Kid #33 and #34 – kicking, pushing, punching and lies

The thirty-third kid I hated was a pathological liar and the thirty-fourth kid I hated was also a pathological liar.

The thirty-third child had perfected his pathological lying by being sociopathic. He once so emphatically denied having stolen another student’s Lego bricks, despite me having seem him steal them, that I chastised the other student until she cried, to see if he’d be overcome by guilt. He stood there watching the whole thing. No guilt. Just good ole’ fashioned sociopathy. No empathy in the eyes. Just empty behind the eyes. (NB – I explained to the girl later the psychological mind games I’d attempted, and she seemed ok with everything.)

The thirty-fourth child left his finger prints everywhere. Yet, he would still gormlessly claim innocence. He literally left his finger prints everywhere, on one occasion placing his finger-paint smothered hands on all variety of surfaces. One of those surfaces was his face. He had the body of a nine-year-old and the mind of a three-year-old (I can’t back this up medically. I just based it on observations). I stared at him as he stood there covered head-to-toe in paint. I was in such disbelief I sent him holus-bolus to the ‘inclusion’ room (a room ironically for students excluded from normal class). He was their problem now.

Both students were in the same class, and while the infantile artist continued acting like a baby, the sociopath evolved more and more into a bully. Almost without fail, when I would return to the playground at the end of breaktimes and lunchtimes to collect the class, I would be set upon by both children claiming that the other had started a fight with them. If I was lucky, they would be mid-slap, mid-punch or mid-kick – it was easier to identify the perpetrator that way. Then it was a case of indignant high-moral ground from the former or grumbly baby-sulks from the latter. Either way, both would deny culpability, despite how the cookie had crumbled on that occasion. Sometimes it would defy logic and science, like the time the bully-one wrote the phrase “I am dumb” in the baby-one’s journal and claimed the baby-one had written it themselves. Now even if you were in the presence of the dumbest dummy out of the dum-dums, you’d be hard pressed to find a dumb-brain dumb enough to acknowledge their dumbness. The situation didn’t make sense.

What did make sense, was both were classic cases of the apple not falling far from the decaying apple tree.

The parents of the sociopathic bully had a chip on their collective shoulder. They blew their money on Masaratis, designer children’s clothes from Harrods and Waitrose sandwiches. Unsurprisingly, they had run short on money to provide their children with a quality education and had defaulted to sending them to an undersubscribed central London government primary school. It is my opinion that schools in central London which are undersubscribed, are bad schools. There are many schools busting at the seems and over-subscribed, there is little other reason for being ten or more children short per class than the fact a school is a little bit rubbish.

My favourite line from these over-cashed under-sensed parents came from the father who once said, “I run a business with more than thirty people, so I know what it would be like to run a classroom”. Sure, I thought. Let’s just do swapsies for a day and see what happens then. If I run your business into the ground, you can stop telling me how to do my job.

The parent of the baby-child was his mother. Much of the dialogue I had was with uncles and a grandmother, as the mother spoke little English and appeared to be off with the fairies. By all accounts, the rest of the extended family were quite switched on. Many of the cousins attended the school and were lovely children who were reasonably intelligent. Something was a bit awry here. It was a sad case I’m sure. The child was being failed and allowed to maintain this persona of ‘baby’ of the family, and seemingly ‘baby’ of the school. The uncles would insist the older cousins were helping with the child’s homework, but nothing was sticking, bar a few tame expletives (e.g. ‘poobum’).

On and on the bickering, lies and fighting went between these two buffoons. The parents of the sociopath would continually make complaints and maintain their son’s innocence in every matter. The Golden Child Syndrome they were suffering from brought them much stress, misconstruing every word that was said by adult and child alike to their son. The mother appeared to genuinely believe he could do no wrong. The father would intimidate staff and children by standing over them – probably where his young ‘prodigy’ learnt his bully tactics from.

The situation became untenable when the parents began asking for spoilt-britches to be moved into the safety of the other class. In a classic case of complying by path-of-least-resistance, the management allowed the child to be moved away from baby-face. The parents had one with the sociopath of their loins being taught the valuable lesson to “run away and hide from your problems as a means of dealing with them”.

And that was that. I didn’t see him again. If I were to see him, I doubt I’d ask which designer his latest jacket was from. Nor would I ask the other child, whether his finger-painting techniques had made him a world-renowned modern artist. They’d probably just lie about it anyway.

I see you’ve played ‘Knifey Spooney’ before

Last week I found myself covering a nursery class and being asked to cut their lunch up. These children would have been between two to four years of age. There was a range of fine motor skills on show, with the more dextrous students neatly piercing the fork tines into their roast chicken and gently slicing through the cooked flesh with their oxymoronic safety knives. In the middle ground there were: those who held their implements like pens, those with the knife and fork interchanging between hands, and those using a spoon as a knife.

The remaining students – let’s call them the ‘Remedial Diners’ Club’ – were salivating into their plates knowing enough table etiquette to restrain from using fingers, but too dyspraxic to fasten a grip on their cutlery to succeed in the daily task of eating lunch.

So it was, I found myself circumnavigating the dining hall performing dissections on not only roast chicken, but also potatoes, beans and various other legumes. Furiously, I muttered to myself about the disservice parents had done by not educating their children before they left the family dinner table. But then I looked up to find other adults were also cutting food for these youngsters, further compounding the problem. Not that it is often the responsibility of educators to branch out beyond the usual topics of numeracy and literacy, into realms of topics such as ‘how to eat food’; but it struck me that teaching the children what to do would save time in the long run. These children were not being equipped for the coming years of independent food consumption. I could see that students in Year One and Two were also being given the silver service treatment of pre-cut food. I half expected to see a staff member mimic how a mother bird feeds its young, chewing the canteen lunch and regurgitating it into the mouth of one of these infants.

As I stood there guiding another student’s hands into the correct holding position, I began questioning myself. When had I started to use cutlery? It was in the blurred years between living memory and those early years which are mere fragments of sights, sounds and smells of my early existence. Was my subconscious obsession with correct cutlery use a mere relic of my own particular upbringing? Was correct handling of a fork not valued in all households?

I decided to check with another friend, who I knew would happily lament the misuse of cutlery in modern society. They too were raised to eat dinner in the late 1980s, when corncob skewers held your corn, prawns were eaten with a cocktail fork and every meal was presented in a CorningWare Wildflower baking dish or casserole (look it up – you’ll recognise the flower pattern when you see it).

They too could not particularly recall the exact moment they started using cutlery correctly, so assumed it was somewhere around the age of three or four. They also highlighted a special pushing implement I had not heard of. Apparently it is called a ‘baby food pusher’, appearing to date back to at least the 1920s thus confirming my friend’s suspicion that they had an ‘old-fashioned’ upbringing.

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The pusher (see above) is used in place of a knife to teach children to push the food onto the back of their fork. That’s right! The back of the fork! Check Debrett’s Handbook of Modern Manners and you’ll discover even peas must be collected on your fork with mash potato. No shovelling allowed:

If using a knife and fork together, always keep the tines of the fork pointing downwards and push the food on to the fork. It may be necessary to use mashed potato to make peas stick to the fork but it is incorrect to turn the fork over and scoop.

Now, based on my haphazard research, the consensus seemed to be that by kindergarten age, children should be able to use cutlery. I checked with my six month old nephew, who has recently graduated from milk to solids. When I asked him whether he’d begun using cutlery his answer was incomprehensible. So, I checked with his parents who told me he was still reliant on other humans creating spoon simulations of locomotives and aircrafts to guide the food into his mouth. They also quoted a parenting book as saying that it was all ‘spoons and hands up to 12 months of age’.

This at least narrowed the field of cutlery handling to somewhere within the toddler wasteland of one to three years old. I checked in with an old work buddy who has spent many years of their professional life teaching children younger than five. They also confirmed they had “absolutely” started using cutlery by primary age. So, I knew there would be no complimentary carving of food in their classroom.

But then I checked in with an Indian friend who claimed they used their hands until they were five years old. Then they clarified it was probably three years old and offered to take me to dinner to prove it. I took them up on their offer, where we ate our curry using cutlery. Perhaps British values of cutlery-use have pressured conformity on those who have other plate-to-mouth methods. My Indian friend also pointed out how odd they found it when they first went to school and saw a girl using knife and fork to eat some roti.

Perhaps the children who were struggling with their cutlery in the dinner hall were not incompetent after all. Perhaps they were just unfamiliar and should be left to eat food the way they were used to at home; mopping up their pasta sauce with a chapatti, eating roast beef with chopsticks and peeling a banana with a runcible spoon.

Cutlery etiquette is all very confusing and leaves you in a hey diddle diddle. No wonder the dish forked off with the spoon.