Where has the dignity gone?

25th May 2007 at 01:00
How tiresome the behaviour management in-service industry is, and how irksome it is always to have to pretend that the messages are enlightening and hold the key to unlocking the angel within belligerent pupils.

The reality is that under the spin - the witty repartee of the presenters and the frothy remedies - lurks a disturbing lack of substance. People who have never had to contend with a class of 30 challenging pupils blame teachers for society's ills in ways that make your blood run cold. Little wonder that in-service presentations can make us feel as disengaged as some of our pupils.

Am I the only one heartily sick of hearing that there is a soft solution to all behavioural problems? Evidence on the discipline thread of The TESS online staffroom suggests otherwise. Some posters - quite unrealistically, of course - are even calling for a return to the belt. Yet comments such as the following make gloomy reading: "Police are now a vital part of school life. The world is going nuts."

Meltdown. How long will political correctness nudge out common sense? Are readers aware, for instance, that victims of crimes perpetrated by the under-16 population are not entitled to know what punishment, if indeed any, has been meted out to the young criminal? I was shocked to discover this during the aftermath of a mindless physical attack sustained by my then 14-year-old daughter.

I wrote to the Chief Reporter on the Moray Children's Panel to ask what fate had befallen the most aggressive of the assailants. The reply to my letter stated that neither Amy, as the victim, nor I, as her parent, had any right to know the outcome of the case. Eight years on, I still do not know, although I do see the attacker walking about Elgin. How can such a feeble legal system benefit the victim, or indeed, rehabilitate the offender?

Violent behaviour appears to be on the increase and not necessarily from kids caught in the well-documented cycle of deprivation and delinquency.

Quite recently, the Forres Golf Club was substantially vandalised by young people, some of whom apparently do not fit the traditional profile of poverty and crime. Versions of such acts play themselves out in virtually every community of Scotland. You have to have exceptional resources (more police presence?) in schools and in the wider community to reduce the ravages inflicted by lawless young people.

I don't doubt that there are worthwhile strategies which we can and do use to lessen the impact of misbehaving individuals on the rest of the well-behaved pupils. But, globally, we don't seem to be succeeding in turning out enough kids who know what it is to empathise with others. This means that dignity is often absent from the lives of both victims and perpetrators of violence.

So we continue to go to in-service days and listen to wise guys who think they have it sussed and sorted. Then, during the plenary session, you describe a scenario for them and ask how they would deal with it. This happened to me recently. The guy concerned said words to the effect of, "Well, I'd have to be teaching the class in order to help".

Exactly. The theory is one thing and the practice quite another.

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

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