Education Personally Speaking: Totally out of order

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The Independent Online
THERE'S A funny time between childhood and adulthood when most girls change from wanting to marry daddy to falling in love with someone in their peer group. That's when they're most vulnerable to men in authority, from priests and doctors to teachers. A kindly, authoritarian figure tends to make most young girls go pretty goofy.

But at no time are they goofier and more vulnerable than during their teens. And male teachers, even ones who might seem quite unattractive if met in ordinary life, can cause the most enormous flutters in their young pupils.

My own father used to teach art at my school, and I think I was the only one in my class who wasn't wildly in love with him. He could easily have had his pick.

And that's why I find Chris Woodhead's remarks, about sex between teachers and pupils being sometimes "educative and experiential on both sides", so totally out of order. He didn't say that sexual relations between pupils and teachers was unfortunate, but could sometimes happen because "human beings can get themselves into messes" now and again, which would have been a perfectly honest and truthful thing to say. He actually said sex between pupil and teacher could sometimes be beneficial.

And frankly that, to me, is almost as bad as condoning child abuse. Jolly educative and experiential for both parties, I bet. Quite possibly a pretty horrible experience for the young girl, if only in retrospect, and about as educational as finding that if you stick two fingers into an electric socket you get a couple of volts up your arm.

As for the experience being educative "on both sides", teachers should not expect to be educated by their pupils in anything. No doubt they are, by the by, but that's incidental. Teachers are in the classroom to teach; pupils there to learn.

And what should teachers teach children and young adults? They should teach subjects that are on the curriculum, like history and English, not where the erogenous zones are. They should also set good examples to pupils by behaving in a moral and upright way.

A teacher who bonks a vulnerable young girl behind the bike shed is behaving in a shameful way. Not only is it an abusive act, and, since it will almost certainly be an early sexual experience for a girl, give her a completely distorted view of what most men are like, these teachers are also giving an appalling message to the young males in their classes.

Close, sexual teacher/pupil relationships are, anyway, open to enormous abuse. We've all heard of teachers who give good marks to the girls who give them sexual favours and bad marks to those who don't. By not showing blanket disapproval of all sexual relationships between teachers and pupils under 18, Chris Woodhead is encouraging all kinds of creeps into sixth- form teaching. And just by saying what he said, he weakens the strong social taboos against such sorts of relationships.

It's been argued that poor old Chris Woodhead has just done a Hoddle, and is being persecuted for remarks that he didn't properly think out.

But Hoddle, of whom we have no expectations in the brain department, was referring to a subject totally outside his area of knowledge; the Chief Inspector of Schools, who we expect to be articulate and clever, was talking about an area he knows inside out, or should do.

If doctors have sexual relationships with their patients, they're struck off. If priests have sexual relationships with people in their congregations, they're de-frocked. The same practice should apply to the people who have a profound influence on how we form our views and opinions of the world.

Teachers often complain, rightly, about not having more respect. But by his remarks, Chris Woodhead has done the vast majority of teachers, who do believe in integrity and scrupulous relationships with their pupils, a great disservice.

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