Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Is low-level misbehaviour in class getting worse?

Somebody asked me the other day if I thought behaviour in schools is worse now than it used to be. My immediate response was to say yes, it is. But then I began to think about my own time at school....
It got me thinking back to my own time at secondary school, in the 60s. It brought all sorts of vivid memories flooding back like seeing my music teacher staggering out of his classroom with a busted nose having been thumped by Big Billy Barnes. Mr Entwhistle the English teacher snoozing with his chin on his chest while we read Jack London's "Call of the wild" in silence - or at least that's what we were supposed to be doing, in reality we were carefully inserting needle sharp pen nibs into the end of the waxed paper straws we used to have for the school milk then, very surreptitiously and with a deft upward flick of the wrist, flinging them up to stick in the wooden ceiling.
In those days we were given wooden nib holders to write with and each class had an ink monitor who would go round and top up the inkwells on the desks. We also had milk delivered to the classroom every day. Hence, each classroom had ample supplies of ink, brass pen nibs and waxed paper straws - all you need, in fact to have some good schoolboy wheezes. For those room where the ceiling was impervious to the straw and nib dart, or just for variety, we had plan B. The milk bottles had aluminium foil tops. This could be readily shaped into a little cup shape with a short stem. The stem was inserted snugly into the straw and the cup end filled with a wad of well chewed, soggy paper ripped from the back page of your exercise book. This was then flicked up to the ceiling where the mixture of spit and paper allowed it to stick. Each classroom was thus adorned with a variety of straw stalactites, creating a vaguely troglodytic ambience. Occasionally these would fall from the ceiling during lessons as the paper pulp dried out and shrank.
The milk bottle tops could be employed in a variety of other wheezes too. If carefully removed, the crimped edge could be smoothed out to form a small round, flat-bottomed dish. This, it turned out, made a super frisbee (before frisbees were known over here, note!) which could be whizzed across the classroom by holding the rim between the crossed index and second finger then flicking the wrist whilst simultaneously imparting a spin with the fingers. (you will note that quite a lot of wrist flicking went on in this all boys school, some of which I will not go into here!).
The utilitarian bottle top could also be smoothed flat then carefully domed in the palm of the hand. This dome then fitted snugly into the circle formed by the fingers and thumb of the left hand. The right hand was then cupped and smacked firmly into the bottom of the left hand. If performed correctly, this manoeuvre would cause the bottle top to fly off with a loud POP - most effectively employed in Mt Entwhistle's silent reading lessons!
Apart from milk bottle tops and straw darts, the other thing to fly around the classroom was chewed blotting paper (remember that?) launched from a wooden rule. It wouldn't have been so bad having that land on your book had it not been dipped in the inkwell first.
So what was my conclusion? Is behaviour worse now than it ever was? Hmm, probably not, in terms of the amount of low-level misbehaviour. What is different is kids in schools today just splat handfuls of wet toilet paper onto the bog walls and tell you to fuck off; so crude, no creativity, no wit, no finesse at all.

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