Friday, April 13, 2007

Schools and violence

I have been thinking a lot about how people experience school. I don’t tend to dwell on schools, because we don’t use them at the moment and that’s that. But reading a blog that Gill has linked to has stirred up some memories for me. The blog in question considers the violence that is going on in schools, and the fact that threats, assault, and so on, are directed at pupils and teachers.

I had a vile time at secondary school – a big comprehensive. In my day it was streamed and I was in the top stream – the X band. At the end of my second year in the school my sister was killed in a road accident. During my last two years at the school I realised that I was a lesbian. So, I guess you could say that I had particular issues to deal with. But, let’s just say that the school didn’t help! I had one great teacher, who became a friend in a way that most teachers wouldn’t dare to today – respected me and listened to me. But every day I went in to school I was struggling with the place – and my feelings about the place.

When I was at university (about four years after I’d left school) I wrote down some of my school memories. I think I realised that I was at a moment when I might start to forget them. Anyway, I dug out the bit of paper and found that violence was very much a theme. It is worth remembering that I was at secondary school more than twenty years ago now – between 1983 and 1987 – so maybe all this violence is no new thing.

Here’s a selection of the things I wrote back in 1990 when the memories weren’t so dusty.

School memories

Every pair of shoes, because of staring at my feet.
Morning registration – calculating the minutes left that day.
Anger, fury, rage – utter indignation.
The noise, never happy.
Shouting, always shouting.
The filthy floors and litter covered fields.
Spitting, hitting, being so tense I’d ache.
Fear of belonging, or becoming part of it.
Wanting to escape. Dreaming of, longing for, a quiet sunny place to cry in.
Feeling invisible, feeling inhuman, feeling abandoned.
So much ugliness.
Stupid, futile punishment for simple human error.
So much tyranny and behaviour they couldn’t justify.
Naked aggression – assertion of power from pupils and staff.
No respect.
My contempt for all of them – pupils and teachers.
How I stopped being kind – ridiculed people and wanted to hurt them.
Constant exhaustion and inertia.
Getting stoned at lunchtime – the relief of the haziness taking the edge off the afternoon.

I don’t think that it is ok that teachers are fearful or ground down by their work place. I think everyone should be able to go to work free from the fear of assault or ridicule. But when I read the complaints of teachers on blogs, or the TES staff room, I am taken back to the way I felt at school. This violence, these feelings of powerlessness and depression, are not new. I would suggest that many children have always felt that way in school – and I’m sure that they still do. Perhaps the difference now is that the teachers are feeling it too?


Ruth said...

I remember my secondary school days in a very similar way but I am older than you. In fact the points you mentioned about the memories and associated feelings took me right back. I left in 1978. It makes me wonder if they never were that good anyway? People my age say they weren't. In fact my dad who is 75 hated school for similar reasons. I think the whole concept of school needs to be re-thinked.

Ruth said...

thought - sorry tired:)

Allie said...

Yes, Ruth, I think there have always been people who experienced school in that way. Not everyone does, which is interesting, but plenty of people do.

Secondary school wins hands down as the most oppressive, frightening and all round unpleasant environment I've ever been in. If I ever found myself in a similar workplace I'd be out the door like a shot - whatever the financial consequences.

Gill said...

Wow, that's quite a list Allie! Horrible to experience it, but brilliant that you wrote and kept it. And yes, reading that blog stirred up very similar feelings in me. The system itself is abusive. I'm starting to think that the whole Ed Act is actually abusive - except for the magical clause 7.

Surely something has to happen to change it now that - as you say - the teachers are feeling it too.

oldandrew said...

You have it spot on. The difference between now and when I was at school is that now the poor behaviour, the bullying and the violence has come out of the playground and into the classroom with members of staff being on the receiving end as much as students.

Allie said...

The thing is that put that way it sounds like all the bullying was from students. Some of it was from teachers - in my day, anyway. I'm sure you can imagine the kind of things - little petty cruelties, humiliation and so on. And, of course, the regulation perv who enjoyed getting kids alone to dole out a bit of unauthorised corporal punishment. The kids were often foul too - rigid streaming meant that there was a lot of resentment. We were 'bofs' who deserved to be gobbed on and pushed down the stairs.

I experienced school as a bullying culture - from top to bottom. I think that it still is - in many, if not all, cases. I never cease to be amazed at the tales of bullying of teachers by their colleagues that I read on the TES staffroom - lack of support, ridicule, unreasonable demands and so on.

I think that schools are very much like prisons in this regard. All the relationships are skewed by the fact that some of the people are being contained and controlled by others. There are also many hierarchies - and people are always watching their backs.

Our headmaster used to tell us our school was like a ship - 'The Good Ship X'. I always wanted to shout out that I'd been press-ganged. And that's the problem. If people aren't choosing to be there you won't have common purpose, co-operation, genuine respect or simple happiness.

Nic said...

That was powerful. I rather wish I'd written more when I was at school but my diaries only started after I left really. Reading this I realised just how much of it I'd forgotten - probably just as well really.
I certainly wasn't a huge target for bullies, although I was very aware of being unpopular and that low level feeling of insecurity on a constant basis is very damaging. I did feel utterly at sea and like I didn't fit in the environment at all though. Talking to most people I know with the exception of one or two noone seems to recall school days fondly and I've never heard anyone agree that they were the 'best days of my life' like we were all told they were.
I once said during a heated debate with my dad about Home Education where he was listing all the things wrong with schools 'I can't change school, but I can stop my children from having to experience it'. The further into our HE journey we come the more 'normal' a way of life it seems and I loathe to describe it as a radical choice because that would be to describe something that feels natural as extreme but as our numbers swell, more children come out of school, ever more children never even start and there is increasing media coverage of what an unpleasant place it is for pretty much everyone - pupil and teacher - locked inside every day surely something must happen?