Thursday, 19 June 2008

A Cause Without Rebels.

The above photo is of a schoolyard in Stockholm I came across recently. If you can’t make it out, the message painted on the roof says “They Said ‘Sit Down’ I Stood Up”. I took the photo because this is the strongest articulation I’ve seen yet of the Swedish philosophy on education. True to its image Sweden has a lot of modern and progressive ideas about raising children. Kids are typically given a lot more freedom and independence compared to other countries while schools encourage students to question everything around them. When I was relief teaching at the international school, teachers often complained that the Swedish kids were more difficult than the international ones basically because they were far more assertive and less willing to submit to the teacher’s authority. Just think of Sweden’s most famous child: Pippi Longstocking. Completely independent, confident, assertive, irreverent, brash, insubordinate: she’s the archetypical Svenska Barn.

The bizarre thing is that despite being raised on such ideals Sweden is a remarkably law-abiding and subservient place. Far from creating a population of Bart Simpsons, it has actually resulted in a nation of Ned Flanders (but without the religious fundamentalism). The running joke amongst expats is that Swedes won’t even disobey traffic lights, even on a long road with no car in sight for miles in either direction. Supermarkets have introduced a scheme whereby you can scan your own purchases with a handhold scanner, and just swipe your credit card as you leave, thus having no need to queue at a cashier. Now this strikes me as in invitation for trouble. Imagine the possibilities such as only scanning every second or third item, or scanning the cheap generic brand while actually taking the expensive brand. For all I know this is a problem but that fact that the scheme is still up and running, and customers still aren’t scrutinised suggests to me that the majority of people are doing the right thing.

People’s lifestyles are also remarkable conformist. So many apartments and houses look alike, furnished with the same Ikea furniture. Everyone buys their cloths at the same shops, has the same activities, and go to the same places at the same time. Everyone eats the same thing. During the Xmas/New Year period I had three different Xmas dinners, each of which included exactly the same dishes. I recently saw a jumper advertised in the H&M catalogue and was thinking of buying it. In the week between the catalogue being delivered and actually buying the jumper I noticed half of Gothenburg was suddenly wearing the same jumper.

So now I’m thinking maybe there is some form collective reverse psychology going on. You encourage kids to rebel and so they do the opposite: they completely conform. You tell them to disobey, they obey.
Or maybe it’s simply a case that rebellion loses its appeal once it becomes legitimate. You tell kids they can disobey, that they don’t have to take orders, and suddenly there is no longer a point to being disobedient. One can stand when they’ve been told to sit but if no one is going to make an issue of it than one might as well be sitting and resting their feet.
And I suppose refusing to rebel when you’ve told to rebel is still a form of rebellion.