“JENKINS! That’s the last time you call me a useless twat in class. Detention for you. How does next Thursday sound? Oh, that’s football night… OK, how about the following Tuesday?”
Inevitably, sooner or later, you look back at your childhood with those rose tinted glasses and begin your sentence with those fateful words “When I were a lad…”
Although not quite in the rosy sense, I do recall a time when children were answerable for their actions. You know, back when family values had at least some semblance of meaning.
From what I can tell, kids haven’t changed much in the 20-odd years since I was at school. They’re more desensitized thanks to the mass media, but essentially there’s very little new about core bad behaviour. We did all the same stuff; what’s changed is society’s attitude towards it, which makes a marked difference in the wider perception of youth (and had the Internet existed, no doubt my dad would have blogged about a similar decline when I was a child).
Currently, in classical school teaching, if a pupil swears at a teacher or beats someone up, the teacher has to make a decision based on the severity of the offence:
- Detain pupil at breaktime or lunch
- Schedule an after school detention at some time in the future
Neither are much of a deterrent because the first requires personal sacrifice (no coffee) and the second is easily dodged: the child simply doesn’t bother coming to school on the day of detention. The option conspicuously missing from the list — a trip to the head’s office — doesn’t seem to happen any more because the head is too busy filing paperwork with the LEA or massaging performance figures to worry about behaviour.
Sidestepping the dubious role of school in society as a whole, the main problem with today’s schooling compared with yesteryear’s is that teachers are not allowed to detain pupils after school without arranging a method for said pupil to make it home safely. If the school bus has gone or there’s nobody available to pick them up, they can’t be detained; which is bloody ridiculous.
If I ever screwed up at school I could have been either:
- kept in at break or lunch with a cohort of other naughty kids
- sent to the headmaster
- kept after school that day
On many levels, that’s a remarkable difference in deterrent to do it again, without resorting to the cane of my dad’s era. If I was kept after school, my parents would have been informed and I’d either have to find my own way home or they would have to come and pick me up. Chances are it’d be the latter.
Imagine you, as a parent, were inconvenienced (not to say embarrassed) to have to turn up to collect your child for being bad at school, it would probably mean talking with the head teacher about preventative measures, certainly stern words in the car, and likely a restriction of home privileges.
Cutting this out of the loop and taking away a) accountability for a child’s own actions, b) the teacher’s ability to deliver a fitting punishment, and c) the vital link between school and parent, was the end of the road for morality and a slippery slope towards declining standards in acceptable social behaviour.
The scary future of education
So why are we pussying around? Bad policy? European legislation? Human rights? Court of appeal? All of the above play their part for sure; giving children rights without responsibility was a huge negative step. But tackling the real issue — the parent/school relationship — should be highest on the list for true recovery.
Parents, who are already stressed to the max in today’s climate, need to feel they can care — to be empowered with the knowledge they can make a difference — in the day to day running of a family. And in times of crisis they should feel capable to support the school’s decisions instead of undermining its authority. Currently that’s very difficult with the “them and us” culture that’s being nurtured.
I have fond memories of school but I certainly don’t respect today’s system (as an entity, staffed by incredible people who are hamstrung by ill-thought legislation and counter-productive statistical targets) to the point that I’m seriously considering not letting my tot be any part of it.
And when people like me — fairly balanced, I like to imagine — are thinking like this, things are very, very wrong.