls are human beings with feelings and desires, that there can never ever be any physical contact without consent and that boundaries must be respected at all times.

    The best thing parents can do is to talk to their kids about their value system. And put it to work in the home environment. As kids get older they begin to understand that the world is full of people with differing levels of ignorance/awareness. They will be able to judge right from wrong, based on the value system developed at home.

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  9. Schools should inform about its rules regarding behavior in their admission brochure. However it is not possible until unless it is made mandatory. Hence parents choose schools based on the feedback they receive.

    But the major chunk of problem is that parents only think about academic performance while searching for schools. Interaction between girls and boys are not in their list even.

    School should not frown upon interaction however they should counsel students about PDAs.

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  10. On the whole, I find it difficult to comment on this case because we do not really know the whole story. Also, let’s be honest. If anything happens in school, everyone will blame the school.

    1. Are schools right in enforcing such strict boundaries between interactions between girl and boy students?
    – Technically they can, but I would prefer a national set of guidelines for all schools in the country. Or else, everybody will come up with their own version of rules. On the other hand, s other commentators pointed out, these are not put in black and white and pop up when situation arises + there seems to be a market demand for these schools. Sometimes, liberal parents have to choose the best among these because they do not really have much choice.

    2. Is it even the school’s perogative to tell someone who to be friends with and who they shouldn’t be friends with? Should it be left to the student and the parents (in case of minors) to determine what level of ‘freedom’ and ‘openness’ they’re comfortable with.
    – School should not interfere and definitely not shame people like this. If they are concerned because the child hangs out with non school members who are criminals or the like, they should discretely inform the parents.

    3. Are teachers/principals in the Indian school system bullies? Unlike the West where bullying is a problem among students, I feel that in the Indian system the teachers themselves are emotionally detached disciplinarians who sometimes pick more on the weaker kids with complete disregard for their feelings and self-worth.
    – Yes, more like dictators who can manipulate children. Most kids get it left and right from school and parents.

    4. Has the notion of ‘counselling students’ in Indian schools progressed beyond yelling/hitting/humiliating and punishing kids?
    – That is not counselling.

    5. Why is it that repeatedly in cases like this (and others of sexual abuse etc) that the school is more concerned about ‘being right’ than ‘being human’?
    – Because they are for profit and they need to protect their reputation. They don’t give a damn about their students as people.

    6. Just so we examine both sides of the coin, do parents actually expect schools to take strict disciplinary action if their kids are seen getting too friendly with the opposite sex?
    – In many cases yes.

    If this school didn’t report incidents like these and ‘nip them in the bud’, would parents (not of the girl in question, but in general) consider the school (staff) irresponsible? Yes, they would

    Are schools like this merely pandering to Indian parents with seriously backward ideas? Yes, mostly

    If that is the case, can schools even realistically be expected to follow a different approach? Not really unless we have strict national standards and laws for what schools can interfere in and what not. Then, if any parent blames the school, they can point out to the law.

    7. And lastly, an open-ended question – thoughts on how best to handle situations like these, both at school and at home?

    School – Not over react. Clearly indicate on their prospectus that they do not interfere in such issues. Stop humiliating and shaming. Have sex ed class. Encourage healthy gender interaction.

    Home – Same.

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  11. Pingback: Friendships between men and women | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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