June 30, 2010 Leave a comment
Two occasions to think seriously about the ever ongoing issue of drugs and the possibility of drugs legalisation popped into public view this month. The first encountered was in my own backyard. The reaction of friends and relations to hearing that six students have just been expelled for smoking cannabis from my five-year old daughter’s school (no – not including my daughter) was the predictable one of the exclamation ‘I thought that’s what Bedales was all about!’ Well yes, cannabis was once tolerated there, and newspaper coverage included photos of the usual suspects dad Mick Jagger and expelled pupil Lily Allen, as though the current expulsions are (perversely) proof of a still continuing liberalness – Bedales being a school favoured by pop stars and media people for their children to go to.
In fact there seems now to be a determined effort at Bedales to ‘normalise’ the school and bring it much more in line with others generally – and with, (so we are told by head teacher Keith Budge), the blessing of the parents themselves, a peculiar situation if many of these parents were or are cannabis smokers - suggesting considerable hypocrisy all round.
One of the reasons I sent my daughter to this school was that I believed Bedales to be a place where children were taught to think for themselves and to argue out issues – drugs of course being a particularly pertinent issue for teenagers to discuss. I believed Bedales to be a school which stood up for the pupil against ‘authority’. Wouldn’t it be more constructive to remove the current zero tolerance measures over cannabis possession, not to expel the students, but rather to involve them directly in a debate about whether cannabis should or should not be legalised.
Of course put against the notoriety and street cred that can potentially be achieved by (strong-willed) individuals that option starts to feel rather worthy. But there is another way of looking at this, as shown by the recent article by Johann Hari in the Independent which deals with precisely the same war on drugs at the larger geographical scale; and in comparing today’s war with the prohibitionists of the 1920s it is of course the ‘well-meaning’ prohibitionists who look worthy. There is the irony indeed – as Hari points out – that many of the alcohol prohibitionists regarded themselves as progressives – and indeed they were on many other issues. John Badley – the founder of Bedales – was himself a non-smoker and non-drinker. Yet, it seems to me that the principles of individual responsibility and thoughtfulness should far outweigh any individual pecadillos of the founder. Isn’t the war on drugs in Bedales (and Bedales has now, it seems, become merely a common example) a macrocosm of the global war on drugs, one that has caused, and continues to cause, misery around the world, even to the extent – as in Colombia – of tearing countries apart. Proper drugs education should begin in the classroom, and one could certainly start by pointing out the sloppy unthinking categorisation of drugs in Bedales’ own parents handbook: dangerous drugs -instant expulsion; smoking (tobacco one assumes?) – grounding only; alcohol – tolerated in school under ‘controlled conditions’. Since when, I ask, were tobacco and alcohol ever themselves not ‘dangerous drugs’?