What Happened to Adult Role Models?

This week in the English department we’ve been using Plan B‘s TEDx speech to teach inference skills and to get students to focus on how language changes depending on audience and purpose. Plan B has recently released his ill Manors song. Both videos make similar points – that the youth aren’t entirely to blame for the London Riots last summer and that the values and attitudes of society are in part to blame for the behaviour of the social group commonly referred to as ‘chavs’. I don’t need to go explore that point in depth, Plan B does it more eloquently than I ever could.

In discussion with my Year 10 Set 1 a student made the point that government tried to blame schools for the actions of the rioters. That, and a conversation with another member of staff, made me think about what’s gone wrong between students and adults (not just teachers) in society.

I have a fairly vivid memory from my first day at primary school. I’d only recently moved into the area and aged 5 hadn’t made friends at nursery or playgroup like most of the other reception children. Starting school is scary enough, but for me that made it all the worse. At lunchtime I walked up to one of the dinner ladies, told her it was my first day and asked if we could be friends. She gave me a hug and for the rest of my time at primary school she was always there for me, an extra mum at school. As I grew older and moved into the junior school I used to go to the infant playground and talk to Julie. When I went to secondary school I used to go around her house every Monday. She’d make a cup of tea and we’d either watch Countdown or do the books for her husband’s business. Nobody ever raised an eyebrow and nobody questioned the relationship.

Julie was probably one of the most important adults in my formative years. She was the first adult who I’d come into contact with who wasn’t part of my family and she always treated me like an adult, even at age 5. I can’t imagine what people would say today, 20 years later, about an adult at a school having that sort of relationship with a student. She certainly wouldn’t be allowed to give me a hug, and the thought of a teenage boy visiting a woman in her mid 30s at home once a week would probably result in that member of staff being disciplined.

What have we lost in society as every relationship between an adult and a child is scrutinised to the nth degree? Why is inappropriate for a child and an adult to strike up a friendship? Many of those young adults involved in the riots in the summer probably come from the sort of family home life that most people try to avoid thinking about and live in the ‘concrete jungle’ that most of us are only too happy to ignore. The positive role models they encounter are mostly likely to happen at some point during their education, but when teachers are encouraged to remove any element of personality or humanity as they walk through the door they’re unlikely to find it.

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