Bryan Caplan  

The Principal of Convenience

Official Takes Stand Against A... Lie to Me...
Eliezer beautifully articulates the moral outrage I felt from the age of 3 to 18:
Another example would be the principal who, faced with two children who were caught fighting on the playground, sternly says:  "It doesn't matter who started the fight, it only matters who ends it."  Of course it matters who started the fight.  The principal may not have access to good information about this critical fact, but if so, he should say so, not dismiss the importance of who threw the first punch.  Let a parent try punching the principal, and we'll see how far "It doesn't matter who started it" gets in front of a judge.  But to adults it is just inconvenient that children fight, and it matters not at all to their convenience which child started it, it is only convenient that the fight end as rapidly as possible.
Judging from my kids' kindergarten, schools seem to have changed very much for the better: "Tattling" on bullies is encouraged rather than scorned, bullies are punished, and justice is served.  My kids want the severity of punishment to be harsher still, but they just don't know how good they've got it.

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COMMENTS (16 to date)
RL writes:

Aren't you assuming the "tattling" is always accurate, honest, and unbiased, never an effort to game the system to the tattler's advantage? [Not YOUR children, of course...]:-)

david writes:

Gaming the system seems a little sophisticated for the average playground gladiator.

You might have to watch out with older children, I guess, but even then convincing sociopathic liars are a little hard to come by.

Kurbla writes:


When I remember my childhood - all adults tried to learn me good things. It doesn't matter who they were, leftist, rightist, parents, teachers, relatives, neighbors - all of them said and shown only good things. If they did bad things, they surely did, at least they tried to hide it from children. All ugly, disrespectful, violent, cruel kinds of behavior I developed or learned from other children when we were alone. Focusing on catching and discouraging such behavior as early and as long as possible could have surprising potential for improvement.

Snar writes:

I must have been less sophisticated growing up. I can't even remember being 3, much less feeling "moral outrage" towards anything until I was considerably older. I probably stumbled through the reward/punishment phase of moral development at least until the age of 5.

One wonders if Prof. Caplan also felt righteous indignation towards forced compliance (ie. being asked to shake hands with fellow students or participate in school prayer) at such a tender young age?

Bob Murphy writes:

If the school authorities don't get the job done, there is always Slim Shady's method for dealing with bullies on his block.

Bob Murphy writes:

Hmm that YouTube link above was supposed to kick in at 1:00, but it's starting at the beginning. Whoops.

Dan writes:

Encouraging tattling will get your kids killed one day. In the real world, people will destroy you for tattling. It is never a good idea to encourage your kids to tattle. They need to learn that the world is full of rocks and hard places.

And another guy was right on here. The tattlers could be liars. And does the tattling end there or could kids tattle out of jealousy?

Tattling is something that tiny little dorks do. Tell your kids to stay away from it.

Ak Mike writes:

Dan, you're 180 degrees wrong. Not tattling is what people in failed societies do, societies that have no public order and where physical violence is unchecked.

People in civilized societies turn in miscreants - that's what keeps such societies civilized.

Kurbla writes:

I completely agree with Ak Mike. Children should be encouraged to report bullies, thieves etc.

Dan writes:

Fair enough--but you will still take a hit if you do it most times. If you are altruistic enough, go for it.

Dan writes:

Make sure to tell your kids that the teachers are not always around, and there is a world away from school called "everywhere else" where these people might find them.

I just don't want my kids getting beat senseless somewhere if it isn't worth it.

Ak Mike writes:

Dan, you belong in a part of the world where the vendetta still rages. Your paranoia might be justified there.

marie writes:

Dan, I'm not really sure what world you live in but I hope my children will just not sit in some corner while some kids are doing harm. You can't solve a problem by ignoring it either at school, YOUR home or work.

Dan writes:

Where did you all go to school? How old are you? Where I went to school, people got hurt for doing stuff like that. I guess if you live in the suburbs you are ok.

A list of cities in which it is not ok to tattle on people in the public school system in junior high or high school and let someone find out about it:

Oakland, CA
Camden, NJ
St. Louis, MO
Miami, FL

The bottom line is, if you screw with people who have more power than you, you will get hurt.

And I am not paranoid. I have seen this happen quite a bit.

scott clark writes:

Stop Snitchin'

don't teach kids to snitch. not just for the reasons Dan mentions. kids are being taught to turn in their parents for everyting from recreational drug use to recycling violations, and then it gets all sorts of Orwellian.

i am glad that the kid's school is a more civilized place than times past, and justice is preserved. but it can get twisted right quick.

Dan Weber writes:

Bryan, you may have been able to comprehend the moral lessons and injustice involved in draconian rules. (And I believe you since I still remember the stupidity and injustice of several primary-school teachers.) But most 3 year olds aren't. Hell, a lot of 13 year olds cannot.

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