The debate: Sticks and stones – is it just banter?
Ofsted have released a report asserting that name-calling is rife in many schools, but is often dismissed as just banter.
It found that pupils are using insults relating to sexuality, intelligence, race, appearance and family circumstances, with some children commenting that they thought such language was fine if used between friends.
Words such as “stupid”, “mong”, or “spaz” were used when pupils struggled with their work or in sport, while other youngsters told inspectors that terms such as “gay”, “slag” or “slut” could be used against classmates.
Derogatory language is common among children, but is using terms that have undoubtedly negative connotations detrimental to how children will view minority groups? Or are efforts to quell offensive language among school children both futile and a step too far?
FOR: Ben Cottam, Comedian performing with The Three Englishmen.
Another year, another ill-judged attempt to stamp out banter… Regardless of whether one could actually ever stop people from deploying unpleasant language against one another (and let’s be entirely honest, schools have hardly condoned such language in the past), this new Ofsted offensive against the offensive ignores, inevitability aside, some of the more positive aspects of banter.
I must be clear here: I’m not defending anyone using any misogynist, racist or sexist language but I am arguing that mild banter is entirely human and might even be termed, for all it is unfashionable, character-forming. Everyone is in essence the sum of their social experiences; people learn to behave through their misbehaviour – they aim not to repeat the mistakes and punishments of the past. I aim to be polite and decent in the way I conduct myself with others and this is largely a result of how guilty and unpleasant I have felt when I overstepped the mark. Similarly, I’ve often found the bullies of the past, far from descending further into sociopathic behaviour, to nowadays be pleasant people. Successful banter is the preserve of the everyday over the egregious, intelligent rather than invective.
Another hallmark of successful banter is its inventiveness. It seems somewhat churlish to rail against milder schoolyard insults when such language, not always in a more sophisticated or subtle form, is the lifeblood of our broadsheet and tabloid press, our pop music and panel shows. Who hasn’t been moved to tears (more commonly of laughter I must add) by a well-judged and witty insult? A Belgian friend once remarked that the thing that had struck her most on moving to Britain was the sheer amount of slang we use. I remarked that this was the sign of a healthy society and then went back to taking the piss out of her… In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, our friendship is as strong as ever.
AGAINST: Korrin smith, Head of English at Prendergast-Ladywell Fields College, Lewisham
It’s easy to disregard the hefty 70 page document from Ofsted telling us “name-calling is rife” in schools. What’s new? It always has been and, some may argue, it always will be. As a teacher, I could easily be offended and complain that we are not responsible for all social ills. However, I hope that the recent report is a recognition of schools’ power to reform society and our dedication to see children behaving better than adults.
Society has brought this young generation up on an unhealthy diet of Big Brother, The Weakest Link, The Biggest Loser. We’ve clogged their arteries with the idea of evictions and public humiliations. Can we blame them for having a lack of empathy for others? They’ve watched and learned and the verdict is in; it’s fun to judge people and call them names.
Yes, children can be cruel. But so can adults. And until this changes, all the work we are doing in schools is being undermined. Children see adults behaving cruelly and inappropriately all the time, and it goes unchallenged. How long did it take for the first jokes to be texted after the plane hit the twin towers? How long did it take UEFA to respond to the extreme racist behaviour we witnessed this summer at Euro 2012?
Students’ obsession with the word ‘gay’ should be challenged creatively and lead to a scheme of work on the politics and evolution of language, enabling students to understand that this word is offensive when used as an insult. The word might seem harmless to most students, but for the minority of gay students in schools, hearing this word used as an insult, even if it’s not directed at them, is brutal, especially when an adult doesn’t challenge it. When students call each other ‘fobs’ (fresh off the boats) and refer to any foreign students as ‘illegals’, we should use it as a chance to discuss the history of immigration and how most of the school, including the teachers, have families that trace back to other countries, not disregard it as harmless banter.
It’s not just the victims of name calling we should be concerned for, but also those students who perpetually feel the need to label others. Or maybe they can’t articulate how they feel, exposing the need to teach students about mindfulness and their emotions, as well as improving their communication skills. Such negative comments are opportunities for teachers and can be harnessed in the classroom.
Schools can’t save the world, but the curriculum could have impressive power . It could force young people to explore their actions in a way that adults refuse to. The curriculum needs to address wider issues and allow teachers flexibility to deal with situations as and when they rise.
Which do you agree with? Leave your comments below.Tagged in: banter, bullying, debate, education, gay, mong, name-calling, Ofsted, school, spaz, youth
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