Kids Nowadays

The school I went to in Mansfield made the front page of BBC News the other day for all the wrong reasons - "Pupil murder bid" teacher held. That's right, a teacher (allegedly) tried to kill a pupil in a classroom in front of all the other kids. The shock I guess is that it wasn't the other way round. Pupil trying to kill teacher? Nah, no news there.

It was a good school when I (and Karen) were there back in the late eighties and early nineties, but, apparently, has gone downhill recently. When I was there I remember living in fear of the teachers, as it should be. Although I never thought they actually would kill me.

When we have friends round for dinner and I've had a few drinks I like to throw in a controversial statement or too, of which I have many to hand. One being that, since having kids, I've started to see what drives some parents to the point where they completely lose it with their kids. Obviously that doesn't mean I ever would (I never would!) but that's not the point. The point is you start to see what it is that might make somebody reach the point where they snap.

Being the son of a teacher who married a teacher who therefore socialises with a lot of teachers I get to hear a lot of first-hand stories about the way kids are in schools now and it sounds like a sad state of affairs whereby the kids rule and teachers live in fear of them. It doesn't surprise me one bit that it's reached the point where a teacher has completely lost it with a child.

When we first moved to Nottingham Karen worked in an "inner city" school. She'd come home crying every day. It got to the point where, despite not having another job to go to and it meaning we'd be stretched to our financial limits, Karen left - for her own safety if nothing else - and has never looked back.

It strikes me that something needs to be done to redress the balance of teacher/pupil power in schools. It's all gone wrong.


  1. Sad to say, you are absolutely right.

    I live in Wimbledon and there are a couple of schools quite close to where I live. Each day as I walk to the station I see crowds of them gathering outside the Centre Court shopping centre. There have been times when the police have had to be called to break up the groups. They run riot over anything. The local Tesco have two security guards posted on the door to prevent the kids from entering. Other local shops have suffered hit-and-run type attacks where they dash in and steal drinks and snacks.

    There is only one place to put the blame, and that is on the parents. When the parents don't care, the kids learn from their example. It's a sad state of affairs. Sometimes you wish you could educate them with a cluestick. The parents that is.

    • avatar
    • Jake Howlett
    • Fri 10 Jul 2009 07:10 AM

    Cluestick = The Cane?

    The cane was outlawed the year before I started my education, but my elder brother had a few.

    I just can't seem them ever bringing back any punishment like that.

    The problem with the parents seems to be that they side with the kids. Karen has had letters of complaint sent to her headteacher about things Karen has done. I remember one was when she was supervising a naughty kid who was staying behind for detention. Instead of sitting in a room with him she got him to help her carry some things from one side of the school to the other. The parent wrote in to complain of use of their child as a "slave". Luckily the head sided with Karen, but it just goes to show.

    • avatar
    • Mike
    • Fri 10 Jul 2009 07:20 AM

    We had the hairbrush rather than the cane. Never had it myself, but I do remember that no-one ever had it twice. As a painful deterrent, it certainly worked!

    Most people think their kids are complete angels. The thing they don't take into account is the peer pressure to "act up" at school. People forget that teachers have to deal with a class of kids that has, through human nature, developed a pack mentality!

    Jake - does Karen have any ideas to fix things?

    • avatar
    • Jake Howlett
    • Fri 10 Jul 2009 07:25 AM

    I bet she does Mike. I'll ask her and then distil her comments back to here.

  2. The problem with public schools is that they are...well...public.

    When the entire classroom has to be brought down to the level of the lowest common denominator; every student suffers.

    If you switch it around, thing are markedly different. When the lagging student is forced by way of classroom competition along with judicious application of rulers, canes, or (as was applied to me) paddles; every student does better.

    We have had quite enough concern over the feelings of the children. The proof is that this whole liberal experiment of "touchy-feely" education simply doesn't work. Bring back the "old school" stuff. It may not be pleasant, but it works.

    While we're at it, I'd like to see the return of stocks and public floggings -especially for idiot parents who let their offspring run wild.

    • avatar
    • Jake Howlett
    • Fri 10 Jul 2009 08:55 AM

    You're right Devin. The touch-feely approach is where it's going wrong. Although, of course, you can't actually touch them and they know that. They know all their "rights". Karen tells stories of times kids have blown up in her face because she may have inadvertently touched them or used slight force to keep them in line.

    I just asked Karen what her ideas would be to improve things and after all the suggestions of beatings she did say that stricter sanctions on both children and parents, perhaps with fines for parents and a more active role played by them. Then she went on to suggest the need for a licence before you're allowed to have children in the first place...

    It's funny as she did say her first thoughts on reading the news item was "Oh, that poor man. What must that kid have done to him!?" and not "Oh, that poor child!". Her professional judgement of the child after one look at his photo wasn't good either.

    Reading the news surrounding it all I see there's a leafleting campaign to be started outside the school in defence of the teacher. It's surprising to see the lynch mob isn't out for him.


  3. A couple things: 1) I have to say that I disagree with the idea that beating children should be acceptable in school, for any reason. I don't beat my daughter for any reason, and I don't want anyone else beating her either. There are effective ways to discipline kids that don't involve hitting them.

    2) I think Jake's hit upon an important point about understanding child abuse without condoning it. Too often, parents who abuse their kids are treated as if they were some sort of alien monsters, rather than people who've made bad choices in dealing with a very stressful situation. Treating child abusers as monsters only serves to avoid dealing with the problem.

    Both of these have a common theme: you need to understand and correct the root cause of problems rather than writing off the people involved as somehow too screwed up to fix. In the case of inner city school problems, fixing the underlying poverty issues would do a lot more to turn children into productive members of society than beating them, and would probably be cheaper in the long run (considering costs of imprisonment, etc). Similarly, investment in things like parenting education and child care would provide parents with better choices and some relief from child care duties (which, as we know, can be quite a strain). This would lead to less abuse, and again, would probably be cheaper in the long run.

    Of course, the trouble is that this sort of thing costs money up front, and our political system (at least in the US) is rather vulnerable to demagoguery from those whose solution to everything is to "get tough" (even though it doesn't work) and "cut taxes" (even when doing so costs more in the long run).

    • avatar
    • Aaron Hardin
    • Fri 10 Jul 2009 09:12 AM

    My wife is a high school history teacher, 5 years now, and the stories are rough. The police had to physically remove one boy because of drug dealing in class, and he was buying them from a teacher right next door to her room. Two boys that are brothers, had been beaten by their dad but were to fearful to tell anyone, but confided in her.

    And she works in a small, rural public school. The entire town only consists of a few thousand people. I can't imagine larger schools, at least I don't want to.

    Keep in mind 1 Timothy 3:1-5, it says a lot in a few words. Interesting to see how bad things will get.

  4. "Then she went on to suggest the need for a licence before you're allowed to have children in the first place..."

    I'd second that in an instant. You have to be fully trained and licensed to get a car and drive it in public. How about a spot of training on the social aspects of life before you're allowed to bring such life into the world?

    There are quite a few people who I know would instantly be qualified but have yet to bring such life to fruition. Conversely there are quite a few people who have brought forward said life, to which the phrase "there goes the neighbourhood" would qualify.

    Maybe China has it right after all...

  5. Being a dad and a formerly paddled student myself, I can tell you the threat of the paddle is of more value than the paddle itself. Usually by the time you have a child who has incurred the wrath of the paddle, they have made up their mind to be disobedient. Delivering the paddling just makes you a keeper of your word - so I've learned to be careful what I threaten as punishment, because a willful child will force your hand.

    One thing I've observed over the past 30 some years to be highly effective as a deterrent is public shame. This is where "raising up a child in the way they should go" collides with "we don't want kids to feel bad". I would suggest children need to experience both failure and bad feelings in order to know success from failure and acceptable behavior from poor behavior.

    To Karen's case - I mouthed off at a teacher in school and had to stay after - my punishment - wash the chalk boards in the entire science wing... of which there were 20. Gives one plenty of time to contemplate one's actions. It's what I consider a form of creative punitive problem resolution.

    My children have had corporal punishment many times. As they grow, though, it has less effect - mostly just to upset them. Shame has proven far more effective, as has assigning menial labor, removing privileges and suspending normal rewards (such as no dessert after clearing your plate).

    All offenses mandate a public apology to the offended in front of the family or those present during the time of offense - and we insist on clear speaking during this - no sobbing or mumbling is an acceptable apology. Follow ups may be time spent pressing a quarter to the wall with the nose, or just facing the corner, or time spent away from activity with the stipulation of silence and confinement to one spot on the floor - generally 10 or more minutes. Sometimes you do get to the point where the child really is unresponsive for whatever reason, then it's up to your appeal to God to help you reach them if all else fails.

    At the end, I think it boils down to accountability and demanding better behavior. When we don't set the bar, kids go wherever they are led - usually by peers. Setting the bar and setting it fairly high puts pressure and also can define rewards to manifest the desired behavior.

  6. A follow up thought - children ALWAYS rebel. To what extent they will go is determined by how high you have set the bar for conduct. They may well feel very rebellious throwing a paper air plane behind the teacher's back if the bar is set well high enough. Consider what they need to undertake to feel the same thrill when the bar is rather low!

  7. It's not about hitting your kids (I don't, nor do my sibs, none of the 15 nephews/nieces have behavior problems). It's about discipline. It's about establishing consequences for bad behavior and following through on them, as Jerry said. Never, ever, ever make a threat you don't intend to back up. Kids are quick to notice that you don't really mean it and they'll run right over you. If I ever reached a point where I really believed the only way to get through to my kid was through physical pain, I would have failed as a parent in a major way. It's not even remotely necessary. Doing what you say you're going to do, though, is absolutely mandatory.

  8. Hey, good post! Not the usual CodeStore fare but it is interesting and has provoked responses from the usual suspects, no disrespect meant to them.

    Maybe chucking in the odd one like this every now and then will stimulate you and the site?

  9. I think that a license would not work but parents that cannot control their children should be sent on parenting courses and then face further sanctions if they do not improve.

    Teachers do have a really difficult job and need more support from the UK government and the parents.

  10. Interesting post. I am often a little bemused though by people like Rob who are so adverse to inflicting physical pain. I send my son to bed without dinner as a consequence for an action, that's not smacking but it will incur physical pain. I deny him a particular privilege, there is some emotional or psychological pain. I absolutely agree with never threatening something you are not willing to follow through with but I am also happy to inflict small, well managed, non-anger motivated amounts of physical pain in an effort to prevent future behaviour that will incur far greater pain. I doubt though that this will still be effective when my son is 15.

  11. @David - sending your kid to bed without dinner makes him hungry (though I hope you only do that for dinner-related offenses, since punishment that has no relation to the crime is notoriously ineffective). Hitting him is entirely different. If you don't think there is any difference between those two actions, and their implications to a child's intellectual and emotional development, then I am not surprised that you are bemused by my style of discipline.

    This is all about education. Children learn what we teach them. If we teach them that the only way to punish someone is with physical violence, they will learn exactly that. And they will also start to ignore it at some point, because they will have learned to blame the parent for the pain instead of blaming themselves for the punishment.

    To get back to the original point of Jake's post, I thought it was obvious but maybe it has to be said explicitly: my style of discipline works in schools. Ever wonder why some teachers don't have discipline problems while others do? It's not because some teachers are lucky and always get the best kids assigned to them. I come from a family full of teachers, and the answer to the problem is always the same:

    Define the rules, choose meaningful consequences for poor behavior and clearly indicate what they are, and follow through.

    Works. Every. Single. Time.

  12. I was watching the news on that as well Jake and found it interesting that there were ex-pupils of the teacher who were keen to support him and said what a great teacher he was. I also find it interesting that I agree with your wife on both of her observations although obviously it doesn't do to form a judgement on the basis of a photo.

  13. Things are not just a problem in state/public schools, but also in private/fee-paying schools.

    A friend of mine gave up a very good job in banking (a couple of years before the current crisis), and decided to re-train as a teacher, in order to feel like she was doing something useful. Never mind that all her friends who have been teachers for 15-20 years said she was insane to do this.

    On completing her training she got a job in a private school in the centre of London (where the parents are probably paying £10000 p.a.). Within a year the teenagers in her class had managed to circulate an obscene video on youtube with images of her (taken with mobile phones) that made her feel vulnerable and insecure. Two boys were expelled the same year for repeatedly going to a local 5* hotel where they took dumps in lifts and in vases. Now my friend is looking to get out of teaching.

    When I heard the story about this teacher in Mansfield, I thought "poor chap, he must have been terribly provoked". I live in the inner city and we have gangs of teenage boys who are destroying the neighbourhood. Their parents are oblivious to it or do not care (it's only me and a woman in her 50s who do anything to stop these young men. When I contact the police while the acts of vandalism are going on, they do nothing. Generally they are destroying local government property, but informing them about the damage to their property also results in no followup.

    As far as I can see, most schooling is a waste of time, and the truth is that they are just day prisons to keep kids from causing trouble whilst the parents work. Better to admit this, pay the teachers more and equip them with tasers.

    • avatar
    • Keith
    • Mon 13 Jul 2009 01:48 PM

    Well, I think I can see from these posts who has kids and who does not. I have a six-year-old daughter, and generally agree with Rob's philosophy.

    Of course, the emotional side of me wants to just whack the kid when they get out of line, but I know that's just not effective. It's about teaching for life, not just about getting the desired behavior for today.

    You can coerce (through fear) or cajole (through bribery) but both send the wrong message to the kid. The first creates an abuser or a mouse, the second creates a spoiled brat.

    But clear rules, followed by clear consistent consequences (both for desired and non-desired behavior), is really effective in the long run. Plus it creates psychologically healthy well-adjusted kids who internalize the rules and are equipped to deal with the real world when they grow up.

    Yes, it's a lot harder than being a disciplinarian. It's probably the hardest childrearing technique there is. It takes a lot of time, a lot of self-control, and a lot of self-knowledge. But it's also the only way to raise well-adjusted children... which is really the point!

  14. I also went to the same school as Jake and my 2 other sons, Tim and Leo. I left in 1956 when i was 15.

    I recall the cane, slipper and lines "Howlett write 100 times I will pay attention in class" Hell I hated lines!!!

    as for the cane it was OK once the pain had gone.

    I have several recolections (why hasn't this site got spell check Jake?) for a spell we had a teacher from New Zealand he introduced himself with the coment "In NZ we don't have the cane" we all breathed a sigh of relief (short lived) then he added " so while I'm here I intend to make the most of it (he did).

    Then there was Mr Lea he would cane you for thinking about being bad. i went to his funeral a few years ago. the church St Philips RC Mansfield was FULL 1,000+ the service was conducted by the Bishop, and 5 priests were on the the alter to assist him. The Bishop was one of the few people there who Mr Lea had not caned. I was caned by him as was Jakes older brother Tim. On the point of parents siding with children, One time Mr Lea caned Tim and the cane cut into Tim's finger, some parants said we should sue, we didn't, I recall saying to them that if Mr Lea had caned Tim he must have done something wrong (Tim had left a class room by an open window?)

    Of my 10 years at school 2 teachers (apart from Mr Lea) inpressed me one when i was 9 was a nice man who's face told you he had been in a bomber during the war that crashed, children at that time seemed in awe of such men. Then there was Mr Mc Celland he also had done war service he never caned, he didn't have to, he just? we looked up to him??!!

    I do feel there is still an basic respect for teachers. My wife started teaching in 1969 and retired last year, and live local to the school , we somtimes see rough looking lads who will always say "hello Miss" and much more puzzleing they from time to time call me "Mr" I was only ever a lorry driver?

    as for my 3 I have hit Tim once for hitting Leo, Leo twice for ? and if i could have caught Jake some years ago I would have knocked hell out of him, but since then he has made a 'small' (why can't I alter the font size Jake?) contibution to Felix and Minnie. To end I would bring back the cane etc, but also look at teacher training and the freedom of the wider media. I could go on but I am on my 4th can of John Smiths.

    PS Dragon, why didn't I think of a name like that for my 3 son's ???

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