Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Teen Rights and Reasonable Assimilation

Maclean's recently published an article titled "As teens learn their rights, they’re defending them—and winning" which describes a phenomena which has increased significantly in recent years: young individuals demanding that their society accommodate them. In many ways this is a positive thing. Students have developed the requisite communication skills and are advocating for themselves. They are challenging authority using Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are also becoming active, contributing members of their society. The examples provided in the article include:

  • Toronto students fighting against the use of a breathalyzer at their prom (Unreasonable search and seizure)
  • A 17-year old gaining an exemption from religion classes (Freedom of Religion)
  • One family demanding that transgendered students not "choose their own bathroom" (Privacy)
  • Teens suspected of selling drugs fighting against a search of their person (Unreasonable search)
Most of these examples are relatively benign, but they point to a growing attitude in Canadian society. I noticed it most when I returned home from a one-year teaching assignment in South Korea. I immediately saw how much more independent we are as Canadian citizens. Most of our choices are based on our individual needs, or the needs of our close friends and family. When we vote, we tend to vote for the candidate who will help us directly. In contrast, Koreans tend to consider the needs of the collective when they make decisions. They view themselves of part of a whole, and are willing to adapt in order to assimilate into a stronger society. (Their reason for this might be the fact that they are surrounded by China, Russia, North Korea, and Japan).
I worry that as our World War survivors die, Canadians are becoming less thoughtful about the implications of their actions. Those who lived through the World Wars gave up many of their "rights" in order to benefit society. Rather than ask, "What's in it for me?" they operated as part of a collective that was made stronger by their decisions. I am not advocating for wholesale acceptance of authority, but only for reasonable assimilation. It is reasonable to expect that students will not attend a dance when they are drunk. If a pattern of student drinking is evident, then it is reasonable to test their breath. If you don't want to take a religious class, then it is reasonable to expect that you would not enroll in a religious school. If there is reasonable suspicion that you are selling drugs, then it is reasonable for you to be searched while you are a minor in a public school (although that search should be conducted by police - not school officials). 
The principal of Northern Secondary School in Toronto was being reasonable. Alcohol use was rampant at his school's dances. After police delivered an ineffective school-wide presentation on safe partying, and after cancelling all senior dances except the prom, this principal decided to implement a breath test to prom goers. Rather than cancel cultural events, he asked students to submit to a simple test to see if they were following the school rules. The students saw this as an invasion of their individual rights. 
Educators operate in loco parentis while students are at school. Increasingly, as parents act more like friends and less like parents, teachers have been asked to fulfill a greater social responsibility. This is obvious by the need for a breath test. Either the parents did not teach their children to follow the rules, or they are unable to manage their children's behaviour. Instead, the principal must address this problem at the public level. Perhaps the principal should call the police for each one of these students and they could be charged with public intoxication instead. 
It is not surprising to me that young people rebel against authority. This is not new. Plato attributes the following quotation to Socrates:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
This was almost 2500 years ago. It  is interesting to note that Socrates was speaking about a period of unparalleled political freedom. What followed was the subjugation of Athens by Sparta, then Alexander of Macedon, and finally Rome. Socrates foresaw the end of independent politics in Athens if the citizens did not cooperate with one another to create and maintain a strong society. How will Canada be changed by these young Canadians who fight authority? Time will tell.  


  1. Acting as a collective comes with maturity and age, although there will be new teens to fill those individualistic shoes.

  2. Acting as a collective comes with maturity and age, although there will be new teens to fill those individualistic shoes.