Emotional literacy

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Yob Nation: The Truth about Britain's Yob Culture By Francis Gilbert Portrait Books pound;10.99

Francis Gilbert has travelled throughout the UK interviewing the perpetrators and victims of violence, aggression and anti-social behaviour.

Weaving these stories into a strong narrative, the author builds a case for his assertion that "yobbery" has become not just a problem of the young and the poor, but that the whole of society has become coarser and more violent. The book is a page-turner, sweeping the reader along with grimly fascinating stories.

For a teacher, some of the stories of terrifying youths ring all too true.

These young people on the margins are described as having no boundaries or morals, no empathy for other people's pain, and a desperate desire to be seen as tough and uncompromising. But there are graphic accounts of violence, bullying and humiliation in the senior ranks of the army, the media, the city, international banks and political parties.

Meanwhile, the stories of the victims of violence and intimidation are sad and frightening. Anyone could be the next statistic in the tenfold rise in violent crime since 1979.

Perhaps the most insightful parts of the book are those where the author and his interviewees try to make sense of what is happening. A variety of causes of yobbery are proffered. One, is parents who are authoritarian and paranoid, believing nobody but them can impose boundaries on their child.

Another, is the fact that many young people do not get the right sort of quality contact with adults, and are influenced instead by their peers.

Mike Batten, a magistrate, feels that "pupils and teachers have had their territories stripped away from them both literally and metaphorically...

The pupils' response has been to claim some space for their own: the classrooms and corridors of the schools, even if that means abusing teachers in the process."

The most pervasive cause of yobbery is seen as the fact that responsible adults no longer feel able to challenge yobbish behaviour. Gilbert believes we need to make it much more shameful to get brazenly drunk or "off your face" on any drug. He suggests parents and children need to be better educated about how to behave.

There is clear potential for the citizenship curriculum in schools here.

Good citizenship education involves parents and the local community in school life, but schools could be empowered to go beyond this and to be accountable to the local community. Gilbert also says schools need to provide a more meaningful education for pupils who don't want to participate in the national curriculum.

Hilary Cremin Director of the Centre for Citizenship Studies in Education, University of Leicester

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