ATSP ED Newsletter January 2017 – The Silent Assassin

Some years ago a senior pupil in an ATS school was dared by his friends to do something repulsive, demeaning and humiliating to one of his fellow Sixth Formers in front of the rest of the Sixth Form body. The friends ensured the door was closed and everyone was watching when the young man fulfilled his dare, to the apparent amusement of many. While the young man wholly deserved the serious punishment he received, the Head reserved his sharpest criticism for the whole of the Sixth Form, who had all known what was about to happen but did and said nothing – no-one tried to stop him and no-one called a teacher to stop him. They will have argued it had nothing to do with them.

Such an attitude is alarming yet also inconsistent. If any one of them saw their friend hurtling towards a cliff they would do everything possible to stop them – shout, gesticulate, pull back, whatever, failing which they would call an adult to try to drill some sense into them. Yet when people see their friend hurtling towards trouble at school, they say nothing; they do nothing; they call no-one. They stand by their beloved ‘Code of Silence’.

Two old songs come to mind that will surely date me. The first is the 1963 classic ‘The Sound of Silence’ which speaks of the ‘darkness’ such silence brings, of the restlessness it stirs up, and the sad bare fact that “No-one dare disturb the sound of silence.” The reality is that in our schools, and therefore it is no surprise that in our country as well, the SILENCE IS DEAFENING. Pupils have been told to stay silent, to say proudly “I know nothing”, like Manuel in the comedy ‘Fawlty Towers’. They do not speak up when someone does something wrong to them or to others, whether it is physical, emotional, sexual, whether it be prefects, peers, teachers or parents. They, like many in the country, abide by the ‘Code of Silence’.

The second song came ten years later, with the haunting ‘Killing Me Softly’ (“with his words”), only in our case our young people today are killing themselves slowly with their (and our) silence. The SILENCE IS DEADENING. Silence is an assassin (the very word, ass-as-sin, may also remind us that we are an ‘ass’ to accept it; and it is a ‘sin’). As ‘The Sound of Silence’ said, “Fools, said I, you do not know, Silence, like a cancer, grows”. Young people are dying gradually within because no-one will listen to their cries, no-one will allow them to speak, no-one will speak. The word ‘silence’ is subtly changed into its anagram ‘license’ and ‘silence’ quietly becomes a ‘license to kill’.

Martin Luther King Junior said that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Let us be clear – these things matter. We simply cannot allow a ‘Code of Silence’ to prevail in our schools, in our homes or in our country. Like watchmen of old, if we see something and do not speak out, we also are to be held accountable for what happens – pupils, parents, staff, citizens. Let us make sure our lives do not end now.

I hope these words will not fall “like silent raindrops”. For further thoughts on the matter, check the ATS website for another article, “Mum’s The Word!” (http://www.atschisz.co.zw/category/parents-articles/ ).

Strength to you as you speak with your children to help them break the Code of Silence.

T.D. MIDDLETON, Executive Director ATS