1 April 2021
The case for hitting hard.
By John Watson
I have never made explosives but I have read about them in adventure stories and I gather the trick is to compress a mixture of two substances (weed killer and sugar for example), light the blue touch paper and wait for the bang. Probably it is not quite as easy as it sounds but, anyway, the recipe for creating sexual misbehaviour among teenagers seems to be much the same.
Begin by taking groups of adolescent boys and girls, late teens, pheromones flying, and put them into an environment which maximises contact and restricts the opportunity for escape. Then stand back and watch what happens. The result of this experiment which for the better part of the year is carried on in hundreds of schools up and down the country is pretty grim. Well, unless effective measures can be taken to tame the energies of the boys, and probably the girls too, that is bound to be the case so the question becomes how that taming can be achieved.
The Victorians I think would have had little doubt. If you look at old school buildings there were separate entrances for boys and girls which no doubt reflected a corresponding segregation within. Not so long ago most private schools were single sex which, if it did not tame the sex drive, at least kept it (or at least a heterosexual form of it) outside the school gates, leaving a relatively safe space within in which studies could be pursued in peace. Of course many co-ed schools maintain an element of segregation – separate houses, for example, in the case of boarding schools – but there is a price to pay in terms of curtailing innocent friendships, one of the objects of the co-education system. A pity to throw that away.
Then we come to sport. Could one wear the little so-and-sos out on the football fields so that they had little energy left for anything else? That sounds a pretty unlikely solution. As many a parent will tell you, getting grumpy teenagers to give their all in team sports is not particularly easy and it is unlikely that the boys who bother the girls will be ones who are quickest to change their focus. In any case if the children go around exhausted they will not have the energy to learn anything which rather takes away from the point of their being at school at all.
Right then, let’s try another tack. What about educating them better? Educating them to understand that everyone should be valued and that all forms of bullying are wrong – and the behaviour of a sex pest, from name-calling up to actual rape, is a noxious form of bullying. What about that? It certainly sounds a more hopeful approach but the difficulty is that it isn’t very easy to do, or at least to do effectively and consistently. Of course there could be checkbox sessions about “personal respect” and no doubt many schools already include them in the curriculum. But getting difficult kids to take notice of a subject which is unlikely to be either amusing or challenging is hard and to really change attitudes depends on role modelling, and leadership from the teachers backed up by firm support from parents and the wider community. This last element is hard to provide at a time when social attitudes and particular sexual politics are in a state of flux and confusion, as they are at the moment, so the burden we are placing on teachers is particularly heavy.
Teaching is an art not a science and all good teachers have their own styles and techniques. If we are going to trust the profession to create, or in many cases continue to create, the relationships with their charges which are important to the health of our schools and to do the difficult job we require of them, we need to give them elbow room to develop this. Some will get it right instinctively. Others will learn by experience, but they cannot develop properly if they are subject to threats from outside the school gates. That is why the issues at Batley Grammar School are so important. I was not in the lesson and so have no knowledge of whether showing an image of Muhammad was appropriate or not. More to the point I do not care. A teacher is a public officer carrying out an important duty and he or she should no more be subject to bullying by a section of the community than should a policeman or an MP. It must be well known who made the threats in this particular case. They should be charged and sent to prison for a good long time. It is time for some deterrent sentencing.