Another brick in the wall

| March 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

The self-control of those fine people who bravely take on parenthood earns my deepest respect.

They have to put up with so much. But there is one supreme sin their children must not commit. That is, embarrass them. Publicly.

For example, when that teenager appears in a dress with a dangerously low neckline, or a dangerously short skirt, or adds anything to her ensemble to dramatically enhance the ‘tarty look’ she has effected – including using mother’s make-up – she is on thin ice. Because the parent believes it suggests – nay, broadcasts to the world that the parents have allowed or, even worse, been complicit in promoting slutty dress-code values. Oh, the shame!

A parent came into my office to lay a complaint against a teacher for humiliating her child in front of the class. The parent said the teacher was indifferent to the suffering she had caused the child to endure. Now I’m all in favour of parents being on the side of their children. It’s what they do – and should do.

But in this case, the child had been found to be using an aid during an examination. The aid happened to be crib notes secreted in under her uniform dress. Unfortunately for the miscreant, the dress was too short. No doubt for the purpose of ‘being cool’, she had used the age-old trick of tucking the dress up under her belt until the hem was alarmingly high above the knee. When she was instructed to, “Pull your hem down, dear, you are revealing too much information,” crib notes slipped out and fell to the floor.

The child burst into tears. The teacher used the phrase, “Suck it up, cupcake. We’ll discuss the cheating when you see me after school.” The child ran from the exam room and went home.

Later, parent and child returned to the school. In time-honoured fashion the child had told only part of the story, and had laid particular emphasis on her public humiliation by the teacher. The parent felt the teacher was “too harsh” and the child was “publicly humiliated”. Too harsh? One wonders what the parent expected the teacher to do? Whisper a gentle, “There, there, sweetie, did the nasty teacher upset you by catching you cheating? I’m so sorry. Dry your eyes and we’ll say no more,” and give her a hug?

Once the parent had the full story, I felt common sense would prevail, but of course as we all know, common sense is not very common.

All was revealed. And the parent did see her child was in the wrong. But not for the blatant dishonest cheating.

She said, “Your dress was so short you were caught with crib notes?? This is so embarrassing! How many times have I told you not to look so tarty? Now pull your dress down! Missy, we’ll deal with you at home!” And she made to march her child out.

Never mind the dishonesty. I had to halt them, and outline the sanctions for cheating. The parent barely listened, so shamed was she by her daughter’s conduct in such an ‘unlady-like’ fashion.

As every teacher knows, the veneer of civilised values in which we manage to coat the pupils in our charge (to make them at least marginally morally conscious) is sometimes thin. Often, it just doesn’t seem to have taken root. One suspects several more coats are needed. Otherwise, even when having been painstakingly applied – with, let it be said, suffering on both sides – the base reality shows through worse than underwear through a sheer blouse.

But who’s to blame? When parents are primarily worried about what others think rather than cardinal virtues like honesty, it is something of an uphill struggle.

Bruce Pinnock enjoyed a long and illustrious teaching career.

Category: Autumn 2019

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