Take the hair out of your eyes

26th January 2001 at 00:00
Adolescent angst thrives on the never ceasing efforts of heidies to impose uniform standards of dress and behaviour, says Hugh Dougherty

ver since I wrote a piece on wee hairies, (TESS, December 8) I have been taken to task by the politically correct who say that to single out the female of the lumpen teenage species is sexist. I have to put the record straight: I have not been sexist, having previously written about the wee ned, the male equivalent of the wee hairy, and having lampooned my own son, who, 12 years ago, ascended into first year at Holyrood Secondary and suddenly started to do the school shuffle, still the trade mark of the wee ned.

If you don't believe that, search the TES Scotland archives, and you will come across a piece entitled "Young shug does the slouch". I don't recall anyone going on about being sexist on that occasion. Perhaps it's acceptable to have a go at wee neds.

So here we are - the wee ned is alive and well in our schools. The cropped hair which makes plooky adolescent brows look even lower than they are, the Kapa Crew white gear, the empty bag hanging off the droopy shoulder, the baggy trousers and the awful trainers, supplemented if possible by football colours, are all the hallmark of the wee ned.

Add to that, as the ned walks, hands in pocket, head down, a whining voice uses words like "pure" and "man" as in: "See that new English teacher, he's pure mince, man."

The term "mental", not as in arithmetic, is much favoured, and the whole ambience of the wee ned, whether on the way to school, usually late, or out to the shops or burger van at lunchtime, speaks of the underachievement of boys in motion, a living affront to the ideals of learning and civilised behaviour that lead to success in today's post-school real world.

But the wee ned has always been with us. I well remember the late Father Tracey of St Aloysius's College, as long ago as 1962 when I started in first year, measuring shortie white raincoats to see if they were at least an inch above the knee, lambasting boys for having Elvis quiffs, and even nsisting that school trousers had to be 16 inches wide at the turn-ups, or lack of them.

The truth is that boys so attired were known to haunt the parish hall at lunchtimes, smoking, and chatting up the crumpet from the convent school over the road.

Move on a few years, and boys were walking about in bovver boots and Crombie coats, with turned-down hankies, as sported in Clockwork Orange. Add shaven heads - as offensive now to schools as in their day were long hair, tank tops, and Bay City Roller gear - and it's easy to see why the wee ned has been such a bane to schools for so long.

Many wee neds grow out of it. One I went to school with, who even sported a Rod Stewart scarf at one point, is now a heidie himself, and many others have come to be equal pillars of society.

Of course, they were just having a kid-on, as so many adolescent boys do about everything, especially study. But the sad thing is that so many wee neds fail to make the transition. The ned who slouches alongside the chinas or hangs about smokers' corner beside the science block, has to move beyond all the angst of those teenage years. Gaining qualifications and stopping pretending that you know everything are necessary to leave the ned phase behind.

Real wee neds can be a genuine classroom management problem, so that the new "sin bins" (a politically incorrect term) could find themselves mobbed by the species. Many teachers and other pupils would welcome that - especially when the ned's concept of being inclusive rests firmly on including everyone else in his disruptive activities.

If we are really to raise attainment of boys, the attack on the culture of the wee ned needs to go far beyond attempts at enforcing a uniform culture in schools, in the literal sense of the word. There has to be recognition that the real problems start when the sexes come together with that explosive mixture of wee ned and wee hairy, a topic not covered in any sex education programme.

No one can accuse me of being sexist or politically incorrect now. Neds and wee hairies are equal.

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