Swearing at teachers? It's society, stupid

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
eachers like reading about solutions to discipline problems. It makes us feel good in a cathartic way. It's a sign to us that we are not alone. If other people are taking it seriously, there must be a real problem. We put on our sombre voices and make knowing pronouncements about falling standards and quite smugly, too, because we are the people in the know, who have been told where to go in graphic terms by armies of rude and aggressive little brats. We roll out our panoply of terrible things and lather ourselves up into a purple frenzy about indiscipline.

We unashamedly vie with each other to claim the trophy for having taught the most fearsome-ever pupil. The offending child starts off as merely misbehaving, then becomes a pupil with challenging behaviour, then the most dreadful pupil on your timetable, then the worst pupil of your career, then the most offensive creature in all of mankind and the only thing stopping you from pulling back his fringe to check for the 666 Mark of the Beast is fear of litigation for touching the little sod. And I bet you've terrified newly-qualified teachers with your tales of woe.

There's something quite perverse about human nature when we not only want others to know about the terrors we've endured, but we also want to drag them into the darkest corners of our suffering.

Pregnant women know all about this: the mere sight of the bump will bring out all the terrible tales about death in childbirth.

All of this tumbles from the igniting of my interest when a colleague filtered to me the news that Glasgow city council wishes to introduce behavioural contracts to be signed by parents (see TES Scotland, April 15).

Apparently, certain minimum standards of behaviour would be expected. Bear in mind that these proposals have not yet been voted through by the councillors, but my contact informs me that it's the list of possible penalties which she finds intriguing - for instance, permanent exclusion for threats of violence against pupils or staff, or being sent home for swearing at teachers.

I don't think that being sent home for swearing will exactly strike terror into the hearts of those darlings who regularly engage in cursing their teachers. Will it persuade the parents to take responsibility for their children's behaviour?

A recent conversation with a children's nurse really shocked me. She told me about little tots who use very bad language, words which she says two-year-olds should never have heard, never mind use. The parents of her young patients -like the parents of our pupils - are a mixed bag of humanity. Some of them are deeply attentive to their children and never leave their side. Others may not visit their offspring for a week.

Some patients cannot be discharged when they are ready to go home because the parents cannot be trusted to bring them back to follow-up clinics or to report alarming symptoms. One parent removed her child from the hospital while he was still seriously ill because she did not want to hear advice about the child's care from nurses whom she perceived to be figures of authority.

How can there be any hope in a society which sees parents putting their children's health at risk? Presumably, health has a higher value than education. Send the swearing kids home by all means, but you'll just be sending them back to the very places where they learned the swearing. A bit of a novelty, then, to be given time off school for something that is a natural feature of their life. No, really, I'm not being deliberately difficult here.

It strikes me very forcibly that schools, as independent entities, can't remedy the ills of society. Somehow, we need to deal in a much wider currency. What might that be? Frankly, I don't think anyone has the answer and that's a sad indictment of all of us.

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

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