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Issue 9 - December 1972
Mind That Child

During 1972 the 'Press', TV etc have given a fair amount of coverage to 'Free Schools' and 'School Action Unions'. But in reality has there been any change?

There is still no sign of any meaningful change in the educational machine itself. It can't be said too many times that the system is evil, totally undemocratic, dehumanising, destructive, inhibiting …

On the 8th March '72 a Durham County headmaster sent a letter of protest to the Principal and Chairman of the Governors of Bede College. A song had been published in the college magazine ISM which referred to his school. The headmaster complained about a student who had been doing teaching practice at the school:

"This student presented me with the offending song with a view to teaching it to a class of eight-year-old children. As I'm sure you'll agree it was most unsuitable and I told him to discard the idea …

"Articles of this nature are abusive to the whole teaching profession and should not be tolerated by those of us who dedicate ourselves to a responsible task which requires a strict ethical code …"

This letter was preceded by one from the Durham Schoolmasters Association (NAS) dated 5th March. They complained about the whole magazine but in particular about:

1. The obscenities which appear (p2) as "unsolicited school-children's comments" in an article by the expelled student. It was agreed among our members that such comments and language from children could hardly be unsolicited.
2. The song (back page) which has the chorus "school kids in a prison …" This in our view is a quite unprofessional and unacceptable criticism by a student of a Durham County school …

The NAS send photostat copies of ISM to: the Chairman of the Governors of Bede College; the Director of Education, Durham; the Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science; the Secretary of the Durham County Representative Committee, NAS.

Surely the students concerned must have been polluting young innocent minds to an extraordinary degree if the NAS felt it was necessary to send copies of their letter to such powerful and important bodies as listed. Read one of the verses of the song (no space for more) and the "obscenities" for yourself and see what you think.

(Sung to the tune of Davy Crocket)

We have a school collection when the tins go round and round
See the teachers smiling at the lovely clinking sound
We always put a little in it's quite the proper thing
So our clothes have got no buttons on, we keep them up with string

School kids in a prison, the ******* RC School

The words of the song were decided by the children in discussion with the student. They were going to sing it at the Christmas party. Is it not a paranoid and almost hysterical reaction to take such a party song seriously. It was obviously intended as neither a fair criticism of a Durham school, nor an unfair one!

Here is the relevant extract from the other offending article in ISM:

"These comments were completely unsolicited as were the comments written in other essays - boys told me how they fucked girls in the old black hut by the railway. Girls told me how they robbed their mother's purses and got pissed on the proceeds."

The assumptions behind the NAS letter are that children should know their place, and the NAS know best what that place should be.

Children could not normally make such comments … say the NAS. This is a perfect example of the type of relationship between teacher and child which is generally accepted in our schools and is thought desirable.

"There is no reality of encounter between adults and children in most schoolrooms … because most teachers do not feel free. Do not dare, either to let the children say or to say themselves what they really feel and think." (extract from Children's Rights, August 72. John Holt, 'To the Rescue')

Of course, getting kids to write essays about their 'interests and attitudes' is a poor substitute for letting them simply live their lives, but the NAS, DES, Secretary of State for Education and the Principal of Bede College have up to now made no signs of loosening their stranglehold.

They complain that their critics want to destroy 'The System' without having anything to replace it with, whilst they do their best to ensure that free discussion does not take place.

During this contrived scandal the editors of ISM were relieved of their duties and the magazine was taken over by students acting for the Principal, and what patronising bullshit they turned out.

The Principal wrote a long document entitled Professional Standards which he exhibited on his noticeboard and which was a detailed condemnation of the publication of the song. This document presented extracts from the headmaster's letter. There were also extracts (expressing suitable regret) from a letter to the headmaster which was written after the student had "seen the Vice Principal and the Head of the Education Department …" Defiant and unapologetic statements which the student had made in his first letter had been rejected. In fact all in all the whole question of professional standards was not discussed at all. Bland statements were made - i.e. "The whole of this very unfortunate episode underlines the great importance of professional standards and professional ethics."

So what do you do? One of the students was expelled before his article was written, the other, on whom the greater part of the burden fell in this particular case, qualified as a teacher.

One person could do so much - with sufficient determination, one person could start a small free school. With a bit of courage parents could withdraw their kids from state schools and send them to free schools. With hope and optimism people could start play schools during school holidays, open adventure playgrounds. Maybe if enough people had enough determination we could turn on the politicians, businessmen, civil servants, town planners and warmongers and bring them back to the human race.

Kenny / Alan