Q: Whose slogan is coats for women? A: Fluffragettes

9th January 1998 at 00:00
In the early days of 1998 it's no surprise to find that the Teletubbies and Tamagotchis are still with us; so is the war of the sexes. And for once, girls are winning.

Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, is so worried about boys' poor academic performance he has issued guidelines on how to help them, blaming "laddish anti-learning culture". Surely it wasn't that long ago when we were all worried about girls not doing well? Who remembers a government doing anything about it?

Perhaps it's in their diet? Research has shown that a bad diet leads to anti-social behaviour - at least among inmates of a young offenders institution in Aylesbury where a Home Office study was carried out. When they were better fed their behaviour improved.

Or is it their mothers' fault? Yet another research study showed that mothers suffering from post-natal depression could turn their sons into delinquents via a "ricochet effect" where screaming or unresponsive baby boys can trigger such despair that mothers withdraw from them. Apparently girls emerge relatively unscathed from their mothers' moods.

It's probably not much use sending the poor lads off to a nursery as researchers from the National Children's Bureau have found that some toddlers have a pretty bleak time there with little verbal or visual stimulation.

But with toy cupboards and computers stuffed with the products of post-Christmas parental generosity, many grown-ups are complaining that children are overstimulated, while others find their offspring are good at sitting in front of a screen, but are hopeless at generating play for themselves.

An American psychiatrist, Ronald Dahl, has diagnosed sensory overload as one of the main factors in the malaise affecting teenagers so badly that many are under medication. However other scientists in the United States found that computer and video games helped children develop their skills of concentration, visualisation and problem-solving. Computers might even be contributing to the steady rise in IQ scores in the industrialised world in recent years.

So a mixed message for parents who bought computer games consoles for Christmas in record numbers. And an added worry when it was found that high street shops are still selling adult-rated games to 11-year-olds despite risking fines of up to Pounds 5,000.

A bad week, on the whole, for the electronics industry as cyberpets came under fire from a bishop who warned that they would create a generation of emotionally-disturbed children hooked on these devices. The Rt Rev Partrick Harris, the Bishop of Southwell, said Tamagotchis could distort children's sensibilities by encouraging them to treat a computer as human.

However, revenge is at hand: the Japanese are about to be invaded by the Spice Girls and the Teletubbies as the Prime Minister launched a year-long festival of British culture in Tokyo. There the inhabitants are already fans of Shakespeare and English gardens - especially the kind with gnomes - and, after all, the charming aerial-headed creatures did win a Japanese television award.

It was also a good week for the English language. As the UK's six-month presidency of the European Union began, an analysis of EU documents confirmed France's worst fears-English is taking over as the dominant language-presumably of the orthodox kind: the Oxford English Dictionary has just catalogued the year's new words.

It's doubtful if the Eurocrats have cottoned onto marketing speak like "adulescent", "fluffragette", "negaholic" or "virtual desking" yet; at least let's hope not. (a 35 to 45-year-old youth culture addict; a woman with pre-feminist role models; a person with a face like a wet weekend and an attitude to match; or people using the Internet to work from home).

New Labour has a lot to answer for with terms including "on message" and for the politicisation of words such as "new" (Labour and Britain) and "people's" - as in Princess and banquet. The compilers reckon that few of them will stand the test of time. Phew!

Party poopers' awards should go to the deputy head of a Brixton grant-maintained primary school in south London who quit in protest at the amount spent on a staff night out before Christmas; and to the straitlaced girls of Godolphin School in Salisbury who told tales to the press of their teachers' jaunt to see the Chippendales.

Jackie Lang, president of the Girls' Schools Association was unfazed. Teachers were perfectly entitled to their celebration after the end of term. "Everybody's been to see The Full Monty, haven't they?" Apparently the young ladies haven't. Or they don't approve of adulescents.

Diane Spencer

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