Grown-ups' rules...ok!

5th November 2004 at 00:00
From time to time in this confusing age, one feels one's inner Victorian nonconformist rising up. He roars against immodesty and prescribes the birch, the alienist, and a generally brusque line with moral imbeciles.

Obviously, as a non-judgmental 21st century liberal, one slaps down this hellfire zealot in one's head and returns hastily to a milky modern consensus in which provocative, priapic, promiscuous and generally trollopy carryings-on are tolerated with a smile.

Live and let live, eh? Watch another episode of Sex And The City, refrain from speculating on how often the characters in Friends would have had chlamydia, and forbid yourself from putting a brick through the TV when Trinny and Susannah nag another harmless frump into wearing tight clothes on the grounds that it is everybody's duty to be a walking sexual self-advertisement.

But sometimes the demented puritan breaks out and will not be denied. It happened to me last week, reading Kate Myers' remarks about her new book Teachers Behaving Badly?, on the problem of predatory students who use sexuality against teachers. It is, she says, increasingly common for staff to be intimidated with obscene phone calls and text messages, propositions, assaults, sneery flirtation and generally sexualised aggression.

The old problem of a pupil falling romantically in love with a teacher is also considered, but that is - though embarrassing or tempting - at least part of the normal bumpy course of human romance. What made the blood run cold were the stories of children, encouraged to think of themselves as sexual players from an increasingly early age, using that ancient power to score off the poor devils at the chalkface.

It need not be a proposition: one boy cited "displayed a calculating hardness...he was particularly stylish in his public chivalry; he could open a door for a (woman) teacher with a flourish that was at once courteous and threatening". Little bastard! Can't you just see him - burly for his age, rejoicing in his manhood, bragging to his mates about what he could do to Miss X if he got her up a dark alley?

Perdition seize, too, the false accusers who bring allegations as revenge; woe betide the nasty little girls who use biology to unnerve male teachers, the breast-thrusters and hip-swayers and smart-ass little madams who use their alleged time-of-the-month to embarrass poor sweating lads fresh out of PGCE.

And a pox on those born gorgeous, who use their unearned pulling-power to fuel triumphalist jeers at short, fat or bald pedagogues. Undermining and humiliating teachers is not a new sport, but according to Myers and NASUWT officers this newly sophisticated sexual edge is an underrated problem.

Ultra-wets will say that the children are "troubled" and must be gently taught not be "inappropriate". Tough nuts will say that teachers should cope. Naive optimists will imagine that juvenile sexual aggression is too jejune to bother with.

But all, I think, are wrong. Certainly a physically attractive, domestically secure teacher will find it easier to handle; but if you suffer the slightest private unease, disappointment or insecurity the effect of suggestive harassment from nasty teenagers must be devastating: a source of real unhappiness, if not professional disaster.

The consensus seems to be that special teacher "training" is needed. But this particular nastiness might equally be tackled with more teacher power.

In adult workplaces, the slightest suspicion of sexual harassment is now met with frightening rigour: a wrong hand on a shoulder, a joke in a pub or a clumsy compliment can land you a suspension or an industrial tribunal, cut off your salary or cost your company tens of thousands.

If a teacher sexually harasses a pupil, the pit of hell beckons. So, if kids want to be sexual players - OK, let them fall under the same yoke. Let it be known that this is a grown-up game, and sex such a powerful thing that using it as a weapon is like pulling a knife. When a brat makes suggestive remarks about a teacher being "fit" or a minger, or sneers about their sex life, let there be shock and awe. Roll on the humiliating punishments, wash mouths out with carbolic soap. If their parents protest, tell them that they have reared disgusting little degenerates and will be hearing shortly from the social services. Let us re-learn how to be shocked.

Good grief, sorry, the inner Victorian broke out just then and started laying about him like a godly Godzilla. Down, Reverend! Back in your box!

But think about it. After all, the little swines are going to be in the workplace soon, and they'll get a terrible shock when they find you can't treat real people the way they treated teachers.

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