IN AN address at Clifford’s Inn,
London, in 1905, Bernard Shaw said, "A child is a savage, cruel, noisy,
dirty, frightful, inquisitive being, indiscreet to the point of telling
the truth on all occasions and regardless of the feelings of others."
Persons who lived with their children, he added, did so because they could
not afford to do otherwise.
The playwriting pundit was
wrong, as he was in many other polemical profundities. As one with 12
years’ childhood experience, from the gripewater years to the bubblegum
ones and beyond, I say that any belief in the innate passion for truth
among the young is largely illusory.
Of course, madam and you sir,
I don’t mean your Wayne, Tracey or Lorraine, who are doubtless strangers
to the exciting and creative world of falsehood, but the bulk of children,
who, while not serious liars, are pragmatists, ready to deliver white lies
or fibs of a darker hue, to get out of scrapes - "it wisnae me" - or to
gain some advantage.
Bernard Shaw’s tilting at overblown Edwardian
concepts of childhood innocence, and meant to outrage society, was flawed.
He did not mention the young’s propensity for bullying. Yet, plenty went
on in schools then as implied in references to "bully" Flashman, a
character who had novel experiences after appearing in the Victorian book,
Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
Nowadays, bullying appears to be rife in schools.
According to Britain’s Secret Shame, a BBC 1 television series on the
subject, an average of 16 bullied children commit suicide every year and
bullying is increasing among adults in our increasingly aggressive
get-on-or-get- out society.
IN SCHOOLS, in my experience
and that of scholastic "insiders" I know, those often bullied include the
small, bespectacled, fat, not-too-bright, those with some disability or
physical peculiarity, the academically gifted, or others merely around
when someone wants to make a classmate cringe.
occasionally bullied by bigger boys in my angelic infancy but got myself a
minder, a large lad to whom I had done a good turn (I had removed, if I
remember aright, a thorn from his paw). Whenever playground trouble
threatened, I summoned him and, in a flurry of half-Nelsons, cross-presses
and submissions, he deftly dispersed my irritants.
reason for the bullying increase in Britain is the endless backbiting,
gossiping, rumour-spreading and verbal-bullying on television soap operas,
according to Sarah Coyne, a lecturer in psychology at the University of
Lancashire, speaking at the recent British Psychological Conference.
Pioneering research, she said, showed a significant link between the
amount of aggression screened and bad behaviour among adolescent and adult
The worst offender was Emmerdale, followed by
EastEnders and Coronation Street - all averaged 14 incidents an hour of
characters back-biting about each other.
MANY television plays and
serials I watch show characters in argumentative hysteria swinging into
physical violence. Distressing, because many viewers can get all that
domestically and want a change of entertainment. Television and cinema
advertisements are often aggressively overstated and focus on hectoring,
bullying characters or, with bullying effect, show cataclysmic events,
equal in intensity to a bursting dam, perhaps only to ram home the virtues
of some underarm deodorant.
All Britain nowadays seems
enraged, with "fury" in so many newspaper headlines. I suspect that the
national anger grid is becoming overloaded and rage radiation is
permeating schools, transforming hitherto delightful children into
playground preyers on vulnerable classmates.
I often see pupils entering
and leaving an Edinburgh comprehensive school. While, doubtless,
galactically distant behaviourally from some pupils bitterly described
recently by their Inverness primary school headmistress as liars, cheats,
vandals and terrorisers of the local community, many look angry, surly and
threatening and, I suspect, bullies may not be unknown in that sullen mass
Meanwhile, one in ten British schools is training specially- selected
pupils as anti-bullying peer listening counsellors. I admire such
dedication among youngsters to combat a problem that can make life
nightmarish for children, and I salute teachers who have to deal not only
with disruptive and predatory pupils but also the stress - in too many
schools - of life in a scholastic madhouse. Bully for them.