Friday, December 2, 2011

"A boy is more than just a boy; he is an individual"

You'll never believe who said this! (Hint, it wasn't me, although it is a statement I believe wholeheartedly.)

The problem is, individuality wasn't exactly valued at Linton Hall Military School. I would go as far as saying that individuality was something to be suppressed.

We were forced to dress alike, have identical haircuts, march in the same way and to the same count to and from the classrooms, the cafeteria, the shower room.

Our beds were made in the identical way, with the same color blankets, the top blanket the same distance from the top of the bed so that when looking at a row of beds they all lined up, and next to our beds we had to have our slippers and toilet kit placed a certain way. I wonder how we even recognized which was our bed, in a dorm with three rows of approximately 16 beds each. During the day, we could recognize our bathrobe over the chair, since bathrobes did not have to have a uniform color or pattern. (I am surprised that they did not make us buy the identical color and pattern of bathrobe and pajamas. Maybe it's because they didn't manufacture them in camouflage patterns or with prints of hand grenades and rocket launchers.) But I am still not sure how we recognized our own beds in the evening, when our uniforms werehung on the chair -- all uniforms hung the same way, of course.

In our lockers everyone had to store the same pieces of clothing on the same shelves as everyone else, the towels and washcloths folded a certain way, even our underwear had to be folded a certain way, with two folds into the approximation of a square, as close to a square as a pair of white cotton briefs can be.

How about personalizing the inside of your locker, like kids do with their school lockers everywhere else? Not at Linton Hall! Shortly after I arrived at Linton Hall, I put a sticker on the inside of my locker, a small sticker about 3x3 inches at most, just an animal sticker, nothing controversial or offensive, and an officer made me remove it. Another kid had a miniature poster, small enough to stick on the inside of the door of his locker, and had to remove it as well. The poster bore the words "The Leaning Tower of Pizza" and had a drawing of a stack of pizzas that looked like the Tower of Pisa.

We were almost always called only by our last names. When I look through my old yearbooks I am surprised to see the first names of alumni whose last names I remember; for most of them, their first name seems to be an obscure piece of information.

I have to admit that when I was an officer I had trouble remembering everyone's name; part of it may be that I'm not that good with names, part of it may be that they pretty much all looked alike, but the worst part is, I didn't really care to get to know them as individuals. The boys in my grade, yes, but the boys under my command, I'm ashamed to admit this, were just a crowd to be controlled, much like a cowboy herds cattle, I suppose.

The priest didn't even bother learning our names. He just called everyone "Charley." Some saw it as a funny quirk, or the opportunity to enjoy seeing a kid who had been called "Charley" the first time, argue that his name wasn't Charley, but something else. To me, it felt humiliating, as offensive as an African American would have felt at being called "Boy." Of course, he was one of the adults, and I couldn't say anything.

This smothering of individuality goes beyond the annoying. Child psychologists (notably Erik Erikson) have recognized the need to develop a sense of self and identity, distinct from others. This is something very primal, that manifests itself in how kids choose to dress, wear their hair, and decorate their school locker and home bedroom. This is something we were strongly denied.

I will reveal the source of the quote which is the title of this post, in a future post. You will not believe who said it!

Copyright 2011 by "Linton Hall Cadet."
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This blog is not affiliated with Linton Hall Military School and all opinions are those of the author. Comments are always welcome; please do not use your name or names of others.

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