F***ing civics for the yobs

12th January 2001 at 00:00
How do we mesh current thinking on citizenship with today's 'youf' culture? Ian Whitwham imagines this scenario:

JEREMY Paxman is grilling the Home Secretary, who rehearses some nostrums concerning sin, civics and curfews.

Yob culture: we must challenge it. We must be Gary Cooper - in street and classroom. Stand up to the bad guys - such as Dave Mania, pupil and citizen of this parish. "But they'll tell you to f*** off, won't they?" muses Paxman.

Dave creates havoc. He lays waste to precinct, classroom, alley, car park and wasteland. There he is - standing under the Westway well past his bedtime. He is edgy, wretched - and perhaps chemically-distracted. The red mist descends. I must hail the nitwit, curtail his twilight japes and usher him back to the hearth. "But they'll tell you to f*** off, won't they?" Or worse.

There he is at the football. At Chelsea for example... "We will never be mastered by f-ing foreign bastards!" he trills. His whole team's full of them. I should challenge the brute's inconsistencies. Give him some civics. Get my head kicked in.

At Wembley too... "Stand up if you won the war!" he bays at the Germans. Your liberal nerves twitch. You want to challenge them. But you don't want to challenge the depleted NHS casualty units.

I'm running around Worm-wood Scrubs - the modern teacher must keep well-honed for the classroom. I look like Emil Zatopek on Ketamine. A wheezing four-eyed beetroot heap. I pass a group of boys killing time on a park bench - some former and present pupils on ciggies and Special Brew. A crushed can bounces in my wake. I afford them dark mirth. They hail me and urge me to venture elsewhere quickly, as Jeremy suggested they might well do.

I must challenge this. By lap two, I am deemed an f-ing orphan Muppet whose immediate future isn't at all rosy. By lap three it is mooted that my deficient vision is onsequent on self-love. By lap four it is raucously posited that my gender, sexual proclivities, legitimacy, existence and trainers aren't up to requirements. Lap five could well be the last thing I ever do. The air is purple with obscenities way beyond Mr Paxman's musings. Way beyond the more fashionable "Your Mum". "F- off" has the currency of low-rent deference.

There is no lap six. They win. I want to walk home. I ponder a lecture on civics. And breaking their noses like Twiglets. And dismembering the bastards. And setting the prison dogs on the blighters...But I walk on home. It's past my curfew.

School isn't as bad as real life. Dave occurs much less. But he's around. Here he comes stomping, chewing, flying down the corridor with mobile, headphones, ciggies - cussing and dissin' and raving. I must be seen to "do something", I'm in charge around here.

He might just tell me to f- off.

The swearing is feckless, random. Of course I must challenge it. I spend too much time on these showdowns. Civilisation is probably collapsing as we know it. But am I over-reacting? Is "f-ing" little more than "street" for "rather"? I unleash a little civics on the seventh year.

"Did you have swearing in the olden days, sir?" says a round-faced boy in the back row.

Yes, it was a capital offence. Beyond the pale. You washed your mouth out with Lifebuoy soap. You got excommunicated. From the Home Counties, the grammar school.

I must challenge yob culture but they are tedious negotiations. I go selectively deaf and blind and zoom off - otherwise I might be late for the lesson and my line manager might bring this to my attention.

And I might tell him to venture elsewhere quickly. His Mum.

Ian Whitwham teaches in a London secondary school. Contributions for this slot are invited from education practitioners. E-mail jeremy.sutcliffe@tes.co.uk

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