A week or two ago Oliver Letwin announced that he thought that what public servants needed was more ‘fear and discipline’, apparently we’re slackers, crap at our jobs, lazily plugging our way through our incompetent careers to get to our ‘gold plated’ pension as early as possible. But then, it’s not Letwin who was out on the streets last night (9th August), not Letwin trying to be in two places at once and not Letwin who will face the very young people who are running riot today, in his classroom in September. Nope, that will be me and thousands of other teachers hoping to survive until they are old enough to retire.
Fear and discipline – perhaps I’ll try that in September, I’ll go for a locked down seating plan, pens and paper (obviously I prefer slates but they might get thrown). I’ll have silent classes and I’ll use humiliation, sarcasm, threats and exclusion to get my subject across. Then I’ll move on to recitation and the writing of lines – that should work – not.
It won’t work for two reasons. Hell! The kids know their rights, they know what a good lesson is supposed to be – interesting, lively and directed at results, no one must shout at them, being disciplined in class is a mark one opportunity for a parental complaint, closely followed by complaints about boredom, and then the actual subject matter (which is often their choice – odd!). That’s one reason I won’t use fear and discipline, but the other reason is much more important and that is that I greet my students with respect first.
Oh my God! (OMG in Blackberry) I hear you cry, you wet liberal namby pamby you and your attitude are single handedly responsible for the riots. I said ‘first’. Respect can be withdrawn at any time if behaviour merits it, but if you want to know why I do it, I do it because it gets results and by results – yes I do mean those namby pamby liberal values of creativity and sitting still without talking, but I also mean those pesky figures that look so nice on a league table – exam results.
Now, admittedly, greeting students with respect can be a challenge in some cases, but I start with that intention, in the hope, usually rewarded, that they will respect me. I am not a subscriber to the ‘don’t smile at them until Christmas’ attitude, although that does cost sometimes. However, I accept that my approach is not a majority approach, government and a large majority of the country favour ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and it starts early.
On a recent flight back from Madrid a young mother struggled with two toddlers who screamed. She was brilliant with them, did all the right things, we were right next to her so we used our skills to indulge in child distraction, which worked, up to a point, but there was no easy answer, just patience and understanding. It was a fraught flight, a bird in the engine raised tension, but that did not excuse the English on the plane glaring, and making comments such as ‘put a sock in it’.
We want children because we want workers, because we want pensions, because we want growth, because we need someone to look after us when we are old, but we don’t want to put the effort into raising great kids, we want those children to behave like adults from the moment they are born to the moment they are independent and we certainly don’t want to hear what they have to say, or for them to have choices, or worse to be given respect before they have earned it.
To that end we send them to school too early, panic if they don’t read like Einstein (sorry bad example I don’t think he spoke until he was four, loser!) We argue incessantly about how to educate them, and every time they achieve something, we belittle it with talk of slipping standards.
A recent survey by Barnados identified that over 50% of young people volunteer to do something whilst approximately 50% of the population think that young people are dangerous. Recent events will aggravate the latter, whilst the kids cleaning up after the riots won’t be a story.
The clumsy and massive rise in tuition fees for 2012, put students on the streets in their thousands, some damage was done in the name of occupation, some
students surrounded and protected a police car to prevent it being torched, and while they were kettled for hours in the cold, they did their homework and they cooperated, largely with the police, to the extent that Edward Woollard’s mother gave him up to the police, only to find his life ruined by one act of stupidity and a truly harsh sentence, if it was meant as a deterrent, it failed. Mothers who remember that, are probably not too keen on cooperating with the police this time around, and this time around the parents themselves are probably disenfranchised and struggling with poverty and a history of their own bad parenting, so some of them are driving to Currys to pick up their kids and the loot.
The appalling behaviour and damage to lives cannot be condoned, it cannot be ignored and it cannot go unpunished, but neither can we lose sight of the fact that we do not want it to happen again. The kids on the street this time are younger than the students but what they see ahead is that even the privileged kids, privileged either by wealth or work, are losing their access to the future, what hope then for the academically challenged, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks? What of the kids whose mothers drove them to the riots to pick up the goods? What point in hard work? And as for respect who will give them that now? Even as I write a young girl is screaming at a BBC reporter ‘They don’t give us respect, they’re rude, if they give us respect we’ll give them respect.” The chances are all they will get is ‘fear and discipline’.