21 October, 2017

What Your Schools Didn’t Teach You

By Thisuri Wanniarachchi

Thisuri Wanniarachchi

Thisuri Wanniarachchi

The culture of fraternity surrounding school Big Matches in Sri Lanka is a reflection of the misogyny and social malnourishment within our education system. Most of us are blind to it, not merely because we are too frenzied by the artificial hype created by these events, to see the deeper social implications they reflect. But because our national school system didn’t teach us how to open up our minds to understand the backward values entrenched in our culture that we continue to hold on to.

#1. First of all: School is only one step of the way. Life doesn’t end there.

It’s only in sri lanka that we’ve seen people stay fraternized to educational institutions from their childhood. Not universities, but schools. In the United States, this culture of fraternity is seen amongst elite universities, Sports play a major role in US universities and is a multi-million dollar industry. The annual Harvard- Yale game, for instance, is one controversial battle of fraternities, and promotes a culture of sporting rivalry. It’s somewhat easier to understand why a culture of fraternity may prevail among these university students; elite universities are extremely competitive, exclusive and promote a certain culture of academic thought that they collectively take pride in. And above all a social culture (sometimes pretentious, sometimes not) that binds them.

But how do we explain such a fraternity existing amongst students of schools? If you take the students of the schools represented in Sri Lanka’s Big Match season: less than 10% of their annual graduates receive entrance into distinguished universities. Is the reason for their return to school annually, to behave as they would have when they were children, an implication that school is as far as most of our population get in life? No, this is not a statement made to degrade the youth or middle-aged men who go to these Big Matches; it’s a fact. Statically speaking, as of now, only 6% of our Sri Lankan youth are in university. A significant number of the students who graduate from these schools remain unemployed/underemployed or end up at low quality mid-way alternative higher education programs that do not fill the gap of the education that their schools failed to give them. A majority of students don’t get the opportunity to learn how to think socially progressively. They remain socially and intellectually backward.

*(Facts and statistics aside, yes we can all agree it is also very demeaning: you attend these schools when you are a child, before you’ve matured into an adult: a time in our lives we treasure quite a lot, but not enough to go back to our sports-meets dressed in our uniforms. I mean, you don’t have to be the coolest kid in the room to agree that fully-grown adults feeling the need to go back to their childhood school every year is a little weird, unless they do so to mock their childhood selves.)

#2. They never taught you the meaning of the term misogyny.
And now here you are, ignorantly being a total misogynistic a******.

When I was a student at St. Bridget’s Convent, during Big Match season, without any consent, boys would break into our school and vandalize it. It was a joke to us. It was so normalized by our school culture that we even laughed about it. But I now realize that this was patriarchy and sexism taking place in its most ignorant form. How absolutely misogynistic is it that boys feel the need to disrespect the boundaries and space of a girls’ institution breaking and entering in such an act of dominance?

*Oh and by the way, “to disrespect/ disregard an individual’s physical boundaries and space by non-consensually entering it” is literally the definition of rape.

For the past three years I’ve been conducting research on education institutions in Sri Lanka and potential administrative reforms that could help ease the passing of progressive education reforms, which involves deep conversations with education administrators across the country. I’ve met countless female officials who (when we discuss the matter of sex education and its importance to reduce the high number of sexual assault cases) have opened up to me about having been sexually assaulted by their male co-workers but refuse to speak up. A lot of them and when I mean a lot I mean about 95% of them, do not believe they should speak up on it, they believe it will further lower their chances to succeed in the workplace. I think one of the most striking encounters I’ve had was when a female official who was a sexual assault survivor laughed about it at the end of our conversation, saying (translated from Sinhala) “it was bad then, but that’s how we learn.” It wasn’t nervous laughter, it was genuine laughter. She was laughing, but I just wanted to cry for her.This brought me back memories of how once, a few girls in our school were assaulted by some boys who broke in during Big Match season. The girls were crying and the teachers told them to “laugh it off, these things happen.” As if it was something that happens to everyone: a lesson in life that we can learn from. Like it’s an experience we as women ought to have. That’s what our schools teach us. And in a country where almost 90% of the population depend solely on the education they receive from school, our society reflects what our schools teach. And man don’t they set us up for a treat.

Anyone with a knowledge in social psychology would know the widely-accepted theory of “stereotype threat” when a certain social group, be it a gender or ethnicity, is treated a certain way, they are much more likely to be at risk of losing confidence in themselves and giving into believing that they are meant to be treated that way.

#3. They never pointed out the severe levels of transphobia you suffer from; that you feel the need to parade it.

Big Match parades having men dressed up as women behaving in a degrading manner is just another petty and ignorant act of misogyny and transphobia being played out in public. The homophobic terms commonly used by boys and girls of elite schools in Colombo include “faggot” as an insult and the use of the phrase “gay” to describe something that is uncool. Our school system never taught us to be politically correct or how to grow up to be a part of an inclusive society that respects people of all genders, and sexual orientations.

#4. They forgot to teach you that racism is your own insecurity.

The Sinhala-Buddhist centric schools conveniently forgot to teach their kids that racism is a reflection of one’s lack of education. Someone go to the “Battle of the Maroons” to see how blissfully ignorant and backward a majority of boys in these schools are. The racism is a whole other level. It’s like someone did a mass infomercial for “Sinha-le”. (Or maybe that’s what they were going for.)

Here’s the thing: little boys who grow up seeing in this culture will never quite learn how to respect a woman equally, and someday they will become one of the 1 in 10 men in Sri Lanka who sexually assault a girl in their lives, or the majority of men who restrict their wives to the kitchen and the household, and the worst part is: they die believing they did nothing wrong, they will always believe they were entitled to live this way. They will disrupt their work places and god forbid their homes (incestuos rape is very common in Sri Lanka).

They will raise their daughters with much less freedom than their sons; and the kids will carry on the stereotypes with them. The girls who grow up entrenched in this culture lack the self confidence to speak up against discrimination; in fact they may never know how to identify if they are being discriminated against or not, because sexist discrimination is all they’ve known in their lives that it’s so normalized.

We are currently in a phase of administrative transition in Sri Lanka. We are trying to change the way the country works. In this process, more often than not we find ourselves facing the same problems we faced 50 years ago. And sometimes we wonder why? We want to make progressive change but our country is filled with racists, misogynists and homophobes. They are not terrible people; their education system has failed them. They were never given a chance. We know that our education system is the root of the problem; the reason we are still living in the 1960s. Yet, we get so surprised when a kid gets expelled from a school for a false AIDS rumor. And we question “why are people so ignorant?” like we don’t already know the answer. If even the most well-resourced national schools in Colombo seem to fail at teaching students to think progressively, how can we expect the rest of the country to?

We are what we learn.
And they teach us so little.

*Thisuri Wanniarachchi, 21, is the author of novels The Terrorist’s Daughter and Colombo Streets. She is Sri Lanka’s youngest State Literary Award winner and the world’s youngest national nominee to the prestigious Iowa International Writers’ Program. She is currently an undergraduate student and full scholar of Bennington College studying Political Economy and Education Reform.

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Latest comments

  • 17
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    It was very interesting reading all the usual personnel attacks on Thisuri, who has spoken the truth with such bravery. It is her bravery and truthfulness which prompted me to write or communicate with the fellow Sinhala people after so many years in an open forum.

    I studied in a leading boys school in Colombo , which had both a Tamil medium and a Sinhala medium. I had friends from all three communities. I can speak , read and write in all three languages. Hence I am very familiar with the media in all three languages in Sri Lanka and the way people react politically/emotionally. I am also very familiar with what goes on in different schools in Colombo.

    In 1983 our house was burned down my fathers business was burned down , we went to Jaffna with just our clothes on a cargo ship luckily escaping death squads.

    I studied in a leading boys school in Jaffna and was in the middle of the armed conflict. Eventually I emigrated out of Sri lanka as a professional . Now I live in a peaceful western country where I am recognized as a fellow human being. My kids study in schools where they are thought all religions, they can choose to study what ever language they wont.

    They are not taught that they are very special people born to a Lion race.
    They are taught about equality and respect for other cultures and religions.
    They are free to choose what ever they wish to follow. In fact majority in this country choose not to follow any religion. The state is separated from a particular religion. Religious leaders do not dictate politics.

    Religion and race are created by humans. There isn’t a DNA which identifies a particular religion or race. These are cultural constructs which evolved over a time periods. True human history is not what is told in religious texts. Sri Lankan popular history which is told via a religious text needs to be removed from school curriculum and children should be taught the real anthropological history.

    Hopefully the new government in Sri Lanka will bring a new constitution and governance which will inc-operate the aspirations of all the three communities, and they are free to pursue there own paths. I have almost lost hope in Sri Lanka and told my self I probably will never return. But the writings of Thisuri gives me hope that change will happen.

    But the majority comments here indicates that there is lot needs changing, and that will not happen with a constitution change. Peoples mind sets need to change. For that the education system and the whole school curriculum, schools management needs to change. True separation of the state from religion needs to happen.

    Hope to return one day to my motherland.

    • 6
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      aatputhan

      “They are not taught that they are very special people born to a Lion race. They are taught about equality and respect for other cultures and religions. “

      Thanks.

      What you are saying is that they are NOT taught the lies and Imaginations of Mahawansa.

      “Religion and race are created by humans. There isn’t a DNA which identifies a particular religion or race. These are cultural constructs which evolved over a time periods.:

      They all come from Myths, in the scriptures.

      “For that the education system and the whole school curriculum, schools management needs to change. True separation of the state from religion needs to happen.”

      Separation of Religion and State is critical. Read Thomas Jefferson and others.

    • 10
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      Cool story, bro.

      Also what in the world are you talking about? This article, however misleading and baseless, is about the “big match culture”. You’re talking about war and religion here. If you’re agreeing with the author on her POV on how entire schools are racist, then you’re a racist too.

  • 9
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    Looks like you forgot to log out from this account Thisuri! (referring to previous comment seen while scrolling from you).

  • 11
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    “incestuos rape is very common in Sri Lanka” – is it due to personal experience that you are generalizing so freely?

    • 1
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      In my days in the country, these the like were taboos.

      But looking at the manner how the rulers behaved themselves during the last few years alone – I can believe that all forms crimes could be there inthe once upon my mother land.

      We should be ashamed to see them really-I myself wondered looking at the way young girls behave on the street today during my last visit paid to the country – urbanisation and internet have been the causes them to go that far. Heard at the bus stop how young teenagers roam and abuse the waiting girls/women for the bus. THis culture was not known to me during good old days inthe country- no respect and manners are familiar to the youth even if they would leave you saying ” budusarnai”: Budusarnai has become just a greeting word – instead of prayers thinking of buddha.

    • 2
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      She’s acknowledging the fact that incestuous rape keeps occurring in the country even though you know it or not !

  • 1
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    [Edited out]

  • 15
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    Bravo Thisuri. The first step in changing anything is speaking truth to power and you certainly has done that

    • 9
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      And what truth is that?

  • 16
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    Dear Thisuri,

    I trully wanted to explain to you a few things about:
    statuary definition of rape for instance (attempt at defining it is sadly missleading);
    an alternative definition which may be attached to “Trucking” which has next to nothing to do with misogyny but more to do with bravado and a mans tendency to ‘woo’ ( ask a behavioral psychologist or an evolutionary biologist;
    the fact that all societies have ALWAYS been in transition, a state of flux and never in constant or at an optimal situation ;
    the fact that it is false to loosely use among others the word ‘currently’ to emphasis how bad the present is.

    However, like my self during – my parent funded- uni years I can sense the Liberal and Progressive Bigotry in you writing and through it, thinking. The problem with that is, in letting this unique bias attach it self to your mind and heart you turn your back to the great thinkers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire who created societal foundation upon which you write and share, possible.

    However, as the Buddha taught in his philosophy 0 not religion-, people can learn only in THEIR own time. Dont be to quick to assure your self of the accuracy of your current thought and words. For learn now, that there are known knowns and known unknowns you so heavily rely upon in your thinking. But similarly don’t be caught wanting for ignoring the known unknowns or worse the unknown unknowns which are just as important.

    What makes human great is not our ability not prosper nor improve with time. At this point in time i believe it is our ability to score that proverbial last second 3 pointer, salvage and survive to fight another day. So dont over commit in your writing, as did Feel the Bern Sanders did in his early writing and come repent it in time.

    Lastly my dear dont flaunt your laurels, of being the youngest, only and so on and so forth. That it self just contributes to the image of you being full of you, Let your writing stand on its own, without the soon to be BA or BSc suffixed, or the endowed societal accolades.

    However, You are correct, our education system is in taters and is frankly a joke of the highest caliber. All i hope is without being brave and brutish from a far as you are now, one day you will use the basic degree you are currently reading for, not in a foreign land which will pay you 6 figure sums in dollars but come down to ‘poor-old’ Sri Lanka and earn may be a 5 figure some in Rupees and sever the land, where you learnt your ABC… i guess only time will tell if you will be a meteor or a meteorite.

    KDR

  • 14
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    Every country and every community has it’s own identity. Sri Lanka will be Sri Lanka & America will be America. That is what makes each country different & unique. Americans have Fraternities, the United Kingdom has a Queen, Australia has an out back, Brazilians have the Rio carnival and Sri Lankans have a big match. You can not draw parralells between what one country does to another. This poorly written article shows the lack of such basic knowledge by a girl who calls her self a journalist. She should first get her basics right.

  • 9
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    I suggest you do a research on how many girls from your school did sex changes :p write up something on that rather than tainting a good sports culture that higlisght this small country. From all the others #cricket

  • 9
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    The mere fact that you photoshop your photos to look fairer is mysogynistic. Or is that more feminism? Quit trying so hard to get attention.

  • 0
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    sis,

    My 1st question, have u ever visited BOM, i know da reply is NO(its obvious)
    So, how the f**k ur pointing out BOM, as a big match that spreads racism without having any idea about it. lol however u was so foolish to address anandians and nalandians as racists, that lives around maradana, do u know what maradana is, majority of maradana is muslims, so is it possible to live as racist in maradana without making any conflicts with neighboring muslim schools ?whether it is possible or not we never behaved like racists, i think the all muslims, and hindus around maradana will agree to it, we always treat our muslim and hindu friends as brothers, so u better ask about it from a muslim that lives in maradana before writing kindofshit like this, wt kind of research you’re doing definitely it may pointless and worthless shit, so pls remove ur dumptruck outta here from the internet without insulting the respectable scls like ananda and nalanda & also we have nothing to do with ur childhood issues, really sorry abt it. so pls dont try to teach the way of respecting the other religions to anandians and nalandians, who ate wadai from dawalagiri and biriyani from sultan.

  • 0
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    sis,

    My 1st question, have u ever visited BOM, i know da reply is NO(its obvious)
    So, how the f**k ur pointing out BOM, as a big match that spreads racism without having any idea about it. lol however u was so foolish to address anandians and nalandians as racists, that lives around maradana, do u know what maradana is, majority of maradana is muslims, so is it possible to live as racist in maradana without making any conflicts with neighboring muslim schools ?whether it is possible or not we never behaved like racists, i think the all muslims, and hindus around maradana will agree to it, we always treat our muslim and hindu friends as brothers, so u better ask about it from a muslim that lives in maradana before writing kindofshit like this, wt kind of research you’re doing definitely it may be pointless and worthless shit, so pls remove ur dumptruck outta here from the internet without insulting the respectable scls like ananda and nalanda & also we have nothing to do with ur childhood issues, really sorry abt it. so pls dont try to teach the way of respecting the other religions to anandians and nalandians, who ate wadai from dawalagiri and biriyani from sultan.

  • 6
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    The irony of a girl living in the US writing about a perceived disconnect a certain class of Sri Lankans may have with the rest of society. This is basically the rant of a 13 year old child, complete with petulance, ad hominem, and directing insecurities towards a certain social class. Your labeling is very revealing of your classism and incompetence. Better luck next time, since you have ruined the minute credibility you had.

  • 9
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    A kid trying to act all grown up. Thisuri. please know your facts. You are no differnt from the ex alien girl who made a fool out of her self on youtube. You do the same but misleading and incorrect information.

  • 1
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    Her problem is not with big matches or parades, her problem is with Sinhala culture.
    So the confused little moron is trying to draw a long bow from the idiotic behavior of school kids during the match season to her pet hate.
    Does this idiot understand big matches have nothing to do with Sinhala culture? Does she know who introduced big matches and which schools started them? But wait – her issue is with the Buddhist schools.
    She is as much an idiot as the idiots she writes about.

  • 3
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    I really feel sorry for the author. To crave publicity so much that she has to write something so silly makes me wonder whether she has some attention-seeking disorder or suffering from verbal diarrhea.
    The funniest part of this rant (shouldn’t call it an article) is that she seems totally lost as to what she is targeting or criticizing. Every point she makes, she tries to relate back to a big matches or parades (which I agree are a stupid practice that should have no place in the Sri Lankan culture).
    To quote:
    The Sinhala-Buddhist centric schools conveniently forgot to teach their kids that racism is a reflection of one’s lack of education. Someone go to the “Battle of the Maroons” to see how blissfully ignorant and backward a majority of boys in these schools are. The racism is a whole other level.

    Really I think this says it all. She has no idea what she is talking about, and has not given any examples of racism, but just shows that her problem is with Sinhala-Buddhist culture. Really if you want to talk about big matches and stupid behaviour, start with Battle Of the Blues or Battle Of the Saints. However the author doesn’t only has her bravado to criticise the native culture. And to do that she is trying to link it to some big match which is totally unrelated.

  • 0
    0

    Very good article. Yet, It doesn’t mean that women need to shorten down their dress.. Men are wearing western dresses, yet they don’t cut short the length of the dress… Absurd argument….

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