Something struck me earlier on today – and no, it wasn’t a Bourbon biscuit – that was yesterday (welcome to working in education in 2016 friends!).
I was thinking about our 6th formers and how they isolate themselves, with their earphones and electronic music and video devices and how that then leads to cliques forming amongst themselves and their peers. It’s an issue that has been noted – factions are warring, not just with the teachers and members of staff but with each other. Small groups huddle around a single computer teminal or a mobile phone belonging to the natural group leaders. Other students are marginalised and as a result skulk away to the darkest crevices and recesses of the school building.
When I was in the 6th form (admittedly in an altogether less refined and certainly less technologically advanced era) we had a common room – a place of sanctity from adults and of sanctuary from the punishments of the day. The stereo (for it was such a thing) was dominated by what was given the moniker ‘Heavy Metal Corner.’ Three or four lads (for they were all lads) with unkempt, lank hair and no fixed fashion sense would monopolise the record deck, with it’s knitting needle-sized stylus and chips-frying-tonight spittle and crackle emitting from enormous, quadrilateral speakers screwed perilously into plasterboard walls above their greasy heads. From within the fabric of these honeycomb covered boxes came the strangest of sounds – ear-piercingly high vocal squeals and nut-clenchingly tight-trousered guitar squarks shattering our delicate, teenage eardrums.
Our 6th form was almost a mirror to ‘The Young Ones’ in a lot of respects: ‘Heavy Metal Corner’ being Vyvyan (Ade Edmondson’s character being a confusing mix of rock and punk and more than a fair share of bubonic acne. Representing ‘Neil’ the hippy were an assortment of characters who still wore flared trousers, grew their hair over their ears and called everyone ‘man’ in a long, slow, lazy delivery suggesting a regular intake of drugs (although I doubt whether tea and aspirins really counts as Class A).
One of these individuals strutted around for two years with the same gangling walk, his cowboy boots clip-clipping the school corridors and he swished his guitar case from side to side and regaled his audience in Art lessons with tales of being stopped by the police on a regular basis, purely for “looking a bit stoned and for carrying a guitar case.” The need to fit into the coterie of cool kids was so great, his collection of Roger Dean posters adorning the common room walls so extensive that no-one ever challenged the fact that he didn’t actually play the guitar. No-one ever saw what was in the case. My first exposure to style over substance.
If anything, I suppose I belonged to Rick Mayall’s ‘Rik’ character – desperately trying to be popular, absolutely failing with girls and with a questionable taste in music – my love being Al Stewart as opposed to Cliff Richard – but you get the idea. I had bad skin, bad hair and my clothes never fitted properly. I wrote awful poetry and I couldn’t play a musical instrument to any standard required to get girls to notice me.
But then again, at least I wasn’t in the ‘Mike The Cool Person’ ranks …
Needless to say, whatever clan, gang, group, niche or squad we belonged to, we all got along okay. No-one fought anyone else, no-one battled anyone else, no-one caused much grief for anyone else. We learned to live together as a group: albeit a group of disparate teenagers with different musical tastes and notions of what passed for appropriate trousers but as a unit nonetheless.
In my work today I don’t see this. It could be age has been kind or that simply today’s 6th formers are too wrapped up, not in their own worlds, not in the agenda that they have set for themselves, but in that which You Tube and Facebook and Twitter have created for them and for which they can only play a solitary role.