Come off it, baldy. Ask 'Chunky' or 'Horse' about school ribbing

Simon O'Hagan has little sympathy for the Scottish teacher who argued that his gleaming pate is a disability
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The Independent Online

In a litigious age, it was only a matter of time before someone like James Campbell, a 61-year-old former schoolteacher from Falkirk, brought a claim of "disability discrimination" before an employment tribunal.

Mr Campbell's life had been made a misery. He told the tribunal in Glasgow last week that he was taunted by pupils at his school, and that this had a "substantial and long-term adverse effect" on his ability to do his job. He kept out of corridors. He stayed late so that pupils wouldn't see him going home. He feared that matters might spill over into violence. And all because of a physical condition.

I ought to have sympathy with Mr Campbell. I share this condition. Me and James, we should have been in it together. Except that the condition in question is baldness. Mr Campbell has very little hair on his head. I have very little hair on mine. Lots of middle-aged men have very little hair on the heads. That's the way it goes.

True, I have never taught in a school. But once, long ago, I was a pupil at one, and I remember that a) there is nothing school kids like more than laughing at authority, and b) teachers shall be known by their physical attributes. That doesn't mean that any teacher whose appearance is in some way unusual automatically faces merciless ribbing.

My history teacher was extremely compact. His nickname was "Chunky". My geography teacher, who was very tall and had buck teeth, was called "the Horse", and horsey noises could be heard when he entered the classroom. The difference was that the history teacher had our respect, and the geography teacher didn't. If we'd had a bald teacher, we would probably have called him "Baldy", but who's to say if we'd have tormented him or cherished him?

In other words, I like to think that the reason the pupils of Mr Campbell's school gave him a hard time was not because he was bald but because he took himself too seriously, that he made it obvious how much he cared about his lack of hair.

That some men find going bald traumatic was clear from the case of Mark Oaten, the Lib Dem MP who was exposed as someone who had enjoyed the services of a male prostitute. Married with children, and outwardly happy, he said that sudden hair loss had contributed to the mid-life crisis that led to his aberrant behaviour.

When the Campbells and the Oatens come along, I'm reminded that I should be terribly worried about being bald. And I do suffer occasional pangs. I don't especially enjoy seeing photographs of myself, but plenty of men with hair feel the same. I don't even think about it 99 per cent of the time, and the fact that so many men with hair shave their heads, believing it to be the attractive option, should go a long way to removing the "naturally" bald man's grounds for anxiety. What I really mind is being asked if I mind being bald.

Not surprisingly, the judge at Mr Campbell's tribunal threw out the case. "It seems to me to take the definition of impairment too far if baldness of itself is to be regarded as being an impairment," he said. Still, nice try, Baldy.