The tsunami and the teacup

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Oh my! Oh my! I have caused a tsunami in a teacup. Who knew I had it me? Stand back or you might get wet.

The Great School Ambush turns out to have nothing to do with the bullying of my son and how we are going to resolve the issue. Instead it turns out that my blog is a Problem.

If I were a different sort of person I might apologise to those I have offended and promise never to do it again. But, I’m not. I am the daughter of a journalist and I grew up succoured on the unassailable rights of freedom of expression, speech and the media. I suppose the apple never falls far from the tree and I have certainly lived up to this pat little adage.

The power of social media and networking is a multi-headed hydra allowing the general public (like me) a public forum in which to exercise Freedom of Expression. I doubt anyone when drafting the constitution imagined how far it would extend. I seriously doubt I am the only parent with a blog and I’d bet a good amount of cash that there are more than a few students with blogs, Twitter accounts and MySpace pages. I am the one to whom the powers-that-be have drawn their attention to.

And how did that come about? It’s interesting really. Unless you’re a friend on Facebook or I’ve personally given you the address it’s a bit like searching for a needle in haystack. There are about 400 of us on Facebook with same name. The blog is not associated with me except for appearing on my profile. So somebody had a very busy morning indeed. The true culprit turns out to be closer to home.

Husband to headmistress: “She’s sitting there all quiet now, but if you want to know what she really thinks you should read her blog!”

Gee, thanks.

The initial shock of being called to the principal’s office has abated somewhat. After all, I did think those days were past. Then again my headmistress wrote me a very politely worded letter of reference on my matriculation. I could never show it to anyone, because reading between the lines she said I tended towards outspoken opinions and blowing at windmills.

I wasn’t supposed to know that I have become a Problem, but on the school run this morning the father of the offspring ran into the Principal of the Prep school. The father thought it was hysterical and called me struggling to breathe in between great gales of laughter. Ha. Ha. Ha. Nonetheless, despite my dodgy spelling, the Principal in principle has no problem with the blog as such. I knew I liked him.

Nonetheless I don’t think the institution has really considered the implication of social networking and Twitter. In the past parents and scholars had few avenues open to them. The school’s marketing and PR department handled any media issues.

I must digress here to an example that happened when I was school. A newspaper published an article about teenage smoking and interviewed a number of schools throughout the country. Turns out they also interviewed our headmistress. She stated unequivocally that her girls did not smoke. We had a good chuckle over that having spent a few hours in detention for that very reason. Still the reputation of the school remained intact even if the journalist writing the story expressed his disbelief. If we’d had Twitter then…

These days it’s all very different. Companies, businesses, service providers and individuals have to live up to and exceed their service level promises rather than papering over the cracks. I think it is quite refreshing, although my priority would be providing a resolution to the bullying problem rather than getting all worked up over a blog. Even better resolve it and I’ll blog about how brilliant the intervention was and how happy I am that it is all sorted out. Just saying.

Just to recap the Freedom of Expression as per our constitution:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes:¬
• freedom of the press and other media
• freedom to receive or impart information or ideas
• freedom of artistic creativity
• academic freedom and freedom of scientific research

The right in subsection (1) does not extend to: ¬
• propaganda for war
• incitement of imminent violence
• advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm

I don’t think I’ve incited anyone to outright war. And I may be somewhat disparaging at times towards my beloved husband, but so much as to be accused of hate speech? Okay, he may disagree. But that is his right.

After some research I have discovered that although not a card-carrying member of the Fourth Estate I am protected by the same laws. The writer of an opinion piece whether published in a personal blog or paid for by a syndicated publication is protected. Funnily enough South Africa even has a Coalition for Freedom of Speech founded during the whole debacle here about press freedom and the infamous Information Bill. I never thought it would apply to me, but there you go.

I don’t think my experience is any different to that at any school, in fact I am sure they all face myriad challenges of far graver severity than mine. My mother’s dog walking friend has two boys in high school at a very well regarded public school who are both struggling with crippling drug addiction. Apparently, it’s nothing special, all the boys do it.

I suppose I should call my father before he finds out from my mother – now that is social networking for you. They have some sort of psychic parental link. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon, rather a very big wooden one. It’s genetic.

Oh well, I feel like Zapiro, slightly bemused that something so small could have caused such a huge reaction. I usually imagine my friends having a good giggle over my posts, but it seems I am now writing to a captivated audience. How very odd.


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