The three main children in The Hate U Give are named Starr (Amandla Stenberg), Seven (Lamar Johnson) and Sekani (TJ Wright).
I’ve often wondered where these seemingly less traditional names come from – particularly names where the meaning is the name and the name the meaning. As a white person, perhaps I am accustomed to Anglo names where their origins are less obvious. Names like Elizabeth (meaning my God is my oath), John (meaning Yahweh is gracious), Harry (meaning home ruler), Jessica (meaning to behold), Robert (meaning bright fame), Hannah (meaning grace) and so forth.
When I have taught students named Goodness, Charity, Wisdom, Prince and others where the meaning of the name explains itself immediately, I had presumed their parents, often African (in the case of this film African American), had torn a random selection of words from a dictionary and pulled one out of a hat. But upon watching The Hate U Give it became clear to me these names, which are often values, traits or flattering abstract nouns, are allocated with deliberation. More so than the randomness of say Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s fruit-based Apple or Kim Kardashian and Kanye’s compass-orientated North.
The children’s father Maverick ‘Mav’ Carter (Russell Hornsby) explains:
“You know not everybody got super-powers like you. Shine your light. I didn’t name you Starr by accident.
“I gave each of you power in your names. Seven – perfection, Starr – light, Sekani – joy. Use it so when you ready to talk, you talk. Don’t you ever let nobody make you quiet.”
And Starr does talk. The film talks. And we all need to talk.
Police shootings and deaths in custody have been the trigger for riots. In my living memory I recall two vividly: The first was the 2004 Redfern riots sparked by the death of Thomas Hickey. The second was upon my arrival in London when the 2011 London riots were triggered by the death of Mark Duggan.
Both years apart, yet still an ongoing issue. It’s not one I’ve experienced firsthand. I hope not to. But this film and the teen novel it is based on, by Angie Thomas, are valuable commentary on the privilege divide and the misplaced government resources that firstly lead to cases of police racism.
At times The Hate U Give seems to approach the subject with a certain superficial washed-out Hollywood glossiness. I suppose after all it is a teen drama, so can’t afford to get too gritty. Yet it raises the questions that need to be asked. It doesn’t shy away from biases on both sides, like when Starr brings home her white boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa), leading to her father’s attempt to give him a tip, assuming the boyfriend is the cheauffer, then declaring, “That boy is white…Chris? What kind of plain-ass name is that?”
And indeed, what’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would it smell as ‘plain-ass’? If we call a ‘spade’ a ‘shovel’ instead of a ‘spade’, should we call a ‘Harry’ a ‘Home ruler’ and call a ‘Hannah’ a ‘Grace’? If we mix our metaphors, should we avoid name-calling to realise we’ve confused verbs and idioms?
(For the record, ‘Chris’ can be etymologised to ‘Christ’. Draw your own biblical conclusions between Starr and Chris.)
The imagery of Starr being a beacon of light is ever present as her voice cuts through the rhetoric on both sides of this race issue to lead toward a stronger future. Her given name and ‘super-power’ had been granted in hope for her generation that they can achieve where others have failed (which reminds me, I also had a student called Hope – it makes sense to me now).
Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is the obvious superhero role model for all girls around the world. How quickly and fickly we have forgotten Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Lucy Lawless as Xena (technically not a superhero – but you get the drift) or Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow.
But when it comes to successful merchandising, having a ‘first’ of something is most important: not the first female superhero, not the first female lead, not the first female Marvel superhero, but rather the first Marvel female lead superhero. It occurred to me as I watched the character Monica Rambeau, daughter of Carol Danvers’ (aka C. Marvel’s) friend Maria (Lashana Lynch), swanning around in awe of Captain Marvel that there will soon enough be the first Marvel female black superhero lead. But, why kill two birds with one stone when you can merchandise over both. Sure enough, we’ll have the first something or the other leading another Marvel universe escapade in the not too distant future as we destabilise the status quo of white male Marvel superheroes (Antman, Captain America, The Hulk, Doctor Strange, Spiderman, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor and so forth).
Progress is slow.
But cynicism aside, we are grateful for the eventual evolution. As with the release of Black Panther, which saw a campaign to raise money for disadvantaged children to see the film at a cinema, the release of Captain Marvel has seen Brie Larson campaigning for the #CaptainMarvelChallenge raising more than $60,000 to send young women to see the film.
Here are films changing the message being sent to young people, and additionally changing the experience. It is of course all in line with the humanitarian messages of Stan Lee and friends’ creation of the Marvel Universe.
The thinly veiled plot of refugees, in Captain Marvel, is one that is as relevant as ever. It is a universal issue that developed nations are dealing with. This film asks people to look past the media and/or political veil that paints refugees as ‘evil’ and poses the more confronting questions about whether those leading us and informing us are ‘evil’.
Captain Marvel is not just another beat in the over arching story of the Avengers films’ plots; Captain Marvel is a story for our time, a hero for our time and for the children of our time.
I love Disney as much as the next person. In fact, it verges on obsession. I’ve collected the animated films. I’ve read Walt Disney’s biography. I’ve dragged my cousin through the Disney Family Museum. I noticed Jenny’s bear in The Rescuers has a striking resemblance to Winnie the Pooh and that the tea set in Tarzan looks like the same one from Beauty and the Beast before the teapot was anthropomorphised into Mrs Potts. I’ve been to two of the Disney theme parks (granted a proper obsessive would have been to all of them – I’ve not been to the parks in Florida).
However, The Florida Project was an eye-opening, juxtaposing jolt of the disparity between the rich and poor surrounding the consumerist culture lying in the wake of the Disney parks and, for that matter, the entire company. The desperation and depravation of the young protagonists was enough to put you off your discontinued Kellogg’s Buzz Blasts cereal. The discount outlet selling knockoff Disney merchandise across from the dilapidated motel where Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) live, may well motivate you to run your plush Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear through the garden shredder.
Moonee is barely school-age and is running around the motel like an anti-Disney Mowgli. Instead of being raised by wolves, she’s being raised by the fringe dwellers of the Disney World who are foul-mouths, prostitutes, drug takers, drug dealers, petty criminals and drop-kicks. It’s truly the seedy underbelly of the Disney experience and a sad reality of how far things are from the EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) concept, which Walt dreamed up for the purpose of avoiding the usual pollution and dangers of an urban city. The land allocated for EPCOT inevitably became the hedonistic sanctuary of multiple Disney theme parks and resorts.
The Florida Project is highlighting this. But it’s equally a cry for help and portrait of strong humans fighting against the adversity that is struck down upon them. Moonee’s mother is a child herself. The desperation from these characters is too real. It reflects too many children inhabiting our cities and schools. These sorts of pressures should not be put upon them. Their childhoods are being stolen. They are being judged by adults (like when other parents in the precinct refuse to let their children associate with Moonee). Where is their adult compassion? There are adults who appear to actually hate kids (proper hate – unlike the author of this ironically titled blog). The sole adult who shows protectiveness and care is the manager (Willem Dafoe) of The Magic Castle Motel. Even he reaches breaking point when he discovers Halley servicing clients in her room and nicking their park passes to hawk off in carparks. He digs deep to find empathy. They are kids after all. They should not be cast out to survive alone. We must nurture and keep them. This film should remind us, not shock us. The inevitable end potentially reminds us of the escapist value of a world such as Disney’s. It is only that the real and the fantasy worlds should not be so far apart.
Friday saw children across the world walking out of schools to spend the day protesting their governments’ approaches to dealing with Climate Change and the impending doom awaiting us as the ice caps melt. Climate Change is real, but eyebrows have been raised over the effectiveness and appropriateness of children sacrificing a day of their education to hold a protest.
Is it their democratic right? Is it truancy? Is it making a stand? Are they puppets for their left-wing parents’ views? Should non-voters be involved in the policy making process? Are protests an effective way to affect change?
Many questions were raised. Few were answered. Let’s see what happened.
Greta Thunberg – The brains behind Climate Strike
The media have traced the climate strike back to Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg. She originally sat outside the Swedish parliament in the lead up to their parliamentary elections in October 2018, skipping school in favour of protesting against the Swedish government not reducing its carbon emissions. She wasn’t a complete nobody. Her mother is Melana Ernman is a famous Swedish opera singer and her father Svante Thunberg appeared in an episode of Skärgårdsdoktorn (Sweden’s answer to Doc Martin or perhaps Seachange). A cynical person would say nepotism and connections go a long way in helping raise somebody’s profile.
She’s been widely credited with planting the seed of an idea for the world-wide youth Climate Strike movement, which has seen a series of protests culminate in Friday’s global protest. In her TED talk she speaks directly about the notion we know what solutions are and that governments are not enacting them.
The response from leaders has been telling and obvious. By all accounts the truth of Climate Change, built on science and facts, is being largely ignored by the right. Meanwhile the left put their support behind the protests and calls for reform.
It’s certainly concerning that an issue that surely transcends politics has become more concerning for one side of the fence, and not the other.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, had the terrorist attack to deal with on Friday, but met students and said earlier in the week, “Don’t underestimate the power of your voice. I think too often we make this assessment that in order to have an impact you have to be of voting age. That is just not the case.”
French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the UN Environmental Assembly this week: “The damage that we will have to account for is immense. Immense. And now our youth wants us to hurry up. They’re saying that we’re not going fast enough. They are protesting, and rightly so. We need the anger of our young people, because it’s what’s pushing us to act faster and more forcefully.”
Donald Trump was presumably preoccupied by the Mueller report. But I think we can second-guess his opinion.
The UK Prime Minister Theresa May gave comment in February via her official spokesperson saying, “Everybody wants young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most so that we can build a brighter future for all of us. But it is important to emphasise that disruption increases teacher’s workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.” – Well, don’t get me started here. If she wants to win brownie points with the education system, she’ll need to meet some union demands before saccharine remarks about “carefully prepared” lessons sways opinion.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said, “I fully understand the concerns people feel. But we must also make it an opportunity. It can’t just be a fear.”
Obviously, an event like this raises the questions about how the young protestors will get to the event. Whether they will be able to make their own way there or if they will be safe when they get there, are all concerns for parents. Wisely some parents accompanied their children to the event. Even more wisely, they took public transport, so you can’t say they are burning unnecessary fossil fuels.
Comedian and actor Kerry Godliman took her daughter:
‘So today we walk out of school, we quit our college lessons, and we take to the streets to say enough is enough. Some adults say we shouldn’t be walking out of classes – that we should be “getting an education”. We think organising against an existential threat – and figuring out how to make our voices heard – is teaching us some important lessons.’
Sure, a lot can be learnt from protesting. But do it in your own time. Some people have argued the government won’t be sitting on weekends. So, do it on the school holidays. The attack on education is unfair for several reasons. Foremost that education must be seen to be delivered without bias. If teachers began espousing strong views in either direction on any number of issues, there would be outcry. Additionally, there are plenty of causes that warrant the attention of the youth and probably need protests held for their causes also. But if we allow one, we could be starting a nasty precedent for many more. I can think of at least 365 things to protest about, and that’s more than there are days in the school year.
Further there has been the accusation of lack of Climate Change content in the school curriculums. Again, there is only room for so many issues at a time, and Climate Change gets its fair share of curriculum space. It has not been ignored.
I remember school in the 1990s where we were educated widely about the ever-growing hole in the ozone layer, caused by the unnecessary use of aerosol cans. We were taught not to throw our plastic into the ocean, when Mr Burns stitches together thousands of plastic six-pack-rings to catch some sea life. We’ve known since Blinky Bill, Ferngully and The Lorax that chopping down trees is bad. We’ve had a climate change message for years. I find it unfair to put the burden of this lack of action upon schools.
Educators have worked further in integrating the awareness of Climate Change into curriculums with discussions around sustainable fashion, ethical food sources and entire parts of Geography curriculums dedicated to Climate Change.
To put things into practical terms, I’ve worked at a school where they banned children from bringing in any packed lunches with clingfilm wrapped sandwiches, foil wrapped food or disposable drink containers. How many work places have done the same?
I hope the protestors took their packed lunches in reusable shopping bags. Just saying.
We will wake up tomorrow morning and the planet will still be careering towards inevitable annihilation. The governments will still pontificate and tweak policies to delay any action. Greta and her global warriors will continue shouting to be heard. Schools will celebrate Climate Change week in October. Everyone will turn their lights off for one hour at the end of this month for Earth Hour.
People will continue to make token gestures, protest governments and offset our carbon emissions. But all these things will be in vain, if we don’t REDUCE our emissions in the first place.
Maybe our biggest problem is we’re dealing with Climate Change in the same way we deal with our individual impending dooms. We have that extra chocolate bar even though it will give us diabetes, drink that extra beer that’s damaging our liver, smoke the cigarette that shortens the lifespan of our lungs or chow down that fried breakfast despite the bacon fat lining the insides of our arteries. For Climate Change we use a plastic bag just that once, we drink coffee from a non-recyclable cup or we burn through a tank of petrol to go on a joy ride, thinking all the while it’s just one little piece of damage.
We can’t bury our head in the sand. We must take effective action. Painting some slogans on recycled cardboard won’t save the penguins from heat stroke. I wonder how many of those protestors on Friday simply jumped on the bandwagon. How many of them are well informed? Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything is a good starting point to understand the shades of grey in this issue. There are economic forces dictating the decisions made by big companies and governments. It is not as simplistic (despite being idealistic) to reduce all emissions to zero. The flow on to our own standards of living would be affected, as we’ve become dependent on the consumerism of the capitalist society.
I hope the students who took the day off school have learnt enough to make some daily choices. Here’s five starting points:
Always use reusable shopping bags (if you forget one, only purchase what you can carry in your arms).
Only purchase loose fruit and vegetable to avoid surplus packaging.
Only travel by foot, bicycle and public transport (no matter how average your local public transportation is – if you can’t get somewhere, maybe you don’t need to go in the first place).
Cook in non-stick dishes and dishes with covers to avoid ever using foil, baking paper or cling film.
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.
People argue the teacher is having to adapt and become counsellor, surrogate parent, nutritionist, advisor, baby-sitter and so forth. Now add to the mix security officer – or at least that’s the way Ohio county sheriff (and loyal Trump supporter) Richard K Jones would have it in Channel 4’s documentary Teachers Training To Kill.
In the wake of a shooting in one of the local schools, Sheriff Jones decides it would be best to provide gun training for teachers and arm a number of staff members in each of the schools. Thankfully, by the end of the documentary there is only one school which takes up the scheme of arming teaching staff with guns. Regrettably, that’s one school too many.
In the process many schools run training sessions for their staff at local shooting ranges and simulate school shootings to prepare teachers.
For the majority of the profession, teachers have sat through dull training sessions at work finding out about the latest curriculum developments. Team building sessions have perhaps been spent doing trust exercises or coming up with school values made from acronym-ising the school name. But running a shooting session at the gun club seems an extreme step for jazzing up a professional development session. Surely, they could have just got a glitter cannon for the guest speaker or put the budget towards a few extra curried-egg sandwiches.
There are many concerning aspects to this situation and gun use in general. I will just touch upon one aspect in this very complex issue.
I want to focus on the thought process of staff who agree to carrying guns around the school. I find it hard enough to swallow being given an extra yard duty shift, let alone if I were asked to start wearing a gun under my jacket.
Has the brainwashing of the state become so strong that people wouldn’t even question the conflicting ethics of protecting children, by carrying a gun to massacre other children?
The staff who were filmed taking part in the staff training days, appeared to be treating the whole thing with the same light-heartedness most of us take to a work social at the bowls club.
They were being trained to be killers and seemed ok with that. How does one go from being an idealist who wants to teach youngsters Pythagoras’ theorem to a vigilante who is prepared to shoot down the very same students?
It’s just not in the job description. I would have become a security guard, armed soldier or police officer if I thought I wanted a career that may require me to shoot someone dead. I just don’t have it in me. I get squeamish doing rat dissections.
It’s rare that I find myself floored by someone’s logic. Usually I can do the old, “Well, I suppose if I was in their situation, I’d maybe do (insert x, y and z)”.
But to think that I might spend my working day photocopying, sharpening pencils and marking books, yet every once in a while, I may need to shoot down a child point blank, I would not be able to do that. I don’t know who these people are who think that they can. And I doubt that they will be able to.
The main thing I took away, from watching this documentary, was that I am thankful I do not work in a part of the world where this happens.
Tiffany Haddish’s character is a high school teacher earning an extra buck running the night school classes for grown-ups trying to pass their leaving exams. Kevin Hart, one of her adult students, storms in on her at one point, when she is in the middle of giving additional help to a struggling young student.
It is not an uncommon situation to find the giving teacher providing additional support, homework or counsel to a young child. Sure, teachers can clock on and clock off when the bell tolls, but many don’t. They are thinking about their young proteges most of the time.
That’s not to say Haddish is playing a self-sacrificing character like Hilary Swank in Freedom Boys. She’s not that type of teacher. In fact, despite the broader slapstick elements of Night School, Haddish embodies a more balanced approach with a matter-of-fact approach to education. She’s not overly invested. If she sees a problem, she fixes it. When Hart’s character thinks she’s emotionally invested, she cuts him down a few pegs and tells him to get over himself.
She sees teaching as a job, and she does a good job. She goes beyond the call of duty, where there is a need, but she doesn’t let it tangle up with her personal life.
If we could all take a piece of pedagogical style from this film, we’d have injected a well needed counter-weight to the molly-coddling sentiment of some of the currently fashionable teaching trends, without of course losing our humanity.
The thirty-second kid I hated thought he could play the guitar.
Thought he was a real-life juvenile Jimi Hendrix, a snotty-nosed Slava Grigoryan, a tiny Tommy Emmanuel.
‘Thought’ was the operative word. ‘Play’ was a lofty dream of what he wanted to do with the guitar. ‘Owned’ was a more apt description of his relationship with the guitar.
The thirty-third kid owned a guitar.
He owned it in the sense that a person experiencing a midlife crisis owns a guitar, because they listened to too many Santana songs so thought they’d give it a good old-fashioned go themselves. They watch a few YouTube videos, pay half their live-savings towards private lessons and, when they get to the advanced stages of Deep Purple’s insidious Smoke on theWater guitar riff (the Chopsticks of the guitar), give up to instead frame the instrument for hanging in the pool room, while pursuing a macramé course.
The difficulty with this child was the YouTube videos he had watched were of Piano Cat, he had only paid £2 to be taught in a group of twenty children and, most problematically, he hadn’t given up. He just kept coming back. Every time we had guitar club, there he would be flapping his sticky flapjack-crumb-covered fingers on the fret board, massacring the chords to Michael Row the Boat Ashore.
Now, to put the ‘guitar club’ into perspective, the British education system has in the past many years hatched a half-cocked hairbrained scheme to have extra-curricular clubs outside of school hours. Clubs are usually hosted by staff working overtime, who are being compensated with time in lieu, a fistful of coins or a pat on the back. Meanwhile, the school can smugly show off to parents, top up the petty cash tin and earn a little tick in a box from the inspectors.
The reality for parents is their child will be baby sat for a cheaper rate than the normal after-school childcare services or the cost of a nanny.
In the case of this child, it was probably just to keep him out of the house for an extra hour. He was extremely hyperactive and the additional time away from home was most likely sweet relief for his folks. His parents were always very adamant that he held a deep passion for guitar, but then he also attended Lego club, cooking club, football club and origami club. Maybe he was an all-rounder.
“He just loves guitar club,” his mother would gush.
“He waits all week for guitar club.”
“He’s always practising at home.”
“He wants to be able to play like his uncle.”
Not to cast aspersions, but the way this student treated his guitar left one to think his uncle was some type of Antonia Banderas character toting a guitar-case loaded with weaponry. The child was prone to tantrums and aggressions. In contrast to my own upbringing where I was told to wash my hands before handling musical instruments, this child would have used the six-stringed song-maker as a dinner plate, given the opportunity.
We’d barely get through the first chord of Twinkle Twinkle and he’d be setting upon one of the children a few years younger. One lesson, we barely got to the end of the SpongeBob SquarePants Theme song, because of the disruption he caused. He’d be giving funny looks to the kids, speaking over the top of others and running in and out of the room. He was a complete nuisance and when you’ve got a room full of novice guitarists under the age of ten, the last thing you need is any distraction. Then when he’d finally settle, we’d still be waylaid by a plectrum falling into another child’s guitar or a string falling out of tune on the bright pink guitar one girl had purchased from Poundland – this is what she claimed, despite my scepticism that you’d even manufacture one tuning peg for less than five pounds. A group setting was not the place for guitar lessons, and it was not the place for this menace.
The school itself was not doing itself any favours. The headteacher at the time appeared confused as to the concept of reward and consequence. On one occasion after throwing a temper tantrum in class, we wandered past the headteacher’s office to see this belligerent pest eating ice-cream. On another occasion, after throwing a shoe at a student, we walked past to find said child being asked his opinion on the proposed plans for a proposed new half-million-dollar playground. It was at that point I figured we could forgo the weekly £2 club fee by getting rid of him altogether – the school was clearly saving money on consultancy fees so wouldn’t miss a couple of pounds.
I politely suggested to the mother that guitar wasn’t for this child. She seemed surprised. She mentioned something about how he was practicing a lot with uncle. I wondered quietly to myself whether she’d confused the guitar with the guns, because they both started with the letter ‘G’. Either way it seemed he was going nowhere. So instead he remained. My sanity did not. Neither did several of the other children who became fed up and left.
It seemed a case of ‘he who plays discordantly the loudest shall be heard’. And upon reflection, the purpose of much rock ‘n’ roll music is to manically release stress by banging membranophones, shouting into a microphone and slapping your hand across some nylon strings. It was probably good relief for this child to have an outlet.
I found my relief on the bus home listening to James Taylor.
“People respect us around here,” states Sam (Caleel Harris) as a saliva drenched portion of paper smacks into his face.
The projectile has been shot by the head jock and his cronies, who are now sniggering to themselves while referring affectionately to Sam and his offsider Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) as the ‘Junk Bros’.
“Spit Wads! What are you, nine?” retorts Sam.
And he raises a pertinent question. What is an appropriate age to begin using these phlegmy missiles?
I’m sitting in the darkened cinema surrounded by eight, nine, ten and eleven-year-old students, who luckily do not have the ingenuity or skills to engineer a ben into a missile launcher. But nothing turns my stomach like spit balls – or ‘wads’ as the American appears to phrase it in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Let’s be honest, they weren’t great as a child. I recall some of our classrooms having high ceilings, which allowed for a large target space above the whiteboards in each room. There was always some layer of encrusted paper framing the top of the board in an avant-garde papier-mache design.
As with all fads, there were long periods of time where nerd or vulnerable teacher would be free from onslaught in the creation of these paper-pulp pastiches. But when the trend was at large, you’d be living on a knife’s edge (probably the same edge of the knife used to dismantle the biro being used for the gun barrel).
Despite Sam implying it is a juvenile activity best suited for children in the single digit age bracket, students as old as seventeen have been known to assemble artillery from the art-supplies graveyard in pursuit of oppressing the weaker of the schoolyard species.
So, although this film features razor-toothed gummy bears, pick-axe-wielding garden gnomes, a jack-o-lantern-headed humanoid and the menacing ventriloquist doll Slappy, there is nothing that raises the hair on my back more than the inclusion of the loaded spit wad shooter. I’m glad to have avoided falling victim to its wrath.
“You’re going to have all the girls at school chasing after you tomorrow.”
This was the problematic remark made by a mother about her son’s haircut, when I was waiting for my own hairs to be cut earlier this week.
It is one of many tropes uttered without thought as to the wider implications of the relationship we have between the sexes and that which we have with ourselves.
In one foul swoop the mother has reduced her son’s interaction with women to that of a satin bowerbird collecting blue bottle tops for his nest. She sets up for him some sort of Georgie-Porgie, pudding and pie scenario where he’ll have a sex-crazed flock of girls swooning after his lusciously lopped locks. There’s a solid notion that he is somehow a reverse Samson whose newly cut hair will provide prowess to attract women.
Let’s start with the mother’s own relationship with men and how this statement may reflect her outlook on the male species. She obviously likes a well-manicured crop of hair on male heads, as she happily sat providing commentary for the duration of both her sons’ haircuts, and then her husband’s. Is it too much of an extrapolation to assume that the main thing attracting her to her own husband was his haircut? Probably (and hopefully) not. Yet she made the above throw-away remark, which would insinuate that this was the main thing – not his personality or intellect. It puts her in a position of appearing superficial if we are to assume haircuts are the main attraction she has to men.
Secondly, let’s think about the boy. It doesn’t do positive things for his self esteem to be told that he’s defining feature of attraction is the follicles on his noggin. There’s much dialogue surrounding the default position of complimenting young girls on their appearance, when adults can’t think of any other ways of engaging. To flip an old adage on its newly shaven head, ‘even if you only have nice things to say, you should on some occasions still say nothing at all’.
Phrases such as “what a pretty set of shoes”, or “what a lovely bow”, or “what a sweet smile you have” are no longer welcome, as they put primary value on appearance. Similarly, boys should be built to value their positive traits and abilities. The boy has made no contribution to the growing of his hair, nor the cutting of his hair. So why make him value it as a strong feature. That’s not to take away from the need to have pride in appearance and professionalism that a neat hairdo brings. But this should be for the purpose of his own pride of self and not for the enticement of the female species.
Finally, and most damagingly, the mother’s remark devalues women. The boy will be left with the impression that one of the main interests of girls is hair. She didn’t say “some girls”. She didn’t say “maybe a girl”. She didn’t say “a few girls”. She said “all” the girls. That’s right. All of the female students at the school will be chasing after him tomorrow. (Without considering the fact that it would be vastly intimidating to be chased by a lynch mob of people enamoured by the way your hair was sculpted) it is not a sensible notion, to give an impressionable young man, that women are so vacuous as to only be concerned with a man’s appearance from the eyebrow’s up.
An innocuous comment can hold clues to a deeper set of values. And in this case I think some reflection is needed – not to mention that perhaps Harry Haircut may want “all” the boys at school to notice his haircut. His mother didn’t think of that either.