The law is an ass - so is teach­ing

Taranaki Daily News - - Comment & Opinion - JOE BENNETT

It seems New Zealand’s short of sev­eral thou­sand teach­ers. I spent 15 happy years teach­ing, but I won’t go back to it. One rea­son is age. Teach­ing’s not a game for one who strug­gles to put on socks. An­other rea­son is en­shrined in a story I heard on the ra­dio.

A boy at some uniden­ti­fied school was act­ing vi­o­lently. A teacher told him to de­sist. He re­fused.The teacher took him by the shoul­der. He squirmed free and grabbed a wall bar. The teacher prised his fin­gers off the wall bar, picked the boy up and bore him, still strug­gling, to the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice.

Bravo, teacher, one might think. But no. In­stead of be­ing given an ex­tra bis­cuit at morn­ing tea the teacher was put in front of a tri­bunal. And ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­pal telling the story, although no one be­lieved the teacher to have been ag­gres­sive, or to have been cruel, or in­deed to have been any­thing other than con­cerned to solve the prob­lem, the tri­bunal had no choice, be­cause of the way the laws of the land are writ­ten, but to cen­sure the teacher.

Well now, an adult do­ing what the boy was do­ing would have been cau­tioned by the po­lice. Had he ig­nored the po­lice, he would have been ar­rested. And in or­der to ef­fect the ar­rest the po­lice­man would have been al­lowed to use rea­son­able force. But not, it seems, a teacher. Be­cause teach­ers deal with chil­dren.

We are back, once again, to the na­ture of the child. One might have thought that by now, as a species, we’d have reached con­sen­sus on our off­spring, but there re­main two fun­da­men­tally op­pos­ing views. One is that they are devil’s spawn, in des­per­ate need of moral in­struc­tion. Spare the rod, says this the­ory, and spoil the child. The other is that they are frail, pink, in­no­cent ves­sels brim­ming with the milk of hu­man kind­ness.

Both the­o­ries sit side by side in ev­ery adult psy­che. By and large the first view de­scribes other peo­ple’s chil­dren, the lat­ter one’s own. And the truth lies some­where in the mid­dle.

All chil­dren like to be liked and most are ca­pa­ble of kind­ness. But most can also be cruel and some are down­right bar­barous. In short, and this re­ally shouldn’t come as a sur­prise, they’re a lot like us. In­deed one last­ing dis­cov­ery of teach­ing was that when you met the par­ents you for­gave the child ev­ery­thing.

But such frank­ness has gone out of of­fi­cial favour. The view that now pre­vails in the lit­er­a­ture and the law of the land is of the in­no­cent child, stu­dious, co­op­er­a­tive and un­tainted by self­ish­ness or cru­elty. And though well-meant, it’s a dan­ger­ous delu­sion. To il­lus­trate why, let me in­tro­duce a school rugby team I coached 30 years ago. The story re­dounds a lit­tle to my credit, or at least I think so, and I apol­o­gise for that, but there is a point to it.

The Un­der 15Cs, as their ti­tle sug­gests, were not a team whose re­sults were read out to cheers in school assem­bly. Nei­ther they nor I minded. They con­sisted largely of two types of player. Those who were keen on rugby but not much good. And those who weren’t keen on rugby but who were keen to be seen to play it. Some of the lat­ter could run sev­eral kilo­me­tres of a Satur­day morn­ing with­out ever oc­cu­py­ing a po­si­tion in space time that co­in­cided with the need to make a tackle.

One Satur­day we were play­ing a team from a Catholic school. The first half went well. As I handed

All chil­dren like to be liked and most are ca­pa­ble of kind­ness. But most can also be cruel and some are down­right bar­barous.

out the half-time or­anges I re­marked that the All Blacks of­ten came back from 30 points down.

Late in the sec­ond half one of my play­ers found him­self be­ing tram­pled in a ruck. The tram­pling boots were a long way from the ball but not from the lad’s head. I had no­ticed be­fore there was a dis­tinc­tive Catholic style of rugby, es­pe­cially against teams that were nom­i­nally protes­tant. Ev­ery ruck was re­venge for the re­for­ma­tion.

The ruck­ing be­came stamp­ing. It was tan­ta­mount to com­mon as­sault. The ref was do­ing noth­ing. I stepped on to the field and seized the pope’s aveng­ing an­gel by the col­lar. He turned to have a swing at me then spat abuse. The ref joined in, as did sev­eral par­ents. It seemed that I had stepped be­yond the al­tar rope and be­smirched the holy taber­na­cle.

On the Mon­day morn­ing I was sum­moned. The head­mas­ter told me he had re­ceived re­ports of my hav­ing man­han­dled a pupil from an­other school. I told him the story. He lis­tened care­fully. He asked a cou­ple of ques­tions. He was a good wise man. ‘‘Con­sider the mat­ter closed,’’ he said, ‘‘you will hear no more about it.’’ And I didn’t. But would I now? I am not con­fi­dent.

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