Friday 16 January 2015

Caged Bird

It's been around 8 years since I finished school and I'm still having dreams about it, and not the good kind. I don't say nightmares because I haven't woken up in a blind panic after snapping out of them.

You could say I had the 'typical' high school experience as the ultimate outcast. If by 'typical' you factor in a strict religious school in the middle of nowhere, a combined school population of around 300 students K-12, and teachers who taught between 1 to maybe 5 or 6 subjects to various age groups throughout their years there. Suffice to say funding was of the essence.

I would consider myself by all means a shy, quiet and reserved student throughout my schooling. In the first year of high school my best friend basically dumped me to hang out with one of the new girls who took it upon herself to make my life hell 5 days a week. At the time I couldn't figure out what her problem was, all I wanted was my best friend back and to survive some of the toughest years of my life and she wanted to make it that much harder for me. I learnt several years later that as is always the case, it was about her own problems and I was her verbal and mental punching bag.

Looking back on my years in high school compared to where I am now I realize that the person that I was back then was the person I needed to be in order to survive. I put up my emotional walls a year or so before starting high school when I'd been treated so badly by various people that I'd reconciled that no one else would be allowed in from then on unless I deemed them worthy or they showed me that they could be implicitly trusted. Very few got in though.

My school and a few of it's teachers seemed much more focused on implementing rules than they were about educating students despite the hefty price tag parents paid to send their kids there.

I recall a 5 year old girl getting a half lunch detention for not wearing a hat outside with the 'No Hat, No Play' rule. Sure she shouldn't have been in the sun and risked exposure, but I dare say being forced to sit out of playing games or whatever would have been a better punishment especially if she wasn't a repeat offender.

One of the last times I was in detention was for missing a question in my Biology homework. I'd made every effort to do them all and didn't realize until my teacher checked it that I'd overlooked one question. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a very outdoorsy person so would have spent my lunch time indoors or on the shaded veranda quite happily, but not under the guise that I'd committed some great atrocity in order to be indoors. That seemed a bit extreme.

The only times I could remember getting detention were for homework related incidences, most of which were common human error. I'd completely forgotten to do the homework, not that I'd deliberately decided not to in order to test the teacher's patience. It wasn't a good thing, but being punished for it seemed a bit harsh.

Most of the dreams I have are about my school principal or my History teacher. Both were and presumably still are quite good teachers in their own rights. I learnt a lot from each and for the most part enjoyed their lessons. However, their need to maintain control over students and individuality is what haunts me to this day. My school had rules about dress codes and whatnot, girls initially were allowed a discreet gold or silver ring and/or bracelet, a pair of gold or silver studs or sleepers if you had pierced ears and a watch. Guys were just limited to the watch.

Needless to say, I and numerous other girls tried to test how strict the rules were in this regard. Surely ensuring students are well educated takes precedence over whether they're wearing an extra silver ring or not?!

One of my other teachers I mentally labeled the 'Jewelry Thief' would confiscate any jewelry she saw someone wearing despite the fact she wore enough jewelry herself to be in the running for a B-Grade gangster. I wasn't a fan of her by any means.

It was almost like any hint of trying to be yourself was stamped out as soon as it rose to the surface. How dare students think and act like human beings with opinions and voices and want to create their own sense of style! This is not approved by any school board!

I get that when students are on excursion or just away from school grounds they are representing the school and it's image, plus clean and tidy uniforms generally always look better than scruffy ones, but at the same time, how is a student supposed to be proud and represent their school effectively and dare I say it, happily, if they as a person are being squashed? If I want to wear discreet jewelry that has sentimental value to me or paint my nails colours that reflect my personality or how I feel inside but the school where I spend most of my life forbids it, how can they expect me to repay them by supporting their school image?

I was discussing this with a group of friends at a small birthday gathering a few months ago, we each said how we were glad to finish school and get away from the environment and people we were forced to tolerate for so long. I thought back to the person I was in high school and how restricted I felt by the rules that were forced upon me and felt glad that I wasn't the person I am today because I couldn't survive there. It would be far too constricting for me and I'd probably end up in a fight with a teacher or probably just being expelled for asserting my individualism.

One of the most immensely freeing things I've found in my life to date is being given choice, the space to figure out what I want to do, say, think, wear, whatever. Not having to conform to a school board's idea of what students should do. If they like wearing suits then that's good for them!

I'm currently in a position of employ and just a place in my life where this kind of freedom is mine and I revel in it on a daily basis. The only requirements of my job are that I wear a work shirt which isn't too bad, it has a nice colour, fits well and the fabric is a dream to wash. Maybe it's my boss' leniency or just the environment I work in, but I can get away with wearing pretty much anything else, although I tend to stick to professional-looking attire for business purposes. Aside from that, I'm free to wear whatever jewelry my body will accept, dye my hair as many different colours as I choose, paint my nails as frequently as I want, and do whatever I want within reason, so long as I get my actual workload sorted out first which I always do. As far as jobs go, I'd say it's the freest I've ever been and absolutely loving it!

When you're a creative and free thinking person, the only thing cages are good for are artworks.

(my design for the Royal Easter Show entry theme 'Caged', 2013)

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