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What’s in a badge?

I have now, by my count, been asked three times by my form teacher to explain to interested junior students what the roles of various student leadership positions are. The "correct" answer, however, is never the truthful one. I must always elaborate on "you get to wear a badge".

A house captain, for example, as I tried to explain at the end of last year, leads the house. It is his responsibility to encourage participation of inter-house competition days. It was there, when my mind went blank. What have I seen a house captain do? I remember once, in third form, when our house captain addressed the house assembly to congratulate us on our second placing (after having come last of eight in the previous competition). Since then, house captains have really just been one of the rest of us.

Then what about the house committee? Well, this is slightly easier. The house committee meets onces a week to wag SSR — did I say "to wag"? I meant "during" — to organise blood day and upcoming house assemblies. Mostly on the encouragement — well, the orders — of the house leader. Incidentally, the house captains tend to sit at the back of these meetings, but that’s beside the point. Unfortunately, you don’t get a badge for being on the house committee, but it still gets on your report. And there’s no election for this one. If you want to join, then feel free.

It was not two weeks ago when a particularly enthusiastic year nine, who wanted to run for election as a student councillor, asked about the student council. Now, this is going to be interesting. Do I explain what a student council should be doing, or does? Anyway, I started off by saying you get to skip a class a fortnight and wear a badge. My form teacher chuckled and I felt obliged to elaborate. "They meet to discuss things that students need," I said. "And act upon them, to represent students’ views." I rolled my eyes to myself. Did I just say that? "Well, they’re meant to." I couldn’t give a junior a half-truth. "The 2004 council was just a joke, and last year’s council was a bit better but we still didn’t do that much. So it’s pretty much just a badge." There was no avoiding it. I had to tell it like it was.

What, then, was she to say in her election speech? Do something to make you memorable, my form teacher advised. Like throw a lolly scramble. That should work, because speeches won’t. She didn’t win like I expected her to — the lollies didn’t seem to pay off.

Neither did I, but I didn’t need a fortune-teller to tell me this. I’ve now lost three elections, each to the same person. It was the generally expected outcome, even from those that had promised me their votes. There was no hope, even if my speech did find some reaction in the audience.

This is why things end up being just a badge. You cannot write a job description for house captain, or for student councillor, because even if one was written once upon a time, no-one has ever bothered to follow it. Well, that’s not quite accurate: the people who the students choose, and recall that votes aren’t weighted on how much thought people give, never bother to follow it, and those who could are never voted in. It is an inverse proportional relationship — in mathematical terms, C µ 1/P, where C is competency and P is popularity. Another explanation is that C is constant for all P at a rather low value.

What’s in a badge? That which we call a circle by any other word would be as pointless. There is no job. There is no responsibility. There is no reason and there is no purpose. There is one moment that matters, and that is the thirty seconds you spend in front of your house explaining why everything is important. After that, whatever your form teacher or for that matter, a senior student who was asked by his form teacher, might tell you, it’s just a matter of not losing your new possession.

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