Beware of ferret brigade

16th April 2004 at 01:00
One of our visiting speakers was called "Cat". Around here most of the female advisers share this name while nearly all the men are called "Rob".

Hence the new expression "it's reigning Cats and Robs". A much older, African saying, however, was behind Cat's message to us today - "it takes a whole village to educate a child".

Most of the teacher audience quietly translated this as "Don't blame teachers, blame the parents" and thus applauded heartily. No disrespect to Cat but I do question whether the "village" is the way ahead. I wonder whether we might be better advised to shut villages out from the educational process altogether. Do they really offer children the essential social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual infrastructure claimed?

My pupils use the word "village" to describe events reckoned to be slightly naff. "Sounds a bit village to me" is what the in-crowd say when discussing a nice-but-dull girl's birthday party.

Secondary school teachers tend to take a similarly dim view of villages.

Brutish behaviour from pupils from outlying regions is blamed on the supposed ritual incest there. "It's the inbreeding" is the default explanation - a prejudice marked in those who have spent many hours on after-school bus duty. Waiting in foul weather for the battered charabanc to Little Bleakwood to turn up is bound to foster dark thoughts. The eight silent children begin to seem stranger and uglier by the minute.

Pupils in today's villages hardly benefit educationally from any form of community bonding. The only kind of community leader they regularly meet there is our unemployable former pupil Shane. At 19, Shane has become the guru of the village rec. He sits there side-saddle on his moped, puffs on a cigar and inspires numerous current pupils with gripping tales of his illicit drug-taking, thieving and vandalism, mostly at our school. Shane does at least provide our village pupils with some friendship and stability which must be welcome given some of the other locals who loom in the neighbourhood. Large, semi-feral families with stark surnames like "Bogley" and "Fegg" have been unsettling us for generations. With their world of ferrets, car re-sprays and recreational violence they have probably been sending a cold disturbing chill down the spines of children in the village for centuries. No wonder so many of these pupils wear a permanent, distracted expression. And I haven't even mentioned the effects of all those fetes and village hall barn dances. Yes, it takes a whole village to agitate a child.

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