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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 84 - Bully for pupils who combatclass Flashmans

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.

I was 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.

A likely 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 viewers.

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.

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