punchy line

...and he (Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ... not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. - Jn 20: 6-7
-Jn 20: 6-7

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Teacher's Perspective on the UK Riots

While the riots in the UK demonstrate a barbarism amongst the youth that may shock their parents and grandparents, I'm pretty positive that one group remains completely unsurprised by rioters' disregard for any form of higher authority: teachers.

English journalist, William Oddie of the Catholicherald.co.uk suggests a connection exists between the ability of teachers to enforce discipline and the current wave of crime:

One thing the riots show, however, is that those who looted and burned really don’t believe that there is any objective standard of behaviour by which they are constrained. Why is that? One reason is that nobody has ever told them any different. Not their parents: and probably not their teachers. And at school, even if their teachers are anti-relativists, they almost certainly have very little authority over their pupils (someone should now do a study to see if there is any correlation between the areas in which the rioting originated, and the state of school discipline in those same areas: I bet the correlation is 100 per cent).

Oddie is spot on, at least, in principle. While the imbecilic actions of the protestors reveals a complete disconnect from reality and is rooted in complex issues (especially in post-Christian England), a large social breakdown of civility has occurred in schools regarding student discipline which, as Oddie's quote indicates, we can perhaps correlate to the violence we're seeing now. Teachers today, here and across the pond, encounter unprecedented resistance from students as well as parents when they attempt to hold their classes to basic behavioral expectations.

For many, that schools find their discipline policies consistently challenged comes as no surprise. I've personally known teachers who simply forgo with correcting students altogether due to vehement opposition, especially by parents who often thuggishly demand that they acquiesce to their wishes (versus holding students higher principles of right and wrong). Or the opposite is true: some parents never reinforce the 'higher' lessons learned in school - such as getting along with one's peers or respecting authority - due to sheer laziness or apathy and so some educators simply don't bother anymore with trying to pass on important life lessons in the classroom.

However this treatment of school discipline does not only come from parents. Child psychologists, social workers, family lawyers and other government officials, with enough pressure (or money), will fly into the classroom to 'protect' families feeling any sort of discomfort with classroom management - you know, because discipline is always meant to be a pleasant thing.

But if such 'my will trumps your will' or 'I don't care about character formation for my kid, just pass them' sentiments are so very commonplace amongst adults then why are we so shocked at the degree of violent and pointless mayhem on the part of young rioters? They too are just saying. "My will comes first! Right and wrong...whatever!"

I'm not trying to oversimplify the situation in England; I realize that the collapse of central morality, the family, and a culture of narcissitic victimhood is ultimately behind the UK riots. But I share William Oddie's inference that schools being allowed to hold students to a standard of behavior can be indispensable with staving off senseless disruptions to peace later. Let me put it this way: at one time, not so long ago, when students still cowered in healthy fear when they were disobedient, and the adults rarely dissented from disciplinary decisions – there ran a well-oiled system that ensured harmony in schools, families and society. Rioting was rare then, and only happened in L.A. Generally speaking, children were taught and corrected, authority was respected and violent displays of civil unrest erupting in cities and malls remained anomalies.

Perhaps curbing the current appetite for stealing shoes and watching fire engulf a random double decker bus may be as simple as fostering respect for authority at an early age (um, duh?). And as a child’s formative years typically unfold in the sacrosanct environment of school, perhaps it's also the ideal place to begin instilling reverence for rules and officials. But if a child's first acquaintance with authority in school is mom and dad picketing the teacher’s room when they receive a “B” on a report card, or parents that don't give two hoots for monitoring grades and maturity whatsoever, then please don’t be surprised if those kids grow up to riot and loot in protest over their ‘plight.’

If parents and teachers truly collaborated as allies and endeavored to instruct children with mutual respect, what a genuine partnership for the common good could be formed! It could be a model children that would imitate in their lives rather than the current hullabaloo. More than ever before, civility and recourse to higher principles of morality made present, starting in the home, extending to school and then beyond, is something we need to take seriously.

Read all of Oddie's article here.


  1. The government has been trying to do the parent's job for decades. This is the natural result and a warning for us.

  2. Yep, well said, Ed. I don't know if you caught Mark Shea's piece about the riots and London illustrating the "big law, small law" principle, but it has some great insights! http://markshea.blogspot.com/2011/08/london-illustrating-big-lawsmall-law.html. It's a complex issue to be sure (or is it?) This is just one teacher's perspective - hopefully the UK can arrive at civility again after this. Praying for them.