Riots: how are schools to blame?

Submitted by Matthew on 24 August, 2011 - 10:03

As commentators wring their hands with anguish at terrible kids who have “lost their moral compass”, once again schools — including a lack of discipline in schools — are getting the blame.

This misses the point... again. The incredible work being done in schools, by very dedicated people, is being done despite the education system, rather than because of it.

Teaching Assistants and Learning Mentors (like myself) spend a lot of their time not assisting in the academic learning but in trying to convince the kids they work with that they are not the “crap” or “losers” or “failures” or any other of the derogatory terms they pour on themselves.

This is done against a backdrop of other messages. “If you don’t get 5 A-Cs”, “if you don’t pass your SATS”, “if your school is not at the top of the league tables”, “if you don’t achieve now, you will miss your chance”, “this is your only chance, don’t throw it away”. For a child coming from a home where learning is not the norm, or who won’t, for whatever reason, make the grade, the message is “you’re worthless”.

Such kids come to secondary school already with an overwhelming feeling of failure and a deep desire not to be there. Add to that the message given by the media, advertising and government propaganda, that “making it” means owning things, being rich and everything else that is out of reach, then the self-loathing is reinforced.

Add to that those kids whose families are not able to be a source of support, then some of these kids are in free fall with no “moral compass” pointing the way.

I thought the picture on the TV of the Malaysian boy being supposedly helped whilst actually being robbed was awful — this was an incredibly two-faced, anti-social act rather than a kick at the face of authority or the establishment.

We don’t have to like the behaviour, and we certainly don’t have to support it or make excuses for it. But we should try to understand it.

I remember, when the council cuts were being put through, talking to one of the council officers responsible for social services. It was very clear that, though on the face of it, the council could claim that they were not hitting front line services directly, they were, by removing other back up services, pushing many families down into the place where statutory need is acknowledged.

And we now have three academies in the borough. That is three schools who will reinforce the whole ideological notion that there are kids who are “crap”. What a terrible indictment of our education system that is. Kids aren’t crap. Society creates the conditions in which kids do crap things.

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