Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Rough Games

I read in this morning's paper that two seven-year-old boys have been disciplined by their school (which also demanded that the parents reinforce the lesson) for making 'guns' with their fingers. I would be interested to know whether the teachers responsible for this particular act of absurdity have children of their own.

I have a friend who is an evolutionary anthropologist. Until she married and had two boys, she uncritically accepted the dogma she had been taught, that the difference between the sexes was simply a matter of plumbing. Her boys almost from the moment they could see and grasp scorned the cuddly toys and went straight for the tractors and planes, and that was only the beginning.

It is a natural instinct to protect children from becoming horrible adults, and a good one. We want our children to be 'free' when they grow up, but the trouble is that freedom is now being confused with licence. Against this, I prefer to call freedom 'the ability to act in accordance with my nature' which, since my nature is fallen, may require not a little self-discipline. So far, I am in agreement with the educators. Some actions are good for children to learn, some are not good.

 The difficulty is when our real nature is poorly understood. As I mentioned in the last post, there is a notion of how some people think we 'ought' to be, rather than beginning from where we actually are. Can you make a boy a 'new man' by forbidding him to play soldiers? Is there no way that male natural instincts can be turned to good rather than by being completely suppressed?

CS Lewis had a strange opinion on this: I'm not sure I go all the way with him, but I can see what he is saying. I wish I could find the passage, but I don't have my books with me; it might even be from Mere Christianity. Lewis was not, of course, in favour of war as a thing in itself, but he lamented that a soldier was no longer entitled to see war as glorious in some way, that he had to see it as a sad necessity. In some way this is emasculating; a man ought to be able to rejoice in his masculinity. It's Lewis' opinion, and perhaps goes a bit far, but I can see what he is saying.

Among various differences, men are generally physically stronger than women. Instead of denying that strength, it needs to be focussed on a good end. It ought to be possible in childhood to enable a boy to see his strength as service for the good of a higher cause. It's the old crusader thing; to have some higher aspiration to which one gives oneself, and he who loses himself will find himself. That is the essential paradox that is fully in accord with human nature.

We talk about child-centred education, but that is not the same thing as educating in the child's best interests. In the same paper I read this morning, I also read about school trips costing the parents four figures. Add to that the designer clothes and electronics, and everything else now considered indispensable to a child. It is all of a piece with the lessons that encourage pupils to express how they feel all the time, to sit in judgment on great minds and say what they think about Shakespeare, whether he 'got it right'. Children are encouraged and helped to get what they want out of their education, so that they can get what they want out of their career, and get what they want out of their marriage—sorry, relationships—simply, we are educating people for disappointment. And, in my opinion, that is why so many of our young people look so sulky. And why they lapse from the practice of the faith. People admire the dedication and self-sacrifice of the Queen, but have no inclination to imitate it.

 Instead of considering 'what can I get out of life', our young people should be encouraged to consider 'what can I do with my life'. We should begin with our teenagers asking themselves 'what am I, and what are my gifts and inclinations for?' Christianity gives the answer: to love God and my neighbour as myself.

Rough games are natural to boys; let's teach them how to use their strength for good, and not simply repress it, which is far more likely to result in its misuse.



On a lighter note, did anyone notice during the latest royal wedding that crass BBC announcer (a woman) asking a group of teenage boys 'so, boys, what did you feel when you saw the dress?' The poor lads were completely nonplussed. I imagined phalanxes of grim, grey, Guardian-reading pedagogues tutting to themselves at what young people are becoming these days……

I once was chaplain to a primary school that wouldn't number its classes because numbers are 'hierarchical'; even the children in the classes were of mixed age, lest a younger child feel disadvantaged by having a lower number (age) than an older. The classes, instead of being numbered, had tree names, 'Oak', 'Beech' and so on. The headteacher (no headmaster, he; and yes, he was a man [I assume]) told me one day that they were going to add a couple of classes, and could I suggest some nice trees to name them after. I am ashamed to record that I suggested 'Cane' and 'Birch'.

Looking for the pic at the top of this post, I came across this site, dedicated to educational idiocy.

10 comments:

Jacobitess said...

Shameful? The 'cane and birch' suggestion was the one part of the article that brought a smile to my face. What a sad culture we live in!

jonty said...

It may seem absurd and an over-reaction to some readers. However, in my part of south London, such a gesture can constitute a very real threat.

jonty said...

It may seem an absurd over-reaction to some readers but it depends on where the school is. In my part of south London such a gesture can be a very real threat.

Mundabor said...

"Educational idiocy" says it well.

Some "educators" wil not be happy until all boys grow up as confused about gender differences as they themselves are.

Mundabor

pelerin said...

This post brings to mind the sad story this week of the family who are not going to tell anyone what sex their new baby is. They will let the child decide for itself too. Surely this is cruelty to the child? His siblings apparently enjoy wearing frilly dresses and I think I read they were boys.

Parents seem to think they are clever experimenting with children in this way.

Regarding guns for children I have to admit to not wanting my boys to have guns whereas my husband thought it 'natural' for them. What did they do? They picked up twigs in the park and went bang bang! My husband won and they got their guns and later Action men with tanks etc. Happily my fear that they would enjoy playing with guns so much that they would want to join the Army never materialised.

GOR said...

I suppose the game of "Cowboys and Indians" we used to revel in as kids is out, then...?

Sue Sims said...

I have three boys (though 'young men', I suppose, now describes them - oy!), and used to be very amused watching the contrast between their doll* play and the small girls who visited at various times. The girls would make the dolls sit up straight, have tea parties with them and play 'school'; they'd be dressed and undressed carefully, and put to bed. My sons would make them charge each other, engage in mock (well, mostly mock) battles, and pull various limbs off to see how the dolls were articulated.

Father: have you read Anthony Esolen on this topic? He's both lucid and persuasive on the necessity of channelling boys' instincts for good, rather than trying to eradicate them in the interests of gender-neutral theory.

http://www.zenit.org/article-19444?l=english

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=18-07-021-f

http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/esolen/06577.html

*The dolls, of course, were 'Action Man' and his various associates and enemies, but that doesn't affect the story.

Paul Mallinder said...

One of the problems with forming a gun with the the hand is its "gang" symbolism. I would guess the issue is not about playing games in the playground but using the gesture to intimidate others. It is often used as a form of non-verbal bullying within the school.

Fr Michael Gollop SSC said...

Father - "cane and birch" - priceless! Thanks for making me laugh out loud after a rather grim weekend.

Robert said...

In most places the ban on the gun gesture is, of course, absurd; although in parts of the country, it may have a point. We have just banned "Bristish" Bulldog, rightly given it causes injuries. However, the really strong argument in this post is that the energy should be directed to something noble. We need a new chivalry, perhaps. In my school, we speak of nurturing the vigour of youth" to which I always add(with apologies to the Jesuits)that we seek to produce young people who are "people for others." Many young people direct this energy to raising money for charity, Duke of Edinburgh's Award, sport and vluntary service. We certainl work towartds these in my school.
Certainly, the criticism of "child centred education" as opposed to "educating in the child's interests" is an important insight.