Political correctness gains a head start

10th March 2006 at 00:00
The article on head lice in The TESS on February 24 appeared timeously, as a friend had been waxing lyrical on the stupidity of the Scottish Executive's advice to schools regarding dealing with these little beasties.

The trouble is that some parents just don't absorb information by osmosis.

Everything has to be spelled out loud and clear: there's lice in your child's class, please check their heads.

My friend's daughter keeps getting reinfected as, unfortunately, she's a close friend of the number one culprit and her parents can't or won't deal with the problem. Every night, this poor child has to have her hair forensically investigated by the nit comb, a time-consuming activity.

This particular school does not send out alert letters in line with the advice from the Scottish Executive. It would seem that some authorities do issue leaflets, but there seems to be an awful lot of pussyfooting around the problem.

Yes, yes, the Scottish Executive is right to say that dealing with lice is a parental responsibility, but shouldn't we be supporting parents in the fight against Mr Louse? Why should lice be exempt from the fishbowl existence which a plethora of other issues tumble into? Children should eat healthy food. Parental responsibility? Undoubtedly, but fresh fruit is often supplied in nursery schools and kids are taught to brush their teeth, both measures to support a better quality of life.

I'm perplexed when I read that we mustn't call a plague of head lice an infestation. We must politely deem it an infection. Really? If you've got the blighters, they are a bloody infestation and, if your folks don't treat the problem, you'll spread it all round your classmates and they'll curse you on a nightly basis as they have to tolerate the tugging and the pulling of the dreaded comb.

Lice may seem trivia in the tableaux of educational complexities, but there's no heart-warming angle here. Rather it boils down to the crazy idea that we must never cause the remotest twinge of discomfort to anyone, even if it means the epidemic of lice spirals out of control. No one wants to spoil anyone else's dinner, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet.

Fast-forward to university, where political incorrectness would still appear to be pulsating away. I was somewhat bemused, maybe even shocked, to see comments by a lecturer on the essay of a former pupil.

Right to the solar plexus, it read on these lines: "Totally hopeless. Why have you come to university? You don't expect to get a degree, do you?" So cutting, and yet there was something about the dastardly deed I secretly admired.

Can you imagine a schoolteacher writing such a caustic comment on a jotter? We'd be crucified. I recall with wry amusement an incident when a colleague was chewed up by a parent for describing the offspring's sentence construction as clumsy. Oh please!

Recently, I happened to be a reluctant witness to a barbed tirade delivered to an apprentice by his boss. The young guy certainly looked suitably chastised. When I watch Gordon Ramsay on TV berating the inadequate efforts of the learner chefs by swearing and hurling the offending articles into the dustbin, I have a manic moment (I must have been something evil in a previous life) when I imagine reacting thus to some of the poor offerings which land on my desk. Naturally, I don't let my control slip so the educational psychologists don't need to offer me counselling.

But am I alone in thinking it's all gone pear-shaped? Schools, like the rest of society, are compelled to put a spin on the truth. Lice are victims of political correctness. If we don't send lice-alert letters, we can pretend the beasties don't exist. Meanwhile, why are you scratching your head?

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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