Adultism: A Well-Kept Secret

Adultism is the term used to describe the oppression of young people by adults. An article by John Bell included this definition: “…adultism refers to behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement. This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes.”

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Adultism on a School Council


This personal story of adultism was sent to me by Anthony from Melbourne, Australia, and was an experience he had a couple years ago.  If you’d like to share one of your own, please go to my website (margaretpevec.com/adultism) and post one. It can be anonymous.


It was my first time to attend the School Council as a representative of the Student Representative Council (SRC), and I was excited! My friend David and I went to the meeting together. We entered the room filled with parents, with the principle at the head of the table. I shook hands with each of the adults. We sat down, and a copy of the school's budget was passed around.  

As I read it, the principle leaned over to me and said, "Do you understand it?" I wanted to maintain my dignity, so I said "Yeah, I get the gist of it." David hadn't even bothered touching his copy of the budget.

The meeting started. The adults were all very familiar with one another, creating an awkward atmosphere that made me fearful to speak up. Eventually, the topic of "students coming late" was raised. As the adults spoke about how "dreadful" the amount of people coming late was, I raised my hand. I refused to be an idle spectator. I wanted to have my say as a student at the school.

"Oh look! Anthony has something to say," announced my principle in a patronizing tone. I ignored her tone of voice and spoke.

"In my experience as a student who often comes late, I've noticed that no one really ever chases me up. I know there are consequences, but they aren't ever enforced," I didn't wish to put forward a position, but I figured that as a student, I could offer a perspective on the problem that the adults weren't aware of.

The other adults began to giggle. My principle leaned over to me: "Well Anthony, if you come late so often, then you get a detention!" she said, jokingly. The other adults began to laugh uproariously. The principle then told me in an aside, "I'm told that students ARE chased up, but thank-you for your contribution," she said dismissively, before going on to the next topic.

Later, my principle announced: "Now for our formal SRC update from David and his companion Anthony."

What followed was a scene that seemed incredibly scripted, as if this was something they repeated at every meeting. David talked about how the SRC was organizing another "Free Dress Day," about the punctuality of the meetings, the liveliness of the discussions. The principle thanked him, then went on to discuss the next topic.

I was shocked, THIS is all the SRC is capable of doing at the School Council?! A formal address; the ability to organize a single casual dress day?

Angered, I raised my voice. "Actually, there are a couple of other things we needed to say," I announced. The other adults turned to look at me. The principle gave me permission to go on and I did.

I said that our SRC had received a letter from another student, requesting that a gate be installed for students at the back of the school. The letter explained that students were currently jumping over the fence when leaving school. The reaction was immediate laughter. I heard somebody say "how cute" in the background. A couple of jokes were made. The principle then announced the transition to the next topic.

I interrupted, "Well, are you going to look into it?" I asked.

"Don't worry, we will" she told me, dismissively, before moving on.

It was at least one year until a gate was installed into that fence. And I guess it wasn't me that prompted that action. After that night, I left the SRC. I decided that it was little more than a facade, given to the students to delude them into thinking they had a say. The education system isn't designed to benefit the students, but their parents.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Gail Storey said...

Margaret, thanks for raising our consciousness of adultism and articulating it from a variety of perspectives. The stories in your blog engender the compassion and understanding that will hopefully help resolve it.

August 9, 2010 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger Carly said...

They aren't the first. Me, my brother and virtually every teenager/kid ("minor") I know who has ever talked to an adult has be treated like this.

October 14, 2010 at 6:10 PM  

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