South of the River – how are we raising our boys and girls?

Compass-SouthComment logo 2The stabbing of teacher Ann Maguire at Corpus Christi high school this week was truly shocking.

I don’t want to speculate about the details of the event. A boy has been charged and the legal process will take its course. The event is a tragedy for Ann Maguire’s family, for the whole school community, and also for the boy and his family.

It got me wondering about how we are bringing up our boys and girls in Britain today. I don’t mean ‘let’s blame the parents’. I mean as a society, because we are all involved in bringing up the next generation, even it only by the example we set.

Why are boys carrying knives? Why are they treating girls so badly?

It’s not all boys, it’s not even a majority, but it’s far too big a minority. Boys think they are supposed to have a macho swagger when they are out in public and it’s fuelled by the ‘shoot ’em up’ computer games they play in their bedroom. But there’s the confusion of adolescence going on underneath. The macho swagger is powered by fear rather than confidence.

As I understand it, it’s fear that makes boys carry knives. Fear that they might be attacked by other boys who will have knives. I say boys because at 15 you are not a young man yet. I think it’s also fear that is driving down the age that boys and girls start having sex. Fear that you’ll be last in your group to ‘do it’.

I’m sure girls have always been coerced into under-age sex, but I don’t remember that being followed by public humiliation. We didn’t have digital photos or Facebook when I was young, it’s certainly easier now but I don’t think that explains it.

And what about our girls? The things that are said to women and girls everyday in public is a disgrace.

I follow a Twitter account called Everyday Sexism where women relate their experiences. The project was started by Laura Bates, who has now written a book of the same name. It’s enlightening, if grim reading. I thought I couldn’t be shocked any more, but I was when my daughter spoke to me recently. Perhaps it wasn’t shock so much as anger. You know bad things happen in the world, but you want to be able to protect your children from them.

It’s bad enough getting an unwelcome and inappropriate comment about your appearance. What makes it worse is the nasty and violent language being used. And these aren’t isolated incidents they happen day in, day out.

I was brought up to respect women as individual human beings and not to stereotype. For those of us that were, or who have learned that lesson later in life, it’s not good enough to rest on our laurels. We have to actively challenge sexism, sexist language, ‘touching up’ and sexual violence. If you haven’t already, you should sign up to the White Ribbon Campaign – men speaking out about violence against women.

Whilst we are on the subject of respect. It was heart-warming to hear the praise for Ann Maguire who was clearly a very good and much-loved teacher, but did we really have to wait until she was dead?

Teachers have been vilified in the press for decades. All we seem to hear about from politicians is bad teachers failing our children. I’ve met a lot of teachers: as a child, as a governor and amongst my friends. Some are better and more inspiring than others, but I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t go into the classroom with the best intentions for the children.

Jeremy Morton Aug13Isn’t it time we celebrated the great work that goes on in the vast majority of our schools? I’ll start by saying a public ‘thank you’ to Mr Gilliland who gave me a love of geography.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.