Recently I claimed obesity was a modern phenomenon, suggesting everyone over 50 can still remember the name of the sole fat kid at school, so unusual were they. This struck a chord and numerous people have peeled off their school's fat kid name to me, still remembered decades later.
Here's a similar test, namely school bullying. In recent years we've been deluged with news items on bullying in schools. A common medium is texting. Most of the cases, although not all, seem to involve girls in their early teens.
Reflecting on this, I can say adamantly that this behaviour was unknown in my school days. Boys gave others nicknames, which were never meant nor taken cruelly. I recall "Cod" on the ground that he resembled one, which he didn't, but he took no offence, nor was it intended, and the last I heard he was a professor in Canada. I was a foundation pupil at Naenae College, ill-named as it's not in Naenae, but regardless, it certainly wasn't Eton and, lacking an established culture, a rough and tumble ambience prevailed. There were regular fist-fights, forgotten instantly they were over.
But bullying? Absolutely never. The sole fat kid, for example, if not "one of the boys", was always treated kindly. Wet kids weren't taunted and no one was cruel to a fellow pupil.
It will be interesting if older readers will say the same. If so, then what on Earth has happened to bring about this behaviour? Some possibilities spring to mind.
I might be wrong but the frequent publicised incidents seem to emanate from low-decile schools. Does is happen at King's or St Cuthbert's? I have kids at both. I asked them and they looked puzzled at what I was talking about. If that's correct then it fits other social problems arising from disastrous home lives commonly, but in my view wrongly, attributed to alleged poverty. Compared with the material existence my generation had in the post-war years, they don't know what poverty is. It's not an excuse.
Older academic friends tell me that kids arriving at universities today are less informed, learn quicker and are more polite than previous generations, which hardly accords with the claim of widespread bullying.
Recently, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and I were speakers at a Victoria University dinner for about 150 students. I was the after-dinner speaker and finished with a joke. Adopting a solemn platitudinous tone about them being on the threshold of life and whose futures would doubtless see many make a mark, I asked, hands up the law students. About 60 rose.
"I can say, based on the empirical evidence, that six of you will end up in prison," I said. Geoff leapt up shouting that I was right, and the joke went down well. But here's my point: When the laughter subsided, I then suggested they must all have a pretty good idea of the most likely prison candidates. Silence!
Can anyone over 40 imagine that response at that age? In their generation, there would have been an uproar, with everyone pointing the finger at one another, but apparently, that's now a step too far.
There's a splendid private boys' school in a hillside harbour setting in Wellington called Wellesley College. Years ago I heard that my then 9-year-old son, Nicholas, was in big trouble there. After lots of fobbing-off by his mother, I got to the bottom of it. There had been a meeting with him, his master, mother and a psychiatrist in the headmaster's office. His crime? Brace yourselves - he'd hit someone.
I was dumbfounded. I'd hit hundreds of kids and been hit back in turn in my schooldays without this carry-on. Indeed, on that very day, Wellington's newspaper was snivelling about me hitting someone.
That week, I had been guest speaker at the Auckland University Engineering School's graduation dinner. When the professor stood to introduce me, every graduate rose, shouting, "Stand up, stand up." This was because the prof was about 5 feet tall. But he took it in his stride.
I borrowed this incident for my novel, Full Circle. But that was then. I suspect it wouldn't happen now in this age of ultra-sensitivity.
So, a seemingly anomalous situation exists with the school bullying reports, hand-in-hand with a hitherto unknown politeness in the young.
On face value, the evidence points to a social class differential. But I suspect the real answer may lie with the Rotorua police chief who a few years ago said if he could remove six families from the city, it would be virtually crime free.
In summary, therefore, the vast majority of kids across the board are probably better behaved than yesteryear and we would have no problem but for certain feral families. Sadly, there are lots of them and like obesity, they're a modern phenomenon.
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