Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Boredom for Dummies

Boredom has been in the news a lot this week as a result of some young people's attempts to alleviate it. The mother of a 12-year-old who smashed up a shop with a golf club was clear whom she blamed for the looting:
''The government,'' she replied, her son by her side, adding: ''There is f*** all for them to do.''
It is interesting that the woman - who, as a lone parent with 10 other children, presumably has little time to spare for her wayward son - seems to believe it is entirely the government's responsibility to keep him entertained; perhaps she expects David Cameron to pop round on a Thursday afternoon to kick a ball about with the lad.

Meanwhile, liberal commentators are lining up to deplore the fact that disaffected youngsters find school 'boring, innit'*, criticising teachers for failing to make their subjects entertaining enough to grab the attention of their pupils.

That is easier said than done, given today's media culture. With the best will in the world, if the 14-year-old sitting (I use the term loosely; lounging, sprawling... take your pick) in front of you has been playing Grand Theft Auto since he was seven, I doubt he's going to find 'To Kill a Mockingbird' riveting, however gifted his teacher.

And if the girl at the next desk has been up all night watching hard-core porn with her 20-year-old boyfriend, it is unlikely that she will be moved by the wistful lyricism of Wendy Cope.

Many teachers do try, but Health and Safety have taken the bangs and fizzes out of the science lab and all the adrenalin out of outdoor activities, while the omnipresent inhibiting spectre of political correctness hovers over every Humanities classroom.

And, of course, anyone who tries the currently fashionable  'Down wit' da kidz' approach - "Dat Fortinbras, 'e's well 'ard!" or "Ophelia's a nutter wot topped 'erself, innit."* - deserves all the contempt and scorn they will undoubtedly receive from the class - and the justified anger of those parents who want their children properly taught.

A disturbing number of these children are effectively adrenalin junkies, reared on a constant bombardment of visual and auditory input to such an extent that they are desensitised to all but the strongest images and emotions; no teacher can hope to match the flood of sensation they need to register something as entertaining. And on the back of this brainwashing ride the messages of consumerism that allegedly fuelled the looting last week.

What is needed goes against all that their viewing habits - including the notorious 'MTV Cribs' - have been telling them since early childhood; they need to learn that life isn't fair, that simply wanting something badly enough isn't going to make it happen and that you can't expect to be entertained and amused day in, day out for the rest of your life.

And above all, if they are ever to become employable, they need to learn that boredom isn't what someone else does to you; it's all your own work.

* Does 'innit' require a question mark? I'm never quite sure.


  1. Good post - sounds like the voice of experience.

  2. What is very worrying is how incoherent and limited many of those at the bottom end are I do not remember it being anywhere near as bad as this amongst the labouring classes of decades ago.

  3. Thanks, AKH; some things, once seen or heard, are never forgotten, alas.

    Demetrius, a generation of indulgence - 'Don't correct their English' and 'Never criticise: praise them enough and they'll get it right sooner or later' - has meant youngsters growing up unable to hold a coherent conversation in their own language.

    The interviews with rioters - some even subtitled, so incomprehensible is what comes out of their mouths - display a paucity of vocabulary and grammar that would have been unthinkable to the teachers of previous generations.


Moderation is on as I’m having some technical difficulties with Comments