Where have we all gone wrong?

And so it happened. Last night, as I thought it would, I saw someone on the news that I recognised. On the Cambridge local news a series of CCTV images of ‘individuals wanted for questioning’ was shown, and one of them, I am almost 100% sure, was of one of the boys from the school I am DP of. There he was, brazenly unhooded, full face. It was only the somewhat pixellated nature of the image that stopped me from knowing categorically it was him. But I knew.

I called the police and reported him. The officer told me that someone else from the school had just called, and that this was one of a number of identifications of this boy. I felt vindicated, proven right. I felt I had done my bit to bring people like this lad to justice.

Like many, I have felt many emotions over the last few days. Anger, disbelief, frustration, but above all sadness. We all have our part to play in what has happened, in education as much as anywhere else. It is no good laying blame on the parents, most of whom are struggling to live from day to day themselves. The kids rampaging through the streets (and it is noticeable how many of them are indeed kids, as young as eight it seems) are the lost generation of the lost generation preceding them; the parents haven’t a clue how to properly look after their children, have given them too much freedom too young, have probably themselves been critical of authority; of schools, police, politicians. A generation of disenfranchised men and women who feel slighted by ‘immigrants’ coming over to ‘take their jobs’ and who have passed on their anger to their children, who themselves spend their days immersed in virtual warfare, rape and robbery in the shape of Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.

There is a lot of anger out there, and the surface layer of calm has been shown to be incredibly fragile. It took the death of one young man last week to spark rioting on an unprecedented scale in this country, with social networking sites and BBM fanning the flames far faster than would have happened only a few years ago. We simply have to take note of this, and along with tougher policing (which seems a no brainer) we need to look again at the world we are creating through our parenting and schooling.

And it is schooling that must be examined, now more so than ever. We need an education system that gives the young a better start, We are failing far too many of them, and this is the result. Although there are exceptions, such as the young university student, the teaching assistant and the graphic designer, by and large these are working class kids from the estates, as many white as black, who feel utterly abandoned by the world and who, for a brief moment, saw a chance to get their own back on a system that they feel has given them nothing. That, coupled with a feeling that they could get away with it, that with numbers comes a dilution of responsibility, and a police force who by and large stood by helplessly while the kids stole with impunity, was a powerful combination.

It is up to us in education to do something about this. We know the system is broken for many (not all – we still have our high flyers like Laura Johnson – but look where that got her) and that we have created an underclass that are restless and eager to do anything to break the boredom of unemployment or a long summer holiday. None of this is news to us, but none of us thought the last few days would have happened in this country. We have been given a wakeup call – seeing this lad on the TV screen last night has certainly woken me up. It is now time to act on this, before it gets worse. Which it will.

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