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Thursday, March 02, 2000

A brief and brutal experiment in anarchy.

Here is Garrett*'s Pono story I promised back in February (Pono Tease):
We convened the second Judiciary Committee (aka Pono Council) meeting of the day at two in the afternoon. During the first one, the council had decided that our oldest student, G, not be allowed to ride his bike over his bike jump for two days. He had been written up for harassing one of the other students -- which is something he does a lot, only this time he got called on it. It was remarkably clear that he was going to rebel against the council's decision -- which is not to say that he didn't care about the school's rules, but rather that he actively cared about breaking them, most likely because he didn't respect them and wanted to make it clear that he was not to be restricted. So, two minutes after the meeting, he was riding over his bike jump in clear view of everyone in the house. So he got written up for "contempt of pono," which I understand to be one of the most serious things that can happen, since the pono council is the judicial arm of the school: the body responsible for enforcing the rules decided by the school meeting.

The council itself consists of two staff members (it happened to be G's mother and I) and four students chosen by monthly lot. I gathered the council together with G and we sat down to decide what to do. G was taking it as a game, joking at the impotence of the council. The girl who had written up G was backpedaling: retracting her initial complaint and trying to distance herself, clearly in fear of further harassment from G as a result of this incident. I confronted the council with the facts, and queried them for suggestions for what should be done. The students decided that we should do... nothing. I was floored. I reminded them as clearly as I could that the council was the ultimate body in charge of enforcing the rules. And that with no consequence for contempt of the council's decisions, there would effectively be no rules. They thought that would be great. No rules. Argh! I argued with them to no avail. I stated that, without rules, students would be bull! ied, stuff would be damaged and stolen, people would be harassed, and that it wouldn't be any fun at all, but rather a life of constant terror and struggle and brutal oppression by the strong. That this was very VERY serious. To no avail. G's mom and I were going to be outvoted, 4 to 2. G was understandably happy, he was the biggest kid.

The kids wanted anarchy. I argued that anarchy sounded great, but that it always instantly evolved into a violent physical power struggle for dominance. "Great," they said. "No rules!" became the mantra.

This was a nightmare. It was crystal clear to me what the school would be like with no rules. Lord of the Flies. I recalled memories of Elephant Seals battling each other for dominance, tearing each other apart constantly, to prove themselves and establish their place in the hierarchy. Brutality. This was the way it was going to be. So be it.

I declared myself to be the dominant male.

G immediately challenged me: he said that all the kids together could kick my ass in a fight. I said that I didn't think so. He said "OK, lets fight then." I said "OK, lets go outside." "No, right here." and he got up and took a few steps backwards into the living area. The other kids got up too -- one of them grabbed a chair and pushed it towards me as I walked into the living area, but it was a game to them. I shouted at the little ones and they got out of the way. "Do you really want no rules?!!" I screamed at them. I made my way towards G, who had his fists up and was ready to go. It wasn't any game to him, and we both knew it.

I think I tried to tackle him, or something stupid like that, because I must of missed and gotten thrown sideways and smacked the side of my head on a table. It must of been pretty hard (and I noticed later that the table has a metal edge), because I don't have any memories of the ten seconds before that impact. I got up quickly, and I was pissed. I went after G and we both connected with a few punches. We're actually a pretty close match physically, but I'm more stubborn. Blood was coming out of my head pretty quick; I could feel it running down my face. But I know head injuries always look worse then they are. Made that "brutality" point that much more dramatic. I overpowered G and wrestled him to the ground. I reached around and grabbed him by his testicles: gave them a good hard squeeze just to ensure that he didn't enjoy the experience of living with no rules. I punched him a few more times, and he got up, threw something at me, and ran away.

I was remarkably calm. I'd never been in anything that violent before. The gang of kids gathered around and asked what happened. I must have made quite a picture, with blood caked on my hair and the side of my face. I said that the Pono Council decided it would be a good idea not to have any rules.

They changed their mind. I knew that would happen, it was just a matter of whether it was going to take months or minutes. I still don't know if what I did was the best thing -- I hate violence. It was a pain in the ass to have to set a bad example, but I didn't like the alternative. It seems to have worked out OK. The other staff tell me it was the right thing; even G's mom had been moving furniture out of the way during the fight. The kids take the council and rules more seriously, and G has some newly found respect.

And me, well, the bump on my head went down after a few days. And I hope not to have to return to the ring anytime soon.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com