Saturday, December 29, 2007

On letting boys play with guns

These days government ministers think themselves entitled - even compelled - to pronounce on the smallest detail of school life.

On Thursday Kevin Brennan solemnly told us:
"This year, while obviously wanting every child to have a great Christmas break, we would rather that parents ensure their children do not use their gadgets in lessons and ideally don't bring them into school at all. Many Christmas presents in the first weeks of the new term get broken at school or have to be confiscated by teachers because they are misused in class."
This sort of intervention is at once a symptom and a cause of the demoralisation of the teaching profession. In my young day teachers did not need encouragement from Margaret Thatcher or Shirley Williams before they confiscated things.

Yesterday, Beverley Hughes was advocating "a common-sense approach to the fact that many children, and perhaps particularly many boys, like boisterous, physical activity".

Note that "perhaps". We all know that boys tend to be more boisterous than girls, but someone like Hughes has spent her entire political career moving in circles here it is impossible to say so. Hence her uneasiness in voicing this simple truth.

This question of whether boys should be allowed to play with toy guns is important. In an Open Mind article on ADHD I quoted the academic Penny Holland on her experience of banning this sort of play:
We noticed an impact on the half a dozen boys who were persistently interested in weapons and superhero play. We started to notice the effects of our constant negative attention. They became more withdrawn – and set on a behaviour train. They became dispirited.
In the Guardian article from which I must have taken this quote, Holland goes on to say:
"We started working with the play rather than against it which had really positive effects. They became far more socially integrated, they interacted better with the adults, they started to access other areas of the curriculum - their construction skills developed and imaginative play improved and got longer because we weren't interrupting them."
Given that the professional left has been so influential in introducing this harmful anti-play ethos into the classroom, you could say that it is good that Beverley Hughes is trying to undo the damage it has caused. But, judging by the comments from the teaching unions, as quoted by the Guardian, she has a long way to go.

The root of the problem lies in an absurd inversion of the natural order of things between adult and child. Take the opening of the Daily Mirror's report this morning:

Young boys should be encouraged to play with toy guns and other weapons at nursery, says new Government advice.

It tells staff to resist their "natural instinct" to stop boys playing with weapons in games.

So now we expect children to obey all society's most sophisticated moral codes, while teachers are vulnerable creatures who can hardly be blamed for acting on instinct.

1 comment:

Sean Hilhorst said...

I agree. Childen need a more sophisticated moral code to work with. Why isn't the Prime Minister,Gordon Brown, showing his support for our "Disarmament and Globalisation" conference at SOAS on Monday 7th Jan. If he can tell us what to drink surely he can urge us to put away the toys for the boys ie guns. I want to see Gordon show his credentials as an international statesman and a man of peace. Read Freedland in the Guardian yesterday, on Gordon's role in 2008. www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,2234009,00.html