Kids try a saint's patience

7th April 2000 at 01:00
IT WAS an inclusive affair, last Friday's conference on school discipline run by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the Scotsman. So inclusive, as might be expected of the NAS, that the boot was put into everybody and everything, in particular the Government's policy of social inclusion.

Tino Ferri, the union's house pugilist, led the charge against disruptive kids, calling in aid St Augustine who had described their behaviour in his day as being of "wondrous stupidity deserving to be punished by the law". Or, as the man himself said, "mira hebetudine et punienda legibus." And so "mira hebetudine," with Tino's wondrous Italian incantation, became the clarion call of the day.

This was a scholarly as well as inclusive occasion as we learned how the ancients had a thing about declining discipline. Nicola Sturgeo, the SNP's education spokesman, unearthed some gloomy thoughts on the subject from Socrates. This prompted Ian Goldsack, Latinist and past president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, to inform us that Socrates was writing at a time when Athens was in decline because people were refusing to pay their taxes. Public decay and selfish taxpayers? Now where have we heard that before?

Indiscipline was not absent from the conference itself. Roy Robertson, the NASUWT's semi-trained Rottweiler, laid into the party politicians for turning up just to speak and then departing. This was too much for that gentlest of the tribe, Robin Harper, the Green MSP and former teacher. "I well know what it's like when a single student makes your life hell on a Friday afternoon," he glared at the rebellious Robertson. "I was very busy this morning."

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