It was supposed to be a party with balloons and a birthday cake but the eight-year-old Swedish boy had not reckoned on his country’s obsession with equality and inclusiveness. Two of his classmates were left off the invitation list – and that, deemed his school – was forbidden and a violation of their rights in the strictest “nanny state” in Europe.Mr Hansson is evidently also an advocate of revised spelling: specifically, he seems to believe that fascist is spelt l-i-b-e-r-a-l.
The case has been sent to the Swedish parliament and has sparked a national debate about individual liberty. Does a child have the right to invite anyone he wants to a party, even if he risks hurting the feelings of those who were left out?
Before the beginning of lessons the boy had cheerfully threaded his way through the class handing out invitations. When the teacher spotted that two children had not received one he confiscated the invitations.
“One of the children had not invited my son to his own birthday party,” explained the father of the boy, who lodged an official complaint with the parliamentary ombudsman. “The other one had been bad to my son for six months. You do not invite your antagonists.”
That was not convincing enough for the headmaster or government deputies. “I believe the staff acted correctly, in a model way,” said Lars Hansson, of the Swedish Liberal party, one of the four ruling coalition partners in the country.“It is their duty to reject any forms of insulting behaviour. To eliminate individual children from parties is not acceptable.”
I assume that the basis of this decision lies in the belief - exhibited in this country by those who oppose the eleven plus on the grounds that it "stigmatises" those who fail it, or who dislike competitive sports in schools because not everyone gets to win - that children must never have their feelings hurt. In fact the precise opposite is true: upsetting as not being invited to a party (or failing an exam, or losing at football) may be, it is itself a vital part of the social learning process. In just the same way as it's better to learn about death when one loses one's rabbit at the age of eight, than when one loses one's parent at thirty, so it's better to become hardened to - or at least aware of the possibility of - rejection (or, as Lars Hansson puts it "insulting behaviour") with small childhood instances like this, than with something really important in adulthood. Wrapping children in cotton wool will only harm them in the long run.
Even disregarding this point, however, the notion of a society in which the guest list at a child's party is a matter for the state is simply bizarre. The Times also notes that:
Lena Nyberg, the Children’s Ombudsman, is waging a campaign against collective punishment in schools too. Children have been complaining to her about the way that entire classes are kept behind after hours to punish an offence committed by a single pupil.It seems that, for Swedish liberals, children are individuals when facing the prospect of a small dose of old-fashioned discipline. When it comes to their birthday parties, however, they, and their parents, are very much subject to the collectivist norms of the state.