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The American film s, a pseudo-realistic story about young teenagers, makes us think of these precocious degenerates with a mixture of pity and contempt. Twenty-five years ago, at least in Britain, the title's nuances would have been quite different.

As an education correspondent then, I didn't talk much about children. They were all kids, at any rate in conversation. Even education ministers spoke of them thus. Those were the years when it was fashionable to regard children as just as good as adults, to be deferred to where possible. Teachers' union leaders might speak grandly of the needs of the individual child, but elsewhere you called them the kids; it implied a certain mateyness, as well as an understanding of current educational theory. People stayed kids till they got to the sixth, when they became students. In America you were still a kid at college, without necessarily being patronised. Your limbs were assumed to be clean. To be a kid was to be in the early prime of life, like the gun-toting cowboys of the legendary West.

It is not clear why, perhaps some time in the 1600s, we started giving our children a name hitherto reserved for baby goats. Why not lions or foxes? Cub, applied to humans, was and is a dismissive word. Macduff called his murdered children chickens, and sentimental mothers have been known to call theirs lambs. But young goats? There may have been some sense in it. For a time in the 19th century, incidentally, a kid could be slang for a young thief.

There were already signs in the mid-1970s that British schoolkids were losing their haloes. "Initially," I remember a young teacher telling me back in 1975, "I thought, why should kids be forced to accept what is taught them? Then all this idealism evaporates..." s still, but tiresome kids.