Review of small press and independent books.
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I am reading "Bullycide: death at playtime". It was first published ten years ago and this is a re-edition. A good chance to see how things have changed in the decade since SOME people started making SOME effort to understand and deal with bullying.
I come from a small and reasonably stable family. We moved around a lot so I went to quite a few schools and got quite good at assessing a social group quickly and finding allies. Is that why I never had much trouble with bullies? Perhaps, although it might have been my contant state of gawky tallness and angriness. Even those with a taste for fighting quite soon found that it was undignified to be attacked by a squawking windmill. Even so, I'd say I did have trouble with bullies in a way. I was a stroppy child with a constantly outraged sense of 'fair play' - goodness knows where I got the idea, probably out of Enid Blyton. Certainly not from the teachers.
I used to get thoroughly annoyed at the contant admiration teachers showed for competitive, 'take it on the chin' behaviour. Did they not know, or not care, that a competititve, hierarchical culture like that is bound to have someone at the bottom getting pulped? And then I'd get annoyed all over again because the vast majority of the films and books offered to children were about bullied people getting no effective help from parents, friends or teachers.
It wasn't until the very end of the 20th century that a serious alternative to that attitude began to be offered. Very few people vociferously object to ChildLine or school anti-bullying projects but, when the counter-movement began, by far the loudest response to it was a constant jeer from the media about straightlaced, PC educationalists who wouldn't let people win at sports. I've only just discovered that Neil Marr and Tim Field were a part of that long awaited drive with their book, Bullycide: Death at Playtime. There is an almost shrill, outraged tone to the book which I 100% understand. Researching for the book, the authors interviewed baffled, heart-broken parents of children who had killed themeselves rather than going back to school for more punishment - and they knew there was going to be criticism for 'making a namby pamby fuss' when they presented their project to the world. It's enough to make anyone a bit shrill.
Some of the parents interviewed had spotted a bullying problem and approached their kids' schools for help. Teachers tended to think that, once they'd 'given the bully a talking to', the problem had been dealt with. That's exactly what happened in all those annoying films and books when I was a kid. Then the bully goes and punishes their target for 'blabbing'.
This isn't a book review yet because I haven't finished reading the book yet but there's still this to say: Neil warns that the book is a harrowing read. I immediately thought of all those people who say, for example, that Leonard Cohen songs are depressing. I personally think, as Cohen does, that when you're having a hard time it's a blessed relief to hear someone else telling it how it is - apart from anything else, it encourages upset, angry or frightened people to have a mind-clearing rant (which is what this is.)
I was amazed when I opened the book and found Jo Brand looking up at me. She writes the introduction because she encountered a bully in the shape of a mean, mad, sex-and-power obssessed teacher at her secondary school. She isn't rude enough to describe him quite like that but I will - because I went to the same school and had the misfortune to be in some of his classes. Again, I didn't suffer particularly but I did fly into a spitting rage time after time, watching him scanning the room, taking his time choosing between the one with the biggest tits and the most defenceless, upsettable person present and proceeding to torment his chosen victim for the day. Several of us spoke to other teachers, or our parents, about him. The response varied from 'well if you'd behave and get on with your work, teachers will leave you alone' to an arcane 'alright, I'll look into it.' Teachers clearly didn't like kids complaining about other teachers.
In my own years as a parent I did some stints as dinner lady and as a reading and swimming helper, then became a teacher myself. From time to time, I've been the one to intervene when someone's being bullied. I remember a girl at a primary school who was the victim of some extremely alarming behaviour by a larger, older boy, a known trouble maker. I remember feeling really bad about tackling the reluctant headmaster. It seemed to add to the girl's distress, showing that she'd asked for help, getting everyone talking about grown ups talking to the headmaster about her, getting her called to his office to explain. I can see why kids often don't call for help.
And it's the same in adult world. A friend of mine recently reported his line manager for bullying and was greeted by a barage of joshing and disbelief from his colleagues - and from the manager in question, once he'd had his 'talking to'. I can see why grown ups often don't call for help.
"Bullycide" is an extremely important book. Read it and see where we were ten years ago, and ask yourself how far we've come. I'm trying to, but I don't have much reading time right now because I just can't tear myself away from Twitter, where I can follow the fate of thousands of Egyptians and they stand up bravely, day after day, against bully-boy Mubarak and his thugs, or from the newspapers, in which our public-school educated, competitive national leaders hum and haw over whether it would be disruptive to their various organisations to help deal with the bully. That and trying to earn a living of course. I am TRYING to be a part of various community education projects but they tend to be laid on for the ones at the bottom getting pulped and those organisations don't have any money right now because our glorious leaders are busy clawing it all back to pass it on to the bully-boy bankers they serve in the playground.
Rant over. Book review to follow.
Kay, do you think there's a connection? I mean, as I understand it, Our Glorious Leaders all went to schools where bullying is actually formalised, unless there's been an awful lot of changes at Eton and Rugby recently that I don't know about, so stands to reason they see the world in dog-pack terms: 'He's my boss, so he can bully me, but I can bully him, and him, and him, so I'm successful, and when somebody new joins the pack, we can all bully him!'
Yes, I really do. I think it's why I so often find unrepentant, upper class educated types impossible to trust. The school I went to which was also graced by Jo Brand was sort of 'on the turn' when I was there. The older-type teachers were ostensiably all for 'fair play' and 'honour' and all the rest of it - but with what I considered to be an extremely dangerous edge which made it worse than blatant unprincipldedness.
Mmm... wouldn't know myself, being common, but my husband went to a grammar school which turned private while he was there - his year was the last State-funded intake - and apparently fair play and honour trickled gently away as the proportion of privately-funded to State-funded pupils increased. By the time he was in the sixth form and a prefect, when the sixth-formers were the only State-funded pupils left in an otherwise private school, it was apparently quite common for the younger children to offer him substantial (to him) sums of money to let them off whatever misdemeanours he'd just caught them in. They simply couldn't understand that this person who lived in a house with an outside bog was allowed to tell them what to do.
Interesting experiment, and more or less the reverse of the one running at the school I was talking about!
I hasten to add that I'm well aware that bad behaviour can be found in every class of society - it just seems that the more traditional British, Queen and country the institution, the more it seems to be part of the fabric. I could be wrong - but my experience suggests that the movement to tackle bullying that this book was a part of was almost entirely rolled out in state schools and the media which took such delight in taking the mick when its proponents didn't perhaps get it quite right at first, appeared to be largely public-school derived.
The most recent examples of child-abuse and bully-culture that are appearing in the news right now stem from the private and faith schools, with their old fashioned attitude to education, which our current bunch of public-school educated politicians seem to think are a good idea.
PS For the sake of any non-UK readers who don't know what I'm on about, I think George Monbiot might forgive me for copying a paragraph out of his article about (in my words) bully bankers in today's Guardian. He says:
"To understand [the UK government's] position, you must first understand that the government is not managing the economy for the people of this nation. It is managing it for a tiny transnational elite, a kind of global gated commmunity. To the people inside the gates, who fund the Conservative party, who own our politics, the media and the banks, the rest of us are an inconvenience, to be bribed, threatened or fooled."
Please don't get side-tracked by fancy issues. Bullying has existed since the first medicine man said 'I'm boss' somewhere in darkest wherever, to every tribal chief and king and government and every war we've ever known. Bullying is not confined to schoolyards ... that's just where it's most easily identified and where the greatest opportunity exists to nip its evil in the bud. Look to our childhoods and we see what we become. Neil
With humility and a certain reluctance, I suggest my today's blogpost at www.bewritebooks.blogspot.com to suggest where bullying, mutual respect, cooperation and ultimate achievement might just lie. The message is: "WE Are One, But WE Are Many." NOT "YOU are one and WE are many." That's the answer folks. Acceptance and loving admiration of difference. N
Exactly! - Don't worry Neil - there will be a proper book review as soon as I can grab another hour's reading time!
But yes, exactly. Throwing off bully-culture is about throwing off the temptation to react to threats by turning on the people beneath you or if there's no-one beneath you, by destroying yourself. It's finding the courage to join hands and turn on the people bullying YOU - not with threats but with just demands. Will the bully please leave the playground. We are one - we are Egypt (oops).