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 9 June 2020

Sowing the seeds

From a previous post:

Many years ago, I was working in a school in an ethnically diverse area with significant discipline problems and poor exam results (some of the reasons for that are discussed here). Homework frequently presented a problem - I had one pupil who did his at a table in the corner of a takeaway restaurant - and a certain flexibility was often required.

Sometimes, though, it was necessary to complete an assignment in order to understand the next lesson. In one such case, I told a boy to come back to the classroom at lunchtime, when I would be at my desk marking and could give him any help he needed. He looked doubtful:

Pupil: Is this a detention, like?
Me: No; it's so you can finish that work before this afternoon's lesson, otherwise you won't understand what we're doing.
Pupil: So I don't need to report it then?
Me: Report it?
Pupil: To Mr H.
Me: (baffled) Who's Mr H?
Pupil: He runs my Saturday school.

This was the first I'd heard of it, so I asked him to explain. The boy told me he had started attending a Saturday school intended to improve the academic achievement of afro-caribbean boys. So far so good - I told him how pleased I was that he was taking his education seriously - but there was more:

'Mr H says that we have to tell him if a white teacher gives us a detention. If there are no white kids in the detention, that's racist. If you tell me off and don't tell any white kids off, that's racist too; Mr H said so.'

I asked for more details; it turned out the boys had been instructed to give Mr H the names of any 'racist' teachers who told them off - a worrying prospect for staff living in the catchment area. The same applied to white teachers who criticised black pupils' behaviour or even asked them to tidy their appearance

It was only after I left the school that the full irony of the situation became clear to me; I found out that the Saturday school in question had been started with contributions from a national televised charity appeal. Well-meaning people from all over the country had put their hands in their pockets to enable Mr H to undermine the teacher-pupil relationship.


That boy must now be in his mid-forties; I wonder what he thinks of the current situation - and, more pertinently, what Mr H is doing now.


  1. Strewth - and no doubt Mr H could easily explain how justified and moral his behaviour was.

    It is amazing how often we come up against incidents where we are almost compelled to take it further - to understand how totalitarian regimes recruit all the informers they need.

    1. Indeed; it was a chilling glimpse of an entirely alien mindset which has stayed with me since.


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