What Your Schools Didn’t Teach You is the title of an opinion-piece by Thisuri Wanniarachchi, published in Colombo Telegraph. The article was liked by some and disliked by others. There are a few issues with what Wanniarachchi writes. Not all of it is crap as most point out, but the article seems lazy, in my opinion.

1. First of all: School is one (very important) step of the way. Life doesn’t end there, but it still matters.

School is where most of my memories are. When I am older, these will be the memories I remember the most. I love the university I attend and I love the degree I follow. I also love my job and all the people I meet and know. But there’s something much more special about childhood and school. Both schools I attended are places I love and feel a connection to when I pass by.

School is important. We may be ‘just kids’ when we are in school, but without that immaturity, there can’t be maturity. We may look back at all the silly things we did as kids but would we be the adults we are today if not for what we did and learned when we were in school?  Maybe Americans value their college lives more. And that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean we need to follow in their footsteps. The author writes, “It’s only in Sri Lanka that we’ve seen people stay fraternized to educational institutions from their childhood. Not universities, but schools.” She poses the question, “But how do we explain such a fraternity existing amongst students of schools?” Here’s the thing. You spend four years of your life in university. But you spend thirteen years in school. You feel more love for your school and your school friends than you would towards your college friends. I’m generalizing here. Not everyone has a good time at school but in general, especially in Sri Lanka, the school you went to is a way to feel a connection with people. And this isn’t a Colombo school thing. I feel this same sense of one-ness with people who went to a non-Colombo school I attended. I don’t share this feeling with people who attend the same university as I do. There’s also another issue here. Why should we feel obliged to explain ourselves to Americans or anyone else? We have our way of doing things and they have theirs. They may look at our Big Match season and wonder what the big deal is but we can have those same questions about their university events.

2. They never taught you the meaning of the term misogyny.
And now here you are, ignorantly being a total misogynistic a******.

I agree with you on how none of us are taught the meaning of the term misogyny. I certainly didn’t know what the word meant until it started appearing everywhere. And I also accept that the matches do give boys the platform to be aggressive. I remember an incident where some boys grabbed a book I had with me and threatened to not return it if we didn’t give them the flag in our van. Such behavior isn’t right. But this doesn’t mean you can or should blame all people involved in the matches.

You can’t and shouldn’t generalize such behavior. You can’t forgive and forget either but you need to accept that not everything is connected to misogyny. Not everything is about males versus females. Sometimes we forget that male or female, we are just humans. Girls can be aggressive too. Girls can be vicious and hateful too. I went to an all girls school and trust me, drama between girls went beyond silent treatment or kicking people out of your group.

And so we all need to be taught about aggression and how to treat people. We all need to be taught about rape and abuse. We all, male or female, need to be taught about boundaries.

  1. They never pointed out the severe levels of transphobia you suffer from; that you feel the need to parade it.

I don’t particularly like this culture of cross dressing in order to make fun of the opposite sex. But sometimes it’s not for such intentions and it has no such impacts.

It is true, however, that homophobia and transphobia are serious problems that need to be solved in this country and this world. It was easy for you to draw comparisons between Sri Lankan and American culture when talking about schools versus universities. But you forget that America continues to battle fear, hatred and violence in connection to one’s ethnicity or sexuality.

This doesn’t make it okay for Sri Lankans to use words like faggot or spread or parade their transphobic attitudes. We need to change the system. But what are we actually doing about it? What are you doing about it?

  1. They forgot to teach you that racism is your own insecurity.

We sure love to talk about Sinhale and Sinhala-Buddhism. All these Sinhala-Buddhist schools spreading racism need to be done away with. But we don’t look at the other schools that are armed with ethnicity.

I attended a Christian school and if I’m to be completely honest, there were times when you felt different. Non-Christians were never forced to do anything. Even when it came to blessings for exams, we were never forced to get the Father’s blessings. But there was a chapel in school. Christianity surrounded us.

Even today, there are people who change their religion to Christianity or Islam because of marriage.

Then why is it only right to talk about Sinhale? Why do we only talk about Sinhala-Buddhism?

I don’t think any school should have a religion. This applies to Sinhala-Buddhist schools like Ananda College or Musaeus College just as much as it applies to S. Thomas’ College, Zahira College or Hindu College. We need a change in the system but maybe we ask for this change for the wrong reasons and maybe we keep demanding this change by making all the wrong arguments.

The response to Wanniarachchi’s article ends here. But this post is also about what schools should teach us. And so the list continues…

  1. Science and maths aren’t the only good subjects

Sri Lankans tend to be of the opinion that if you don’t study science or maths, you just aren’t smart enough. I remember my O/L maths teacher asking me why I wasn’t studying maths for A/Ls. I remember an aunt asking me why I wasn’t doing science or at least commerce for A/Ls.

Science, maths, accounting and economics are good and interesting subjects. But so is history, art, music or literature. Not everyone can be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. But not everyone can be an artist, singer or writer either.

It’s important that we are taught this in school. It’s important that we are shown that writing isn’t just a hobby and that it shouldn’t be. Career guidance sessions once a week during the year after O/Ls was perhaps my favorite time of the week. We learned so much about ourselves and I think this helped us understand what we wanted to be in life. Career guidance should be a must in schools. Kids shouldn’t be choosing their A/L subjects or university courses without any sort of guidance.

  1. No one is less important. No school is less important

Colombo school culture is interesting and has its many issues. This could be a huge misinterpretation but there is a sense of what schools are posh/good and what aren’t. I find it awfully funny that some people think more of me when they find out which school I attended.

We may have done away with the caste system in Sri Lanka but the class system still controls us. This can be seen in the way there is a wall separating Colombo school kids from others. This can be seen in the way parents try so hard to get their kids into Colombo schools.

Just as much as it’s important to talk about equality between the sexes, we need to also recognize and accept that social stratification can be based on so many other factors; class, ethnicity etc. We are still held back by what school someone attends or how much money they have.

  1. Respect

I remember our principal telling us about an incident where a boy had asked her why students from our school were wearing rubber slippers to a match. She said she told him that that showed how much respect those girls had for the boy’s school. And in a way, it’s true, isn’t it? I respect my school and so I will never walk into school in dirty clothes or rubber slippers. It all depends, of course, on how we define respect and what behavior we think is acceptable.

Respect is a very important thing. And it’s important that schools teach students about respect. This could be respect towards elders, respect towards rules or institutions. But it is also respect towards each other. If we respect people and their rights and freedoms, there would be no catcalling or harassment or abuse.

Respect is also what makes someone choose to respond to Wanniarachchi’s article in a well-worded and sensible way or post comments similar to these:

“First of all I just wanted to tell you that I am gonna change my name some how cos I assume it as a crap of having *This* part in both of our names. Give me sometimes I will change it. And I secondly I am gonna tell you that I used to love bridget a lot untill 5 minutes ago and you just came here with this holy #*%(# #*%*@ article and ruined it”

– Thisara Jayasinghe

Are you trying to bring in the sick western feminazism into Sri Lanka. You need to get your head checked..”

“to disrespect/ disregard an individual’s physical boundaries and space by non-consensually entering it” is literally the definition of rape.” I’d hate to travel in public transport with you. or should I say rape you in public transport.. in fact walking down any street in Colombo would get you “rapped”..

You need help.. may a be man with a good spine in your life would do the trick…”

– Amal Iddawela

We learn much more that our ABCs or 123s during our 13 or so years in school. We learn about history and geography and biology and business studies. But we also learn about people and life. We learn about the good and bad. We learn about the world. It’s during our years in school that we form identities and start to look at ourselves as more than skin, flesh and bones; it’s when we start seeing ourselves as our beliefs, attitudes and actions.

Soon this article will be forgotten. It will be forgotten just as many other ‘bad’ articles have been. People will move on. But it’s important that we don’t forget the racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia that surrounds us. It’s important that we accept the faults in our education system and work towards fixing them. It’s important that we create schools that teach students what they should be learning.

Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya

Original article appeared in http://causepigscanfly.blogspot.sg/2016/03/what-schools-should-teach-us.html