I don’t always make good decisions. There. I said it. Sometimes I make decisions in haste, and live to regret it, sometimes I take my time over it, make lists of pros and cons, and I still get it wrong. It’s almost enough to put me into a state of permanent stasis. Almost, but not quite.
Jobs are one of the things it is possible to get spectacularly wrong. Unlike a pair of shoes that rubs, or that doesn’t quite fit when you have your socks on and you try them on at home, or the top that you thought looked so great in the catalogue, but when upon your self makes you look not unlike a deeply unattractive and shiny sausage, straining at the seams in a most unseemly way, a new job, and especially a new teaching job, is not the sort of thing you can take back, receipt in hand and ask for a refund. I’ve done it more than couple of times now. I’ve taken a job that, on the surface, ticked all the boxes it was possible to tick, but turned out to be one big fat mistake. You’d think I’d learn.
Sometimes, though, the consequences of my mistakes aren’t as immediate as a bad fashion choice or finding myself as the wrong person in the wrong job. It takes me a while to realise that the decision I made, the leap I took, went in a direction that wasn’t the right one for me. I should have listened more carefully to my dad when he went on (and on) about disco deafness and I carried on (and on) going to discos and gigs. I am reminded of the consequences of my actions every night when, instead of the telly, or the soft clicks and creaks of a house settling itself down for the night, I am washed with the crashing of the sea, the squealing and ringing of tinnitus.
I suppose I could blame my dad for not buying me ear plugs, or doing something to reduce the volume in my headphones. As far as work is concerned, I could blame the economy, or better, politicians, for forcing me to work to help to pay my mortgage and support my family financially, or the pressure from family or friends to live and work in a specific place, thus narrowing my ‘career’ options. I could blame my bad shoe choice on the traffic warden, or demands for an early lunch, hastening my exit from the shoe shop without proper consideration. I could blame every other thing, and every other person for my choices, if I so desired – that’s what everyone else does, after all.
You see it all the time, this shift of responsibility from your own shoulders to those of someone else, especially when we make a bad decision, or one we suspect might be, well, suspect. I forgot my homework? The unicorn ate it. I broke the prize ornament? It wasn’t me; my brother made me do it.
But while the childish excuses for forgotten homework (I was in the middle of a really, really good book and I just had to get to the end) or smashed ceramic (the game of balloon tennis was especially exciting and we got carried away) might be essentially harmless, the older I get, the more I learn, and read and listen to the justifications for action in one direction or another, the more I am disturbed.
Because it doesn’t seem enough, to shift the blame from our own shoulders, not any more, not for us adults. Instead, we must justify our actions in no uncertain terms. It’s not enough to push it away from ourselves and point it somewhere else; we must make monsters of our scapegoats too.
‘It’s the parents!’ we declare, when the children in our classrooms won’t do as they ought. ‘It’s a lack of discipline at home!’ Or morals, or values, or boundaries or bedtimes, or whatever else we think they are lacking. And, before we know where we are, they become easy to ignore, the imperfect adults on the other side of the school gate, to override as almost incidental in the process of bringing up baby. We are the professionals, after all.
‘It’s the children!’ we cry into our glasses of wine and our social media at the end of the day, retaining our profession deep into the hours of the night, or the weekend, or the holidays. If they won’t do as we want when we want and how we want there must be something wrong and OUT! OUT! OUT! No excuses. Our way or the highway, and if they choose the highway it’s because there is something wrong with them not us.
And for me, as the mother of a disabled child, with Down’s syndrome, so easily detected it is part of a national screening programme, something to be eliminated, like cancer, I hear another justification. ‘It’s the disability,’ we whisper (or publish in newspapers, social media or on the telly). ‘They would have been condemned to a life of misery and suffering if we had carried on with the pregnancy. Their disability would have been so great that it would have been a life not worth living.’ (You can also find this narrative in mainstream novels and big budget films.)
I get it, I do. No one wants a hard time. I don’t want a hard time. No one wants to make their life intentionally more difficult, more full of hospitals or responsibility than anyone else. But it shows me something. It shows me that an exaggerated story, told enough times by enough people can start to be seen as the truth.
It shows me that when we shift the responsibility for our own decisions onto the shoulders of someone else, when we over-egg the pudding in order to ensure that we come out of it looking good, spotless and shiny, no moral qualms allowed, no doubt, no admission of our own human frailty, when we do someone else down in order to make ourselves look good, what happens is that children like mine end up cast into the pit, like demons.
I know it will seem like this post is inspired by recent education-based news, and I have dug it out of the drafts vault in part because of what I have read recently, but it’s been one that has been brewing for a while and was kicked off by this:
I just wanted to make that clear.