September 25, 2003
Bullying and how to stop it

I've only just read this piece about bullying from the Telegraph of last Monday by Katie Jarvis. The twist is, it was her son doing it.

Katie Jarvis and her son are almost as much the victims of compulsory education as were and are the children her son was bullying.

In the adult world, bullying as nasty as routinely happens in schools is quite rare. This is because adults who hate their place of work for any reason are entitled, even expected, to think about moving elsewhere. This may not be easy, but the option is there, and is a respected and regular part of the culture. Party conversation: Like your job? No it's crap actually? Are you thinking of moving? Trying to, any suggestions? It's not that adults are any nicer than children, far from it. It is simply that the rules governing childrens' lives are now so nasty. Most of them are in prison. Prisons automatically contain bullying. It cannot be otherwise.

The idea of children deciding for themselves that they can't stand the school they are at and simply deciding that they are going to go elsewhere, or nowhere, ought to be as much a routine of childhood life as similar arrangements are for adults. Not that common, but plainly thinkable if a school becomes ghastly, for whatever reason. If that were the case, children like Katie Jarvis' son would simply not be able to become bullies, because they would run out of victims. A couple of the victims would threaten to take their business (vouchers, money, government spending triggers, whatever) elsewhere, and if the school was lucky they'd say why, and Jarvis fils would either stop or be chucked out himself, and he'd almost certainly stop. All that non-judgemental persuasion that Mother Jarvis subjected him to (what happened to the victims during all that palaver I don't know) would be beside the point.

Ultimately, I don't believe that compulsory schooling will be ended by mere laws. I think it will be ripped to bits by young teenagers (and in many cases in alliance with their parents) who ain't fuckin' (my French is necessary to make my point and I do not ask your pardon for it) gonna take it any more. Pre-school-leaving teenagers already have the power to make life a misery for each other and for their minders, and they constantly do. All that is required is for them to become more politically conscious, and they can simply unscrew the lid of the tin and climb out, whenever they like. Here's what we want: we want out. That's reasonable. If you don't let us out here's what we'll do. That kind of thing.

If the motives of some escapees for wanting to escape are criminal, then that's a police matter and a criminal law matter, not an "education" matter, and let the law take its course. If a thirteen year old leaves school to commit crimes and she does, send her to what we all agree is a prison. If their motives and subsequent behaviour are not criminal, then just what is the problem?

If this blog were somehow to become a small part of that process, I would be very happy.

And to say it again: I'm in favour of good (and varied) schools run in accordance with good (and varied) rules. Tight ships. Pink fluffy bunny ships. Whatever people want to sail in and don't have to be press-ganged into. I don't see any conflict there.

I don't see any problem with discussing what good teaching is all about, and how maths is best taught and how reading and writing are best taught, just so long as the victims of it are allowed to leave if they can't stand it or switch to something they consider better.

Class dismissed. That's if you are still here. You can leave this blog any time you like, without explanation. I didn't make that rule, and I don't always like it, but that is the rule. Actually, I do like it. I don't want unhappy readers of this badmouthing it everywhere else they go. I practise what I'm preaching here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:25 PM
Category: BullyingCompulsion