Anyone who wants to know why some children have lost every last skerrick of respect for authority, in all its manifestations, need look no further than the education system.

Education might not have created the environment that now misguidedly strives to make adult life harder for those kids whose world view is not tempered at home by good old-fashioned common sense and respect for others, but it supports it with unbridled enthusiasm. And it is wreaking havoc.

The latest display of stunning stupidity was provided by the Teachers' Disciplinary Tribunal, which has admonished a relief teacher who called a couple of disruptive 12-year-old boys dickheads. One reportedly replied with an insult of his own, while the other was apparently reduced to tears.

"What have these boys learned from this? Not that they should do as they are (reasonably) told by a person in authority, but that they can misbehave with impunity."

One doesn't know what they're making boys of these days, but there will be plenty of happy, productive survivors of the compulsory education system who copped worse than that in their day, and were not emotionally scarred.


The 65-year-old teacher (whose age might provide a clue as to how this unfolded) spent just one day in a classroom in an Upper Hutt School two years ago. (The wheels of justice have nothing on the glacial pace of the Teachers' Disciplinary Tribunal.) He became frustrated with the boys, who were kicking a soccer ball around in the classroom rather than tidying up.

Having tried, and failed, to intercept the ball, he physically removed the boys, who the tribunal said were laughing, taking one by the elbow and the other by the collar, calling them dickheads as he did so. The school was alerted to the "manhandling" after another teacher found one of the boys in tears.

The teacher apologised to the boys, and the principal, later that day, which no doubt stood him in good stead, but the tribunal found that removing them had shown a lack of professional judgment and personal control.

It was never appropriate to pull a student by the collar, and "there was nothing in the circumstances which indicated that moving by the elbow was in the best interests of any student", while being called a dickhead, in conjunction with being pulled by the collar, was humiliation that a student should not have to endure.

The tribunal offered a tiny glimmer of hope when it added that it could see that in some circumstances the use of such language might not be so harmful — one of the boys had returned the "insult" — but the common sense didn't last long. Relief teaching, it said, presented its own set of challenges, and teachers needed to be resilient, and have a toolbox of resources ready to use "in the face of adversity".

The teacher, who had also worked as a senior adviser at the Ministry of Education, accepted his wrongdoing. He was censured and ordered to pay $1365 in costs.

If that isn't good cause to abandon all hope, what is? What have these boys learned from this? Not that they should do as they are (reasonably) told by a person in authority, but that they can misbehave with impunity. That they cannot be touched. They cannot be spoken to in a manner that might hurt their feelings. That if they are offended against, they will be defended by higher authority than the person who offended them.

We don't know if these boys had a history of misbehaving, or if their behaviour has improved in the last two years since. We can fairly guess that it hasn't. We can assume that they have continued to display their lack of respect, and will carry on doing so into their adult lives, at which point they will inevitably discover that there is a difference between childish impertinence and adult insolence.

At worst that could lead to trouble with the law; at the very least it could affect their ability to find and/or keep a job. Those who defend this ridiculous response to such a piddling non-event in a primary school classroom do such children no favours whatsoever.

One would have thought that while the tribunal has a duty to weed out teachers who clearly have no place in a classroom, it also has an obligation to defend teachers against such frivolous accusations. The response to this incident should have been to apologise to the teacher that it had got that far.

It should also have had a quiet word with the teacher who thought the incident was worth reporting, and the principal, presumably, who referred it.

Perhaps they can be forgiven though. Their profession has become so perilous when it comes to any physical contact between teacher and pupil they might be excused for avoiding any potential for disciplinary action against them for not reporting it. It is not hard to imagine that there are good teachers who would take the safest option, simply to protect their own careers.

Mind you, perhaps those who were brutalised by the education system in years gone by might profit from this, if there is no statute of limitations. The writer would not be alone in having grounds for complaint against some of his teachers, if any of them are still alive, particularly those who authored school reports with comments like 'Could try harder'.

Not quite in the same category as calling a kid a dickhead, perhaps, but gratuitously damaging to the child's self-esteem and future prospects, surely. And potentially damaging to his ears/legs/bottom when said report arrived home.

Those were the days when most parents were happy to let teachers teach, and trusted them to administer whatever discipline, or pointer to lack of effort, that they deemed necessary. And you know what?

It would have been an exceptional child who went home to bleat to his parents that he had been chastised (and that's what the Upper Hutt incident represents). Whatever the technical definition, by any sensible measure these boys were not assaulted. Nor where they insulted. They were naughty, they were removed from the room, and that should have been that.

Once upon a time they would have been strapped (the cane was reserved for secondary schools), and there would have been no complaint. Their behaviour would have been corrected, and life would have gone on.

The ridiculous environment in which teachers now teach, and children now learn — not just the curriculum but how the world works, or should work — is to a large degree responsible for an attitude that is doing great harm.

It is a natural progression of the inability of politicians, mainly, to tell the difference between discipline and abuse, a blindness that is making life harder for the very people it is supposedly protecting. A blindness that has not saved one egregiously abused child, but has made the job of raising (and teaching) children inestimably more difficult than it used to be, or needs to be.

This is not a case of 'I got the cane and it didn't do me any harm'. It's about understanding that children are not born with an innate sense of how to behave in a civilised manner. Just like a puppy, they need to be taught, not with violence but with discipline.

Whoever sits on this tribunal really should be looking for alternative employment, but, sadly, there will be plenty more where they came from. It's time for parents to stand up, not to defend their little darlings but to insist that they be taught respect, lessons that many parents themselves are clearly unable to teach.