Saturday, October 15, 2011

Educating Essex

Long winter nights are the perfect time to catch up with what's on the telly. We're still watching Big Brother (Channel 5 don't broadcast to Ireland, unfortunately, so we're watching it via some YouTube links - Many thanks to the young person who's taken on this daily task), we're nearly done with MasterChef Ireland (don't click if you don't want to know who won), and there's always a Come Dine with Me or two showing on a channel somewhere.

We're looking forward to the next season of Mad Men and also to the start of Pan Am (coming to our screens next week, I believe).

In the meantime, we're being entertained and educated by a program we're watching on Channel 4's 4oD - Educating Essex. Cameras have been set up around a secondary school in the UK and are providing a fly-on-the-wall documentary - the main themes so far have been mostly about discipline, bullying and how the school manages disruptive students.

Some may disagree, but I think the principal and vice-principal come out of it with flying colours. What strikes a chord is their patience, persistence and focus on giving their students the best possible chance of an education, in situations where others would have given up on the troubled kids a long time ago.

In one case, a student is taken into care because of issues with his mother following an acrimonious divorce. The way the story is told, it looks like the principal cares more about that student's welfare and future than his mother, to be honest.

Now, of course, we're only seeing an edited version, what the producers have decided to show us. It may not be the full story. Those things rarely are. And of course, we're seeing all the trouble students, who are probably playing up to the cameras. We're not even getting a glimpse of the ones who are working hard and have no reason to be sent to the vice-principal's office.

In the last episode we watched, there was quite a funny scene, with a long queue of boys reporting to the vice-principal, as their internet accounts had been monitored and it was found that they had been downloading games onto the school computers. Not a single girl in the queue.

All in all, the world of teenagers is very different from when I was a kid. I don't remember any cases of bullying. Sometimes, the class would get into trouble for making too much noise if a teacher was late turning up. But I don't remember any bad language or major bad behaviour  - I did turn up for History a bit tipsy on  the occasional Friday afternoon - we had a couple of free periods after lunch and we'd go to the pub - I was probably 16 or 17 - I'd be drunk on one beer. But that's the height of it. And it didn't affect my grades!

The school shown on the program is probably one of the better ones - that's the scary thing. It seems to be relatively middle-class. Most of the children, even the ones getting into trouble,  want an education. Nothing compared to what was portrayed in "The Wire" - Inner-city Baltimore it isn't!

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