Opinions differ on what influences people to a particular course (and whether free will even exists in a real sense). I incline strongly toward theories of it being a series of events and experiences—some unnoticed or apparently unconnected—that combine to create critical momentum. However, sometimes I look back and think that if I wanted to create a dramatic origin story for myself, I could say that “that was the moment…”; obviously, the moment I became a lawyer rather than a masked vigilante.
A little while ago, I came across an image of a tweet by the not-untalented Mason Cross about his daughter asserting that her teacher’s use of collective punishment breached international law.
People who know me well will be unsurprised to read that my first reactions were to investigate whether that was correct (Unfortunately for anyone intending to run the argument against their teachers, while schoolchildren are a protected class under the Geneva Conventions, the Conventions only apply to a subset of armed conflicts where at least one involved party is a signatory nation) and then to ponder whether the rights of children could ethically be less in a time of peace than of war.
However, I was also reminded of suffering an unjust collective punishment myself.
When I was in my third year of secondary school (so probably fourteen) my geography master was called out of the room by the head of geography about five minutes before the end of the lesson. He hadn’t returned when the bell rang. We all packed up but, because we hadn’t been dismissed, didn’t immediately leave. As the minutes passed, with each minute reducing the time to get to the next class without being late, people left until only a few—myself included—remained. About a minute before the next class started, my geography master returned, displayed a momentary silent surprise that there were still people there, then noted down who was so he knew who hadn’t broken the rule, and dismissed us. Through a combination of vim and my next class being in a room nearby, I wasn’t late so I thought upon it no more.
Until I was given a detention for leaving that geography class without permission: not because I had but because they didn’t know who had decided to leave first so had decided to punish the entire class equally. While I can, after many decades of legal theory, understand why people might consider collective punishment a least-worst solution to cases where the most guilty are not known, I certainly didn’t then; and I wasn’t someone of unknown guilt, I was someone who had specifically been noted as having not broken the rule. And so, I contested it; but the school and my mother and other parents all supported it. So, it being my character to respect authority, I accepted punishment for a crime I didn’t commit. And that, dear reader, was the moment…
Obviously, it wasn’t the moment I decided to become a lawyer so I could make a world where there was less chance of someone else suffering the injustice I suffered: people who have a legitimate proof of innocence but accept punishment anyway are already lawyerly in their souls. But it was part of the lawyer and person I became.
Having practiced law for some considerable time, I accepted many years ago that there is nothing that my geography master or the school can give me that time back.
However, all that lawyering has also indicated that financial compensation can soothe at least some of the consequences of another’s negligence… If my geography master is reading, I accept cheques and many forms of electronic transfer and, for nostalgia’s sake, am happy to discuss a lessening of the interest accrued at the court rate of 8% compound per annum over several decades.
2 thoughts on “Not Excused”
I’d argue that the bell represented a higher authority (in the absence of any authority) and therefore superseded any prior generalized rule set down by the teacher. Case in point, Fire Alarm. Imagine sitting there until the teacher gave you leave… NOT.
I recall the moment I became an unmasked degenerate… High school 1979, skipped class to go futzing around in the rain with a buddy over near a public lake. We discovered a sunken jon-boat and proceeded to resurrect it, scratch off the county marks and sell it for $300. All because I hated Trigonometry and the prick-teacher who taught it.
That was the argument some people who had left the room proposed; however, it was ruled incorrect.
The fire alarm would have been different from the lesson bell.
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