Geneva convention student war crimes

Photo via Mason Cross/Twitter

11-year-old claims classroom punishment violates Geneva Convention—and she’s right (kind of)

She's not backing down.


Josh Katzowitz

Internet Culture

Posted on May 25, 2017   Updated on May 24, 2021, 1:10 pm CDT

Everybody has had the most terrible teacher of all time, the ones who won’t extend the due date on your research paper even though you’re totally hungover, or the ones who say shit like, “The bell doesn’t dismiss you; I dismiss you.” Or, if you’re still in elementary school, it’s the ones who make you put the blocks away before you’re done constructing the princess castle.

But one girl is fighting back against her instructor’s oppression. By accusing her of some awfully serious criminal activity in what was probably a fairly innocuous student survey.

This, from the 11-year-old’s father.

Obviously, the creativity shown by his daughter should lead her to some ice cream. But let’s take a quick look at what the 1949 Geneva Convention actually says about collective punishment.

According to article 33 in the fourth convention, the treaty states, “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.” Meanwhile in article 50 of the same convention, it states, “No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible.”

So by the letter of the treaty, it appears that Mason Cross’s daughter is absolutely correct.

(For what it’s worth, pillaging is also prohibited in section 33, but that’s another story for another day.)

So, would it actually be illegal if, say, a teacher punished an entire class by making it leave recess early because of one disruptive kid? Or if a teacher assigned the whole class an extra chapter of reading for homework because one shitty student couldn’t get his act together?

One annoyed mother tried to figure it out in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in a 2014 article. After learning her third-grader couldn’t enjoy recess with his class because of others’ shenanigans, she wrote:

See, the teacher, as do many teachers in the [school district] and all over our country like to use collective punishment as a tool to punish not only the children who misbehave and act out violently but the whole class, which suffers and pays for their misconduct. When I expressed my concern to the administration, I was told the kids were expected to “act as a team.” After speaking with other district parents recently, I find this is pretty common …


How often do we as adults tell our children to not give in to peer pressure? Collective punishment is basically school administrators and teachers trying to use peer pressure to bully or guilt kids into behaving. Schools should be teaching and promoting personal responsibility in the individual, not following or coercing peers in a group and certainly not punishing kids for other’s actions. I tell my son to not follow the group, and be your own boss. Just because other kids do or say or think something doesn’t mean you should do it too. Unfortunately the concept of collective punishment undermines my authority at home and it confuses kids who try their best to do the right thing. Teachers use collective punishment because they’re either too lazy to come up with an alternative method or too overwhelmed to deal with issues appropriately or one on one.

But that doesn’t answer the question whether this unnamed teacher could be accused of a war crime. The answer is probably not, considering the school isn’t engaged in a war and likely isn’t located in an occupied territory.

So, the teacher most likely is NOT a war criminal.

But that didn’t stop the 11-year-old from getting her treat anyway. See, she learned something this year after all.

H/T Someecards

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*First Published: May 25, 2017, 3:40 pm CDT