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Thursday, 8 December 2011

Badly bruised children, Tales from the Crypt, Rattling the Human Chain.

"She's just mean, that's all, and like I didn't do anything wrong, and and even if I had, it would have been by accident , and like not my fault, and like she hurt me, my arm,  just yanked me, by my arm, and pulled me out of the room, and like... like stood over me shouting, and making me feel bad, and like how could I have known what she wanted, " the boss tells of this  treatment by one of her teachers with pained brow, her habitual expression when wounded physically or emotionally,  attempting to  grasp the logic of events.  "Mum, you should complain" her older sister says trenchantly.  I ask the  boss to explain to me again what happened, and if her arm is marked. She is firm in telling me that she does not want me to intervene  "because, like, there will be a big fuss, and I 'll be called in, and my arm's ok now, and I don't think she will do it again because, like she was nice to me later, and she's not usually,  and... and I think she knows she went too far, and and she's not MY teacher, I don't have to see her often. And besides, SHE'S.... SHE'S  JUST LIKE THAT.". She certainly seems to have fogotten about it by the time we get home,  though I am troubled.  Should I intervene, despite her injunction? I know what she means by a  "big fuss", and I 'm also aware that schools and adults  in general  are adept at  re inventing the dynamic of what has happened,  to implicate the child  in subtle and unsubtle ways,  if faced with the choice of tackling a teacher. And what harm has been done to the boss?  I am not sure. Would I , in fact, cause actual harm where none had been done, if I make "a big  fuss" as she fears.

Teachers   these days are not permitted to brutalise children, as they have done  with impunity in the  not so distant past. In fact there is a belief  now that matters have swung too  far in the opposite direction, the teacher's authority fatally eroded.  I am not convinced about that one. The imbalance of power between little one and adult doesn't change, and teachers  like the rest of us, are adept at subterannean, suble cruelties, in place of more frowned  on oppressions. As to harm done, I was primary schooled in an era where use of a  fair degree of brutality was considered appropriate in teaching children, with an indifference to, or ignorance about,  consequential damage. The casual attitude towards  those abuses  seems almost humourous now (blackly). When I was about ten years old , for instance, I presented a medical form to a teacher, filled out as a preliminary to some  school vaccination, who read it aloud to the class (it was a slow morning) and remarked, bitingly, that my mother seemed to be under the impression that I had normal intelligence.  The other children laughed loudly, and I would have joined in had the heavy dark featured teacher required it of  me. All that was required was for me to sit there  dumb and abject,  however. And I have a sneaking disbelief in my  own intelligence to this day. Again, I recall been asked for the answer to a homework question by the same malelovolent (to this ten year old, anyway) presence. So frightened was I, that the numbers blurred on the page when I looked down, and I gave her the answer to the adjacent sum. There followed a scene at the blackboard, to where she marched me, that I carry with me to this day. Being numb with fear, I couldn't  make any sense of the figures on the board, so that she caught me by  my hair, swung me back   and whacked  my head sharply against the board.   For what seemed like an eternity thereafter, I stumbled through  the the workings  of the sum. In the end, the answer was  seven. I know that because she spelled the  letters of the word out derisivly to me, and made me write them  down, although the letters made no recognisable word for me. "Se van" I told her.   Fear had made me illiterate as well as innumerate. When I resumed the (relative) safety of my desk, she asked me what answer had I  actually written down for  homework.   " Seven" I told her.  She   snatched  the copy from my hand, and after a brief silence,  delivered herself of  a diatribe against  imbeciles.

On  the    scale of  opppressions, I was not the the most badly treated. I remember  a small child,  pale yellow urine slowly running down her leg, as she stood isolated at the top of the classroom, being berated by the same teacher. We all  watched as she cried helplessly, the  situation only alleviated  for us by the fact that it was not one of us. The teacher stroked the stick she kept to discipline the children, (she named it Jimmy,) before contemptously ordering the child  home out of her sight "with her disgusting mess". So, I am not sure what damage was done to the boss now, but I will take no chances, I suspect my own gauge  may be broken on that one, and will pay a discreet visit to her  school.

And what of all the other parents confronted with this scenario then and  now,  my own included? I suspect that the level of harshness and abuse (what else was it ?) varied from parish to parish depending on how willing or able ordinary people were to counteract the priest and the teacher, to rein them in.  It was  then a rigidly  hierarchical society,  a potentially  dangerous imbalance of power reflected in the relationship between people, church and schools. Some of this abuse was so blatant, extreme, even  ( boys, in particular being badly beaten on  a regular basis in school or most cruelly and consistantly derided.) The derision was a given, ("sticks and stone may break your bones, but words will never hurt you", we said)  and  not confined to  academic matters either . I remember one boy being  mocked about his "buck" teeth over and over  by the headmaster, a male counterpart of our Cruella.  There was at best a helpess paralysis, a powerlessness on the part of parents,  at worse a cravenly  blind eye turned. My   own childhood  experiences of this could be  matched and topped by many people,  and I have heard the stories over the years  usually in a pub setting, the only setting where this stuff is pulled out in  to the light of day, still.  The wavering  angry light  shed by  many units of alcohol  catching the damaged  child ,  buried deep, and  hastily stuffed back into the crypt,  in  sobriety. There is a shocking resignation about it all, an unwillingness to be troubled by old wounds. Which, of course works  its poison  through, one way or another.    Taking into account the more extreme brutalities of that, not so long ago, time,  it is hard to see how it  can be excused,  disposed of,  in terms of a  more delicate  modern sensibility, and /or a matter of  making judgements on  a different era.  I wonder too whether this kind of craven  blind eyed not looking (hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil) is a peculiarly   Irish trait. And  if   it is now  a part of   our  heritage, working its way out  through the  generations,  like any other  suppressed  damage. It is naive to think we have left it  all behind us , in the past, or that the harm done has been healed or dealt with at all. It may even be dangerous to think that  a toxic legacy is not transferred to children,  who all  unknowing  and in a more affluent and permissive  time, will act out old traumas, bleed out from old wounds. . With the aid of  chemical and other stimulants, of course.. After all, its common belief these days that trauma is stored on a cellular level, and how can we caculate what RNA catalysed process  was caused and passed on  from old horrors,  to taint, to hobble,  future generations.?

                                                         Behind Judas Escariot.

Was it you behind Judas Escariot, you
as he slides through the door,
his  head dipping lower, and
you  carry  his coat, while you both
left the floor to the beast.
All available space
he had
Tather Tom,
when he beat the child to the floor,
til child despoiled, flower mired, could'nt take  any more.
His child's flesh too weak, so to speak
pulverised to a pulp
til nothing will ever now move
save the sad silent flow of his blood.
Father oh father oh daddy please stand
between frail flesh and beasthand.
Was it you?

Was it you who went home to cower in bed,
while Judas Escariot tightened the rope
and never once lifted his head?
The murdered child cast out with the trash.
No questions asked.
Was it you?

Are you blind to the stain that has spread
that has leached all the joy from your store,
all the hope from your heart.
Your graces departed, your houses debased and defiled,
and you dream every night of the beast
that shadows your child,
of the beast unleashed, stalks the land.

Did you claw in the ground, on your knees to seek,
in the earth to unearth,
or sorrow to find,
the murdered child, the hidden boy.
To nail the lie,
to weep, to mourn
possibility quenched,
forever gone such chance for good,
would you go back again if you could?
Was it you.