The two-bricks rule
I scoff when I hear about an Australian school that enforces a separation rule to stop couples, um, getting close. It’s nothing new to my ears: I’ve heard of separation rules at schools before. But nothing of the sort that Brauer College in Warrnambool, Victoria has implemented.
Kid me not: Brauer College has introduced a “two-bricks” rule. If you are within two bricks’ length of someone of the sex that is not of you, you are breaking the rule. Such is the extent of it that one student reported sitting next to his girlfriend eating a sandwich when he was told off for getting too close.
I should hate to think that there would seriously be debate about whether Brauer College was made the right move, because it is plainly apparent that they have gone one step, if not four, too far. Simply: I have friends, and not all of them are male. I might lack both a girlfriend and an object of infatuation, but I would be affected by the rule nonetheless.
What the true issue boils down to is the level of physical contact that should be allowed in schools. The Age reported on several schools on this issue, and while this is probably not the most important matter of debate, different schools did indeed show different views. While Warrnambool College echoes the idea that “inappropriate touching” is to be avoided, Copperfield College has no such rule, and Glen Waverley Secondary College prefers not to impose too many rules.
What is “inappropriate” is of course a matter of opinion, and it would make more than perfect sense that during classes, which are supposed to carry a reasonable degree of formality (or at least focus on the matter at hand), some constraint is expected. However, such reasoning cannot hold when students are not in formal instruction. The lunch break is an everyday, social period that need not demand such formality. Paraphrased, nothing should be required that is not normally required of a rational, civilised person in public.
I have, perhaps, run into the same question I had at the beginning: what can be required of a civilised person can vary between people. But to this matter, the words of Glen Waverley assistant principal John Rooden are wise: “Where kids form relationships we talk to them about how they manage themselves. A commonsense approach, that’s what we adopt. If kids feel that they don’t have freedom and they can’t express themselves, then they don’t feel part of their community.”
I will go no deeper than to state that it is the nature of teenagers to express themselves with physical intimacy with their current interest. Scientific evidence probably exists but is unnecessary, because anecdotal and observational evidence should be sufficient. Anyway, to the point, to demand absolute separation is to directly contradict this nature.
One can label it “inappropriate” if one wants, but it is a reality—and a widespread one. I emphasise the “widespread” part because this is about what does go on, which determines and is determined by the prevailing community standards. Only a fool in this day and age would assert that teenagers do not normally form relationships. For them to feel part of the school—an essential part to a successful environment—their choices would be recognised and accepted.
Of course, there is a line. It is reasonable to expect, to give an extreme example, that people remain clothed, or to give the opposite extreme, that couples don’t choose that spot in the middle of that bottleneck in the corridor while everyone’s trying to get through it. There are some public displays of affection don’t quite fit in prevailing community standards. But to ban couples from holding hands is shameful. It is not unusual to see such behaviour in public, while walking about: why should it be different here? If respectability is an issue, I fail to see how such a common act could infringe on the standing of a school. When students are in class and attention is required, then focus, and hence constraint, can be expected, but at other times, they are just people, after all, and they should be allowed to express themselves.
What the community standards are is a different issue and not one that I intend to discuss here. But for a school to impose a separation rule, a “two-bricks” rule, or some other policy requiring that couples stay apart, is symptomatic of some over-controlling authority, similar, I guess, to the way that the Greens plan to outlaw smacking. School is a place to learn, and to some extent a place to belong to, and to ban intimate contact achieves neither of these things. And Brauer College has simply gone one step further.