James Williams, lecturer in education at the School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex, writes:
Let’s picture the scene.
You enter the room and the class have split into two factions, lined up on opposite sides of the room, facing each other. Individuals are accusing others on the opposite side of lies and betrayal. The gang leaders make snide comments, rude comparisons and accuse each other of lying or being unable to control their gang. The noise is deafening and gang members are waving their exercise books in the air and howling. You shout out to draw attention to yourself, but they seem to ignore you. Again you shout, but the noise does not abate. Eventually some, noticing the exasperation in your voice and your agitated posture, begin to quieten down. Finally you have order, order, order.
The scene of course is not a classroom, but the debating chamber of the House of Commons. Rarely in my teaching career have I ever seen such insolent, rude and defiant behaviour in a classroom. Yet some would have us believe that schools are lawless zones where such behaviour is a matter of course.
Children do imitate, they take on the positions, opinions and sometimes the characteristics of their parents. They conform to the type of behaviours exhibited by their peers and others, such pop stars, footballers and media personalities. As teachers we seek to provide positive role models for behaviour. Teachers caught drunk driving stand to lose their job. Certainly a serious drug conviction or theft could end their career in a stroke. But day after day what do we see on the television and read about in the papers? MPs fiddling expenses and some of the worst behaviour – bar an all-out fight – that is seen on television. This is not fiction, this is not contrived reality. This is supposedly the heart of the British establishment filled with the elite of society, elected by the people to serve the people. Yet all we see is loutish behaviour.
These people are supposed to be our representatives in government. They will not all have led blameless lives, but I would argue that they are all honour bound to behave, to be respectful and to set a positive example. The fact that some MPs now stay away from Prime Minister’s Question Time due to the rowdy behaviour of a bunch of ill-mannered MPs speaks volumes. There are some excellent MPs who are respectful, who are models of good behaviour. But one thing is certain: the House really needs to clean up its act. If it was subject to Ofsted, on the behaviour of the ‘pupils’ alone, it would surely be placed in special measures.
So before MPs (from whichever party) start criticising behaviour in our schools, take a long hard look at your own behaviour. You are setting the example, you are telling those who watch your rude antics that this is how a civilised elite behaves. And then you wonder why children answer back, ignore their teachers and think that he/she who shouts loudest wins.
My advice to Mr Speaker Bercow? Take a leaf out of Michael Gove’s book. Punish the miscreants in the chamber with litter picking duty – there’s plenty on the streets of London to keep them occupied.
Follow James on twitter @edujdw