The thirteenth kid I hated was an army cadet. This is not why I hated him.
Being an army cadet is certainly not a hanging offence. In fact nothing is a hanging offence in schools because capital (sic corporal) punishment was pushed out of most Australian and European schools at least by the end of the eighties. I daren’t say all because, for example, Nollamara Christian Academy in Western Australia only removed the corporal element of punishment from their behaviour strategy at the beginning of this academic year. 1 Yet are we surprised when the motto of the school is “enter to learn…go forth to serve”? When the Egyptian slaves went about ‘serving’ they got a good beating; as did the slaves of Essos across the Narrow Sea; and the Wookiees who built the Death Star.
But I digress. This child did not require any heavy handed tactics. Even if I had, I imagine his army training would have given him the upper hand if I had entered into a combat situation with him. Army cadets are not to be messed with. I remember when I was at school someone turned up to school one day with a massive curved scar on one cheek. He’d been at an army cadet training camp and forgot to open his can of baked beans before putting it on the fire. The can exploded and opened his face instead. At the time it seemed pretty hard-core. Honestly, it’s still would be pretty hard-core if someone took out half their face with a tin can. If this was the damage an army cadet could do to themselves when they weren’t trying to injure someone, I wasn’t game to test my hated student to see what damage he’d do when he was trying.
Luckily the only time he turned up to school with his army uniform, and any semblance of a weapon (he was holding a wooden flag pole with blunted ends), was when the ANZAC Day march was held. Presumably he’d been trained to use a gun, but had he requested to bring that for the occasion I imagine he’d be declined under the strict Occupational Health and Safety regulations. This is the sort of nanny-state age we live in. No 21-gun-salute for these teenagers – which is fair enough considering the only warzone they’d ever experience is in Call of Duty: World at War facing an onslaught of Zombies.
Of course, it was not all the flag waving and fanfare that caused this child to be an ache in the bottom. It was because, the only thing he wished to cooperate with was flag waving and fanfare. If he was asked to write some words or complete a worksheet he refused. Worse still he acted as though he was above it. He was a leader among cadets and did not have time for trivial grammatical and punctuation matters when his queen and country needed his service for the protection of the free. The faint sound of gunshots, in distant lands over the sea, was calling him; and subordinate clauses would be of no use to him when his regiment would need nothing more than one word commands; ‘fire’, ‘hold’, ‘attack’ etc.
The other students had little time for him. They saw him neither as a threat or a potential victim for their chiding. He had fortressed his emotion in an iron-cast strong-hold and saw all others as subordinates. When he wasn’t condescending you with his words, he would have that suspicious look in his eye telling you he doubted whatever you said.
So, what to do with such a child?
The general approach was to counter all the negativity with smiles, positivity, encouragement and feigned interest (disguised as genuine interest) in his alternative life as an army cadet. He also knew a thing or two about computers, so every so often I’d humour him and get him to demonstrate something technical to me. Playing to his narcissism usually resulted in the completion of one or two extra sentences of writing during a one hour English lesson. It became a game of concentration to avoid retaliating to his confrontational mood with further confrontation. A lot of deep breathing was required to maintain a calm diplomatic disposition when dealing with this aspiring army commander. He was always one step away from confusing a polite instruction for an insult; or confusing the school bell for a call to arms.
The kind, caring and humouring approach worked successfully for the most part with this child. The ANZAC Day march was a fine example of this. I’d never seen him look prouder to be part of something. His chest was puffed out in pride as he marched for his country, leading the parade around the school gymnasium. He was calm, centred and transcended his usual paranoid state. It took every inch of restraint to stop myself from sliding an analytical essay under his nose to see how he’d react. Perhaps his place truly was providing allegiance to the troops and not writing analysis of Dickensian literature. Perhaps institutionalised education was not for him. Perhaps it was another institution. Perhaps it was the Army.
So although I came to respect this child for the military officer he was, if we met again in the trenches I doubt I’d walk ahead of him. I’d walk behind. Always behind, with my gun cocked, ready for him to turn at any time.
1 Last WA school using corporal punishment forced to end practice from next term – ABC News Jan 7, 2015 (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-01-07/last-school-to-cease-corporal-punishment-in-wa/6004992)