The High School Experience.

Firstly, is there a social contract in high school? If so, what is this social contract like? What does it do and for whom? I would argue, for the majority of high schools, there is a definite social contract within the high school boundaries. In my opinion, a social contract influenced by a Hobbesian absolutism, which organizes the school into an almost feudal system.

Unsurprisingly, A European Feudal System

Using a very simplistic European style feudal system model. Within the high school, the King is seemingly the Principal, the Barons are the leadership team (heads of subject, heads of grades etc. basically those directly under the Principal), the Knights are the ordinary teachers and the Peasants are the students. This model could also be applied to the college system, with the following hierarchies (rising in level of authority); students, GSIs, Professors and the President of the University. Despite, there being some degree of fragmentation within these feudal divisions, these divisions of power seemingly accurately describe the flow of power or authority in the majority of high schools. Hence, is high school organized similar to a feudal system?

My contention that high schools operate under a near Hobbesian absolutism is due to Hobbes’ idea concerning the distribution of power and hence the vast authority of the king (the principal) within the society (high school), which is seemingly reflected in the model of high school as a feudal system. Please note that this argument neglects the influence of governors or external, independent educational evaluators, as my argument is specifically WITHIN the boundaries high school. High school seemingly functions under Hobbesian absolutism, due to the level of pluralism and autonomy which flows horizontally through the system, but not vertically. An example of this is that individual teachers have a degree of autonomy in their presentation of dictated content in their class time. Hence, I argue that although high school may not be a vertically egalitarian, pluralistic society it is seemingly far from a totalitarian dictatorship (in the majority of schools). Do you agree? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Hobbes Was Definitely A Jock In High School.

So, what does this high school social contract influenced by Hobbesian Absolutism actually do? Why follow it? I would argue that this social contract is a mutual agreement between the peasants (students) and those above them (the principal and teachers) which protects the students from a state of nature. I am not arguing that the high school social contract isn’t removing the constant threat of death from students; this is already achieved by the larger overall societal social contract, which the high school social contract operates within. The high school social contract is a supplementary social contract protecting students from the threat of illiteracy and the negative consequences which this can lead to, such as flipping burgers at Wendy’s for the rest of their lives. Do you agree? Is there a supplementary high school social contract protecting students from a secondary state of nature? What do you think of the idea of supplementary social contracts and secondary states of nature? Can you think of any other examples?

Do you agree with me that the high school social contract is influenced by Hobbesian absolutism or can the nature and structure of power in the high school micro society be explained by other aspects of political theory? For example, do Burke’s teachings concerning the importance and influence of tradition (such as “I put my foot in the tracks of my forefathers, where I can neither wander nor stumble”) actually dictate the nature of high school power structures?  Do we simply follow the rules because that is what our parents did and hence it is perceived to be ‘right’?

Furthermore, what should the high school social contract be like? What happens if those at the top of the high school feudal system (principal and teachers) break the high school social contract? What are the students to do?

King or Queen?

So you’re back in high school as a ‘lower performing’ senior, struggling with classes and trying desperately to get into the local community college, although you are have already secured your graduation and a high school diploma. Suddenly, the Principal decides that he wants to improve the chances of top students being accepted to Ivies and reallocates resources (previously equally spilt among students before the allocation) so that the highest performing  5% of your grade get a disproportionate amount of resources compared to the lowest performing 25% of students (which you are one). Through your knowledge of Mill and Bentham’s teachings on utilitarianism, you feel aggrieved. What do you do? Protest against the principal? Participate in some kind of civil disobedience?

(This may seem like an absurd, hypothetical scenario however it actually happened in my high school. During my junior year, my headmaster decided that he wanted extra emphasis to be placed upon ‘A’ grade students rather than ‘C’ grade students. This reallocation of resources obviously caused quite the controversy.)

Martin Luther King would argue that you should protest the principal’s reallocation of resources due to his contention that it is only necessary for citizens to obey ‘just laws’. He states in his ‘Letter From a Birmingham Jail’ that…

“An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law”

And that…

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.’

Seemingly, a reallocation of resources from the most needy in a society (the lower performing high school students in this specific situation) to the least needy (the students aiming for Ives) is against moral law. Do you agree? Is protesting this reallocation justified through the perspective of Martin Luther King?

Contrastingly to King, Socrates would argue that you shouldn’t protest against the principal’s reallocation of resources, as he/she is the expert and therefore their opinions should be respected, as they know better than you. Yet, further to this, Socrates would seemingly argue against protesting the reallocation due to his arguments in ‘Crito’ pertaining to the theory of reciprocation and hence the existence of an obligation to abide by the laws, which you previously followed. In this particular situation, the law (or the high school social contract) would be obedience to the principal and the rules he/she sets. Socrates uses the theory of tacit consent to build his argument that…

Civil Disobedience In High School. But More Importantly, People Vote In New Jersey?

“Then the laws will say: “Consider, Socrates, if this is true, that in your present attempt you are going to do us wrong. For, after having brought you into the world, and nurtured and educated you, and given you and every other citizen a share in every good that we had to give, we further proclaim and give the right to every Athenian, that if he does not like us when he has come of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him; and none of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him.”

Although Socrates is seemingly arguing that citizens should obey the overall societal social contract, I believe that the principals he uses can be applied to the microcosm of the high school society and specifically the laws of the high school social contract. Do you agree? Can arguments concerning the overall societal social contract be applied to supplementary social contracts?

In conclusion, in this particular situation; do you owe your high school the respect and obedience of abiding by their laws, even if you believe them to be wrong or unjust? Seemingly, there is an argument that you should; your high school took you out of the secondary state of nature, they educated you and provided you with the means to obtain your high school diploma, why shouldn’t you obey them? What do you think? How much civil disobedience should be afforded to students in high school?


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2 Comments on “The High School Experience.”

  1. abswang Says:

    In the case of your high school, I think that there’s a reasonable argument to protest. However, most of the time the school district is pretty equal and just with their rules. A lot of the rebellion in schools is due to teenagers just acting out, not them trying to reform a corrupt government. There can be a social contract, but for the most part, teenagers aren’t extremely rationale with their actions and need the adults to keep them in check.

  2. lmaren Says:

    You bring up a perfectly arguable issue. I would agree that since they educated us and they are giving us the service of knowledge, opportunities, etc. that we owe something to them. Schools don’t ask for financial returns but instead, a return of respect and leverage. I wouldn’t say that student’s don’t deserve civil disobedience because they have the right to choose. If they want to succeed, they should obey and listen to what their teachers say and obey the school policies. Each side gives and receives something in return.

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