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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Education, literacy and discipline

A thread began at Alice's, originally about the decline in manufacturing industry, but moving on to the expense and alleged uselessness of public services, particularly education - bring back the cane, we're turning out kids who can't read, etc. Here's some news from the front:

When it was available, corporal punishment didn't have to be used often. An unexpected consequence of the ban-the-cane soft-handedness is that children are now assaulted by each other much more frequently, and quite often in the classroom in front of the teacher - whom G*d help if she (and it will usually be a she, these days) tries to get involved.

But as to functional illiteracy, in the absence of old-style discipline (and I agree that schools are not nearly brutal enough), maybe we've got almost as far as we can go, because we're swimming against strong tides. In the past, we had a literate culture and media, and parents who reinforced social rules and had aspirations for their children. The children of today are more likely to have complex and dysfunctional homes, their TVs (I often turn off at 9 to avoid the crapshed) and computers are full of violent fantasy and their neighbourhoods are ruled by postcode-based gangs rather than the police.

With the best will in the world, teachers cannot impose marital fidelity, sobriety, male employment, moral self-restraint in public entertainment, and the free run of the Queen's writ throughout her realm. Quite seriously, we in the education system can hear the creaking and groaning from the pit props in the mine.

Teachers will continue to be moderately well-remunerated as long as our rulers maintain the pretence that schools can do the principal work of child-rearing; when the scales fall from our eyes and we start to take responsibility for our offspring and the example we set them, schools will go back to standardised textbooks and employ humble, low-paid functionaries to steer the children through them. The public purse will benefit, and more importantly so will the next generation, for whom the present one has so little regard.


Anonymous said...

I'll expand a bit on my corporal punishment experience/theory:

I'm 37 and am probably the last generation of people who went to state school with the threat of the cane. (Primary school up to 1982 with an "old school" head master). Thereafter to private schools, certainly with CP until 1984, not so sure after that. I reckon it was gone even in private schools by late 80's.

I never got the cane. But some did. Normally the same ones time after time. I was afraid of it. Definitely. It wasn't so much the idea of pain as the humiliation. My theory of CP is not that beating the ones who step out of line will somehow "cure" them of wrongdoing (though I reckon it may keep them away from worse behaviour), more that it's a case of "pour encourager les autres". It keeps the broad mass of (mostly) boys in check.

It's my opinion that it would not take much in schools today to get the pupils back in line. There would be a few initial confrontations with authority, which authority would have to put down ruthlessly and publicly. Then the rest would fall into line. Boys are like dogs - show them who's boss and all will be OK. Give them some rope and they'll hang themselves.

But all this is moot. With the current legal framework and general attitude in education/social care this is a million miles from ever being brought back. I avoid youths as much as possible. They all know their "rights" and I'm afraid if I got involved in a slanging match with some mouthy teenager, and taught him a lesson (that might actually do him some good in the long run) I'd end up in jail.

I agree with your "pit prop" analogy, though I think that schools are the place we have to start. Kids will not get discipline in homes, that's a given. So we have to make school a different environment as an example. You'd have to fight the parents too. But if government was backing teachers it could be done. It just takes the political will. And the teachers to buy into it too which I suspect they wouldn't as they (tend) to be more on the "progressive" side themselves.

Anonymous said...

I think that badly behaved kids always existed even when I was young and we had the cane, but they were part of a broader working class that diluted their impact. As the working class has dissolved into a lower-middle class and an underclass the badly behaved kids have become more concentrated in just one area. The working class that became the lower-middle class were no longer forced to live in council houses in the same area, so they moved out to private property in nicer places leaving the undiluted underclass behind. This undiluted underclass found themselves no longer troubled by the Christian morality of the broader working class and therefore developed a rather "Bohemian" "lifestyle" all of their own, mostly at the expense of society as whole. As far as the schools were concerned, the children of the undiluted underclass achieved a kind of "concentrated evil" that made it impossible for the teachers to maintain any real control. Subseqently the better, tougher teachers gave up and moved to quality schools elsewhere leaving the "progressive" (i.e. can't be bothered to do anything really) teachers behind. This became a recipe for complete failure at some schools which in many cases are little more than open prisons for young offenders.

The Tory government, realising that a huge division had opened up between these failing schools and the increasingly excellent state schools that were not troubled by the underclass, decided to get tough with these failing schools. They shut them down, forcing the unruly pupils to be dissolved amongst the better schools where they could more easily be controlled and, indeed, taught.

The Labour government promised to stick with the "get tough" policies of the Tories for the benefit of the readers of the Daily Mail, but in practice they did no such thing. Failing schools were "closed" but only so that vast amounts of PFI investment could be poured into them to give them fantastic modern buildings whilst the top notch state schools in the same area were starved of cash. This pussy-footing, socialism by the back-door approach hasn't worked, of course. A good example would be Nova Hreod school in Swindon which was listed as failing by the Labour government, went into "special measures" - had a state of the art building provided for it.... and just a month ago was threatened with closure because it was still failing. Meanwhile the former grammar school "Commonweal" which is the best school in the town has not received any significant refurbishment since the turn of the century. Not that being threatened with closure really means anything - they've also threatened to close George Ward School in Melksham but since there is no alternative to that school in the town we can assume that this is no more than an empty gesture, meant only to look good in the papers.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Music to my teacherly ears!

Anonymous said...

Music to mine too.

In my school, way back when(!), we had a progressive but fair punishment regime and the punishment was made to fit the seriousness of the crime:

- after school detention for an hour or so (and not allowed to do homework during that period);
- writing several hundred lines;
- learning a series of historical dates, eg Tudors and Stuarts, overnight;
- a couple of whacks with the slipper (somebody's PT plimsoll taken from the nearest desk); and the real monster -
- the dreaded bamboo cane, administered 3 whacks at a time by a real sadist of a history cum religious intruction master, who took a running full-blooded swipe, which left deep red/blue line bruises right across the recipient buttocks for a couple of weeks.

Slippering was par for the course and we all took it in our stride as an occasional occupational hazard, but the cane really was feared and consequently only had to be administered about once a year - and then (in all fairness to the then staff) only for some infringement which (most agreed) did indeed merit it.

We accepted such punishments, but they did not make us turn to crime or seek revenge on society at large, nor instil visceral hatred of our teachers.

Sackerson said...

All: I can scarcely improve on your comments, except to say that in any class of children, I think 5% or so are the naughty umbra, 20% the penumbra. If the teacher is allowed to deal with the 5%, the penumbra will follow the majority.

But expelling the 5% is not always useful, as someone from the penumbra will step up to fill the place. There are species of fish where one female will change sex if the dominant male dies.

So leave Mr Naughty in, but hammer him down.

Female naughties are much harder to deal with, as often they operate indirectly.

Anonymous said...

Most children today are much nicer/more polite than we were.

I'm 59.

Anonymous said...

"Most children today are much nicer/more polite than we were."

I tend to agree with you. The majority of kids today are fantastic, but they get ignored. The rotten apples get all the attention - which no doubt encourages them. Remember "multi-coloured swap shop"? Noel Edmonds could barely get a word out of the kids that would phone in. Now the kids that phone in to these things are chatty, self-confident and alert. Self-confidence is the key-stone to anything else you might do in life. Without self-confidence you can do nothing. We don't praise our good kids enough, we sideline them and focus on the bad kids. This is the wrong way around. We should let the good kids shine and sideline the bad kids to remove the "glamour" of bad behaviour. The most common failing I see in parents with badly behaved children is not that they don't punish them when they are bad - but they don't encourage them when they are good. Incentivise good behaviour and you will get far more of it.

I think it is a bad idea that we take kids out of primary scholls just when the primary schools have got the kids sussed and then put them in huge secondary schools. It forces to "alpha males" to try and re-establish themselves in the class - which usually means becoming more "male" and hence more aggressive. Not that all alpha male types are more aggressive - some kids that become the alpha males in the class are well behaved and become excellent leaders of the rest of the boys. There seem to be bigger problems where you have weak alpha males all vying for position by becoming ever more aggressive - and being allowed to be rewarded for that behaviour with more attention both by their peers and by the teachers.

Anonymous said...

Kids are generally great until they reach the magic early teens. Thats when the great hormone gods kick in. Especially in boys. Its at that stage that discipline is essential - young bucks are just dying to challenge the status quo and show they are top dog. If they are suitably put in place by big burly male teachers (or acid tongued female ones, backed up with the threat of the cane etc), all will progress fine. Its a process we have lost over the last 25 years.

We have systematically removed all male supervision of young teenaged males, both in schools, and via fathers and the general male population. Years ago, if a teenaged tearaway was caught doing something he ought not to and gave the person some chat back, he might well find himself nursing a broken lip or worse. He would learn that there are hierachies of men, and he was not at the top. Now we have all this bogus "respect" demanded by youths. Respect is earned not given for nothing. When a man has a good job, pays his way, supports his family (if any) then he has earned society's respect. A teenaged hoodie drinking cider and vandalising bus shelters deserves no respect.

Well meaning but utterly misguided liberals have effectively destroyed the delicate male ecosystem that modern civilised society relies on to control the testosterone driven young male.

Sackerson said...

Yes, Sobers, it's so simple that the elite just don't get it. I think you're completely right.