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These Riots Prove Whatever the Hell it was I was Already Saying

August 10, 2011

I thought I’d join in with the latest internet craze: explanations of the riots which are actually thinly veiled efforts to raise completely unrelated issues. Let me be the first to claim that the riots were the inevitable result of mixed ability teaching, performance management and Brain Gym. Or something.

Well, okay, I won’t actually try and make that argument, but having already seen attempts to blame the riots on tuition fees and “high stakes testing” I could make those arguments and still not be responsible for the most ridiculous riot-related claims in the education blogosphere.

There is actually very little I can say as a teacher to inform the debate that isn’t already obvious to anyone other than the most committed, and out of touch, ideologues. These are not protests or expressions of disaffection from “the youth”; this is crime and, like most crime, it is mostly young people robbing stuff they want or causing harm for kicks. It is only noticeable because of the scale and that is probably mostly to do with the nice weather, school holidays and ease of communication. It is not a separate issue from any other discussion of crime and so, not surprisingly, the most sensible comments in the blogosphere tend to come from those who deal with criminals professionally, through being in the police or working with young offenders, where the focus is on the failure of the criminal justice system, as a whole, to deliver justice or prevent crime.

Even though so many of the rioters are young, the education system could not have prevented this. Better discipline in schools cannot ensure better discipline in the streets.  I never cease to be amazed how the sources that suggest discipline in classrooms used to be clearly much better also suggest behaviour outside the classroom wasn’t. Schools can’t social engineer the whole of society and despite all the reforms I want to see in our schools, none of them are likely to make a difference to a breakdown of law and order.

There are a few parallels to be drawn between discussion of the riots and discussion of school discipline. There do appear to be those who are so firmly convinced of the saintliness of the young that they make all sorts of excuses for the worst of them. There do appear to be those who care only for those who cause harm and think nothing of their victims. There do appear to be those who, from a safe distance, think that it is compassionate to tolerate injustice and “demonization” to condemn those who do wrong. There do appear to be those who simply see everything that goes wrong as the inevitable, yet somehow unforeseen, consequence of having a different political ideology. But while these debates are similar in that the mistakes are the same, there is no reason to assume that an indifference to injustice in one situation can be challenged by reference to another. There is only one point I will make that I can draw from the fact that our schools contain within them a small minority of children who were out rioting the last few nights and that is the obvious one. Next time you hear it said that this or that badly-behaved child can be turned around by “relationship-building”, “developing self-esteem” or “making learning fun”, can we at least remember that they could be one of those children who would happily burn down a stranger’s house just for a laugh? Try turning that attitude around by changing your praise-to-criticism ratio.

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13 comments

  1. I’m heading up to read this posting now, but wanted to comment first. I’ve been checking back here daily thinking, well now, this rather proves his point, doesn’t it. Especially with some of the interviews we’ve heard here on US news via NPR. Basically the “point” of their actions being described, by the kids themselves as, nyah nyah, you can’t make us behave, hahaha.

    Okay, now to read!


  2. “Next time you hear it said that this or that badly-behaved child can be turned around by “relationship-building”, “developing self-esteem” or “making learning fun”, can we at least remember that they could be one of those children who would happily burn down a strangers house just for a laugh? Try turning that attitude around by changing your praise-to-criticism ratio.”

    And there it is. Also, I like the emphasis on the criminality. It isn’t a protest if you’re also taking a TV home with you afterwards.


  3. A stranger’s house, you mean. I blame the riots on lack of apostrophes.


    • Er … thanks, but why can nobody make corrections privately without a sarcy comment?

      I’m usually pretty good with apostrophes. Unlike commas which always seem to end up in, the wrong place.


      • The idea that public humiliation complete with sarcastic comment is a reasonable way to correct someone’s minor mistakes was repeatedly drummed into most people, at least of my generation, by teachers. Maybe things are done differently now. Anyway, it was a private correction until you “made me share it with the whole class” by un-moderating it. You still have the option to delete it.

        (P.S. I very much enjoy reading your writing here and have done for a long time – please ignore the sarcasm and carry on)


        • It struck me as more humorous than sarcastic, but then my humour is a little jaded at the best of times anyway.

          I came across this blog yesterday via a link on the Something Awful forums in a thread discussing the riots; the discussion inevitably moved to education and your blog was offered up as experiences from the coal face.

          While not in education myself I remember my comprehensive days vividly and my mother was a long-serving secondary school teacher in the ‘problem’ schools in the area. Although I’m sure the experiences you undergo with children are much worse than the ones she had to deal with, I’ll never forget how unhappy she was during the last 10 or so years of her career.

          Great writing Andrew and a fascinating subject matter, keep it up.


  4. After watching much of the BBC news, having lived in Tottenham just after the last riots, and now living in another city which experienced this lot of riots I have come to the very simplistic conclusion that those who rioted and looted (not a homogenous group by any means) this time did so ‘because they could’. In fact the line the police took (watching, collecting evidence, then following through) is pretty much what I have to do in my classroom. I have to practise containment aswell and it is a while before I can intervene.


  5. tear gas, water cannon & plastic bullets….
    .
    its the only answer!!
    .
    and if there is any ammo left over, the teachers can give it to the police…


  6. people talk about harsh punishments for rioters…
    .
    how about community service?- 2 years as a supply teacher in a Tottenham school- ouch!
    .
    or is that a perverse and unusual punishment? (its certainly inhumane)
    .
    i suspect most would still prefer 3 years porridge…
    .
    ps did anyone read todays news?- turns out Duggan wasn’t quite the peace loving family man as originally portrayed. One article suggested he was armed and en route to commit a gangland killing. (of course the press have been known to get things wrong from time to time)
    .
    pps also did anyone see that attractive chav lady on telly yesterday? arguing in a shop doorway “if you call em scum- they may as well act like it – innit! jog on!”
    .
    every bit as lovely on the inside as on the outside- be still my beating heart…


  7. I so did this as well, I started to apply my own agenda to the riots. That’s exactly what the rioters and looters are doing though isn’t it?

    I would have thought that opportunistic riots like this would have included more older people though, and I was quite shocked to see that it was mostly teenagers doing it. That’s what made me first link it to what’s happening in schools.


  8. “I never cease to be amazed how the sources that suggest discipline in classrooms used to be clearly much better also suggest behaviour outside the classroom wasn’t.”

    Hi, would be keen to have a few examples of these! Very interesting post.

    D


  9. Last night bbc2 showed a documentary consisting of actors reading out transcripts of rioters interviews about their conduct.

    “in their own words”

    Well them rioters are just a swell bunch of guys n gals!- quite cuddly really….

    ps if you find ammoral, selfish, arrogant scum cuddly that is…



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