Well that’s very difficult for me to say, I don’t stand out in a crowd, in fact in a crowd you probably wouldn’t see me at all. My four foot eleven and a half inches seems in some instances to make me invisible. Does that make me odd, strange or queer? I couldn’t possibly answer that, I may in fact be all of those things but to me I’m normal.
The desire to fit in to a social group, a family, a school and a work place seems to be hard wired into our brains. It is true that being isolated entirely alone is very damaging for most human beings. In fact society uses it as a very severe punishment, a prisoner in jail can be isolated as a further punishment knowing that most of us find it deeply distressing. Yet at the same time we form small groups and decide that some will not be able to join our group. On the national scale the markers used can be ; religion, nationality, language, colour of skin or dress. The place where this in and out group structure begins is primary school, in my own experience teachers can be just as involved as children in the same class
It was discovered in the early years at primary school that my son was very bright, he was tested by a psychologist. Why this was necessary was never explained. He had problems in writing and in relating to other children. In my school days I was a very quiet child, I simply thought he was taking after me. I was never told what difference the IQ test made to their teaching methods. Much later I learnt that one of the senior teachers had given him a nick-name, Professor Branestorm. This I found really shocking, tantamount to the teacher telling the class, this boy is strange, its alright to make fun of him. It may seem odd but I think the only reason I can find for this behaviour is jealousy, the woman in question had a son of her own. Jealousy is a much neglected motivator in causing certain types of behaviour.
This desire to bond together is usually closely allied to its opposite, to exclude. In other words whose in with us and who is most definitely not. This very quickly develops into bullying. Don’t talk to him; he’s useless at games, his hair is too long/short, his clothes are strange, the words he uses are not the words we use. Sadly I’m not talking hypothetically here my eldest son was bullied at primary and secondary school, he was a gentle soul, maybe that’s why. The people I hold most responsible are the teachers, their views ranged from; no, there’s nothing going on to its just normal they’ll grow out of it. Their attitudes started with, I can’t see a problem to actual complicity with the bullies, taking their side. Not every member of staff was involved. It was never regarded as a problem of behaviour which could be dealt with. Due to his complete social exclusion my son had a breakdown when he was seventeen. Fearing for his safety I insisted that he leave the school, (his sixth-form teacher couldn’t see a problem).
At the present time I think many schools recognise that bullying is a serious problem and have a programme to deal with it. I can only compare society’s attitude to pre-school children when frustrated or disappointed very young children sometimes resort to kicking, biting, screaming and spitting. Most parents quite actively discourage this behaviour, making clear that it is unacceptable. On the other hand verbal or physical bullying by children in their early teens or indeed fully grown adults is regarded as a normal part of growing up, it will pass. The damage to the person on the receiving end of this cruel and selfish behaviour is swept out of sight as if of no account. Our education system as a whole does nothing to encourage ideas of cooperation, the idea of helping each other. The whole emphasis is on competition, of one boy or girl against everyone else, the law of the jungle. Competition is seen as the foundation of the ‘free market’, this is a simplistic view as different groups of people combine together to protect their interests as a group, for example we have the National Farmers Union, the National Union of Teachers and groups of Corporate Executives bonding together to protect their interests. Maybe the desire of the government to turn all schools into Academy Schools is part of their desire to minimise local autonomy and to abolish the groups representing teachers and parent governors in order that privatised schools answer to no-one in their running of the school.
If we look close by we see a state school system which actually works very well, Finland has few natural resources but it has built up a state system which works for every child. Children do not begin their formal education until the age of seven, an informal nursery system operates from the age of four to seven. The emphasis is on play and just as importantly cooperating through play. There are no tests and no grading no-one is top and more importantly no-one is at the bottom. At the age of seven British children are a little ahead of their Finnish counter-parts in reading, writing and number, this lead is very quickly surpassed. All Finnish children leave school able to read, write and count. Tragically nearly a third of British children leave school with an inadequate level of literacy and numeracy. I don’t think that more and more testing in Academy schools is going to do anything to improve this shameful situation.