I’ve spent the last three Sunday nights watching Remember Me
, a modern-day spooky tale set near Scarborough. I was gripped although the Telegraph
judged the final episode a ‘damp squib
I’m not going to write a review. I want to talk about Hannah, the young heroine terrified her young brother will become the next victim of a malign ghost. Hannah should have gone to university but threw it up to take a job in a nursing home. Why? Because if she’d left then her brother would have been taken into care – their mother was depressed and incapable.
But if Hannah had told the head praised in the Telegraph
her reasons for dropping-out he would have said, ‘And?’
This, according to the article’s writer, Martin Stephen, former High Master of St Paul’s School, was the correct response. A child’s circumstances, he maintains, should never come between the pupil and school work. This was making excuses. Problems should be left at the school door.
Such an attitude is not only unrealistic it is inhumane. Dad has gone and left Mum with a pile of bills. No problem. Mum’s seriously ill and the child’s the only carer. So what? Dad hits the bottle and the kids as well. Forget it. Mum’s addicted to prescription drugs and sells the children’s belongings to finance her habit. And? Child is receiving threatening texts and being coerced into sending explicit photos. Ignore it.
These problems can affect any child, whether advantaged or disadvantaged. They are worsened if combined with poverty. They steal a child’s attention. Saying this is not making excuses.
Reviewing the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much
for The Times
*, Daniel Finkelstein summarised the book’s message thus:
‘Essentially the point made by Scarcity
is a very simple one…If we concentrate on one thing, other things suffer.’
If you meet an acute difficulty, such as running out of money, then your attention is focused on coping with the problem. This, Finkelstein explains, reduces your capacity to do other things well. Thus, someone with little money will give scant attention to the consequences, say, of eating food which is tempting but has little nutritional value (Baroness Jenkin
This can equally apply to children. Having to face problems of the kind listed above and worsened by poverty reduces a child’s capacity to concentrate on other things. That’s not to say schools are helpless – breakfast clubs, homework sessions, a safe and warm place, a sympathetic ear help all children not just the disadvantaged. But there’s a limit to what schools can achieve when faced with children preoccupied with problems.
Telling children they must forget their worries, however serious, doesn’t make the problems disappear. To pretend they are of lesser importance than doing school work is to forget that life is more than five magical GCSEs or going to university. It also denies troubled children sympathy and support.
Today came news that more children than ever were self-harming
. Stress at school was one explanation together with bullying and sexual pressure. Telling children to ignore problems diminishes the child, breeds resentment or helplessness, and drives problems underground.
No humane teacher should say, ‘And?’ when a child reveals problems. To make light of difficulties which would break many an adult is callous. And no politician, journalist or pundit should expect teachers to do so.
*I can provide no link but the review was in a Saturday edition of The Times
probably published in about September 2013.