If you can't take insults, don't teach

25th May 2007 at 01:00
The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Associa-tion has called on the executive to lobby owners of websites like RateMyTeachers to "ensure that owners of such sites are made responsible for the content therein".

This follows on from developments in England where the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has been running a campaign against cyber-bullying of teachers by pupils.

At an ATL conference earlier this year, there were calls for sites that have obscene or malicious comments about teachers to be banned. Andy Brown, a member of its executive, asked: "What would people say if ATL put up a website where teachers made derogatory comments about students? There would be an outcry".

When did teachers become so fragile? When I was at school, the idea that teachers would have complained or even campaigned about being called nasty names by pupils was unthinkable.

Behaviour of children may have changed to some extent - it may have changed a lot - but we have to recognise that teachers have also changed - or at least some have, and they appear unable to distinguish themselves from children. Yes Mr Brown, if you set up a site slagging off kids, there would indeed be an outcry - because you are an adult and they are children.

The debate about cyber-bullying in Scotland has been muddied by linking these gossip websites for children with violence in school. Need I mention the old "sticks and stones" rhyme that children used to dismiss insults? Yes, words can hurt but, in the past, we could distinguish this from actual violence and children were encouraged to "toughen up".

John Stuart Mill, the great defender of liberty, recognised that being a free individual was hard and you needed to be tough to stand up for yourself in a modern world. But for Mill, the hard fight in a free world was one well worth having.

Today, to call for people to toughen up has become unacceptable, and the consequences are serious. Without strong individuals, we simply lose our freedom: we start calling for bans and censorship to protect us from offence - and the list of offences is growing by the day.

If any teacher cannot deal with insults online, I suggest they get another job because they have no chance of controlling a class.

Stuart Waiton is director of GenerationYouthIssues.org

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