NAIROBI, July 21 – Were the French social psychologists Gabriel Tarde and Gustav Le Bon to document the recent rising spate of school strikes, I wonder how they would classify the domino effect that seems to be taking place.
Three hundred schools on strike within one month is by any standards a frightful affair for parents and law enforcers. It is ominous for educationists and should be for seniors too as they start their mock examinations.
Who owns this ‘group mind’? What triggers the violent behaviour? What do teenagers gain from the rampage that has now taken fatal dimensions with the death on Saturday of a student leader at Upper Hill High School?
Might there be a possibility that these reactions are fuelled by media coverage? Do the students gain impetus after seeing their colleagues successfully run the school head out of town and reduce her office to a shell? Is there an underlying legitimacy to the cause?
There have been many schools of thought seeking to explain this spate of riots, including some professionals who believe unfair competition in national examinations is a contributing factor.
But get this: Students are protesting that they, unlike their colleagues in other institutions, are not getting exam leakage! Oh yeah, this uneven playing field is the reason why there is hardly ever a significant shift in Top 10 schools list or the bottom ones for that matter.
If this were the case, when did exam cheating become a constitutional right? Heavens!
Then there’s another school of thought that faults parents and teacher’s alike for the protests.
This is how it goes; parents don’t want to take responsibility for their children’s discipline. They face such a split on the marital front that they are now battling for the love of their kids and at any cost.
"Its ok, Jere only smokes within our compound. And only when he’s very stressed. It’s because of all the homework he gets."
And despite the unmistakeable smell, it sure as hell isn’t weed. Of course, Jere who has all manner of agnostic signs tattooed to his 17 year-old-arm would never do that.
As for teachers, who are we kidding; they’re to busy chanting ‘haki yetu’; from demands for salary hikes to declining to sign performance contracts. And they went all the way to Mombasa to tell the Prime Minister that at the Head Teacher’s conference.
And topping the list is post election violence. In the rural areas, some of these youths were the same ones politicians used to torch the houses of their unsuspecting neighbours and even kill them.
I wonder what would have spared me from my mother’s wrath were she to gather that her ‘ka-noni’ (her pet name for me) was behind such sacrilege, regardless of the cause! Be it eating ‘gith’ (a local dish of beans and maize called Githeri) daily, hourly even, or as was the case of Sunshine boys, wearing shorts in this Kenyan winter. Nothing would have saved me from her mighty hand. Nothing.
But more and more, I get the feeling that this is not some passing cloud. I’m told that teenagers today know their rights and adults have no moral authority to tell them different.
For all these children have come to learn is, ‘herd behaviour’ does pay. The truth is the unity government we now enjoy emerged from the birth pangs of a similar moral panic, if you like.
The notion goes that ‘we have been aggrieved in one way or another and have a right to this outrage.’
But why is it we only pick the ‘mass action’ side of the story and not the work of Kofi Annan and the principles of negotiation to resolve crisis.
We can only hope the worst of lessons have been learnt and dealt. If there is more to come, if such anarchy will be tolerated at its infancy, then heaven help all.
I have no answers, just these numerous thoughts I sift through. I find it difficult to believe that anything could justify arson. I find it even harder to believe that the right to cheat should be distributed equally. But most disturbing is the reasoning that parents aren’t ultimately to blame for failing to reign in on their kids and show them a more noble way, regardless.