Educated Savages: Why Enlightened Kenyans Resort to Primitive Acts

A question that has probably lurked in the mind of anyone who has followed the unfolding story of bullying at Alliance High School is this: How could students who perform so well academically descend to such depths of brutality?
Senior counsel John Khaminwa (left) tries to calm a charged lawyer, Edwin Sifuna, after chaos erupted during the Law Society of Kenya's Annual General Meeting on March 21, 2015 at Hilton Hotel as the society's president Eric Mutua (far back) looks on . PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Senior counsel John Khaminwa (left) tries to calm a charged lawyer, Edwin Sifuna, after chaos erupted during Law SOciety of Kenya’s Annual General Meeting on March 21, 2015. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The name Alliance High School is synonymous with academic excellence in Kenyan secondary school education. It is the school that every hard-working Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) candidate dreams of attending.

Some of the most notable minds in Kenya’s public offices were honed in Alliance High School. From former Chief Justice Evan Gicheru, Senators Amos Wako and Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, to veteran newspaper editor Philip Ochieng, just to name a few, the school boasts of being the anvil upon which great minds were shaped.

This is why the recent bullying incident came to many outsiders of the school as a great shock. But the incident is neither new nor isolated to those who attended the school. It should not be news. The famed “monolisation” has been a rite of passage in Kenyan secondary schools for decades — and Alliance High School was no exception. So why the gasps from those outside looking in?

The incident has made headlines for two main reasons. First, social media and easily accessible camera phones ensured that the public got a sneak preview into what goes on inside our high schools. I bet this was not even the first time someone has bled from a bullying experience. But it was the first time images of the same made it out of the school compound.

The second reason the story made headlines is that Alliance High School has the reputation of being the tower of academic excellence in Kenya. For some strange reason, we tend to associate academic brilliance with civility. It seems obvious enough. We consider ourselves better than the caveman because we are “more educated” and civilized. But is this true?

Brainiacs

If our members of parliament are anything to go by, we should be very wary of correlating academic achievement with civility. We have all seen the numerous episodes that have occasioned the favorite newspaper headline “Drama as MPs….” And if that example seems like an outlier, we all remember what happened at a Law Society of Kenya meeting when some members demanded a building project.

There is no scientific evidence to support the common assumption that education will inoculate human beings against their baser savage selves. Education may make us more sophisticated in how we express that violent side of us, but it in no way guarantees world peace.

The term brainiac, which was first used in the Superman comics as the name of a supremely intelligent alien character, is derived from a blend of brain and maniac. Even the most educated of us are not immune from brainiac tendencies. In fact, they may be the most savage since they are more able to justify their behaviour and reason or argue themselves out of any wrongdoing.

Bullies are us

But we should not be surprised that students students in Alliance High School are bullies any more than we should be surprised that some students in the same school have a flu. Bullying happens when young people direct towards their peers frustrations, hurt, anger and difficulties at home or in class.

Bullying happens when young people lack attention from friends, parents or teachers. They will bully just to get a high, feel popular and be seen as ‘tough’ or ‘cool’ and in charge. Bullying happens when bad upbringing at home makes young people insensitive to other people’s feelings and emotions. They are happy to see their classmate depressed, sad and hurt.

The news about bullying in Alliance High School is a few decades too late. It should not be news. But the story of educated people behaving badly is as old as the age of humanity. It should not surprise us at all.

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