The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Friday, July 16, 2004

Fascinating insight into the bullying culture in a lightly fictionalised memoir from children's author William Horwood, in yesterday's Times.
OUR school was one-third boarders, two-thirds day boys. But we day boys were made subjugate to the boarders. At the end of every day, while we travelled back to our homes all over east Kent, the boarders trained in the tribal skills of mutual survival and the moral imperative of internecine warfare.

The evil genius of this culture of intimidation was Captain Flax. Under him an anti-sneaking ethos flourished into something dangerously institutionalised.

Not knowing about the sneaking code, a fresh-faced day boy in Lower One called David Ramsey reported a boarder who had taken and broken one of his model cars. The boarder's older brother got Ramsey the next day. Ramsey became the victim of our generation. He grew pale, with rings under his eyes, and went through school with his head down, picked on by boys and masters alike.

By being our victim he taught us all how to bully. Sometimes we just hit him for no reason. Never once did he sneak or tell again.

Captain Flax took part in his victimisation. "Outside," he said to Ramsey, "where I can see you."

It was January and the sycamores were covered in hoarfrost. Ramsey stood in the playground shuffling his feet at first, blowing at his hands, glancing into the window for some sign that he could come back in. He declined slowly into a hopeless huddled shape, his face blue-white with cold. The sight of him made me feel a shame so palpable that I wanted to be sick. When break came, I led him back into school. He was so cold he could hardly move. For a time I regretted what I had done because it turned me into one of his few safe havens. I didn't encourage him or talk to him much, but he persisted in staying near. Despite myself, I became his friend.


Compare and contrast to the shock at the apparently very modern news that one fourteen year old boy loathes another enough to draw a knife on him.

The two-week trial heard that Luke was stabbed once through the heart as he chatted about football after a lesson.
The teenager disliked Luke and delivered a forceful and deliberate blow to his chest after arming himself with the flick knife on November 4. Luke's parents were tearful as the verdict was delivered. The teenager stood expressionless in the dock.
Speaking after the verdict was delivered, Gary Loveridge, the head teacher, said: "Since that terrible day in November we have all struggled to understand how this could have happened in our small rural school where violence is an absolute rarity."
Remind me again where this culture of violence is a new thing?