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The Kids Are Alright – Or Are They?

January 21, 2021.

It’s quite a well-used phrase now, ‘The Kids Are Alright’. Used for a one-season US TV show, it was also the title of two separate movies with differing plots, the more well-known being the 1979 ‘rockumentary’ about the Who, notably featuring the last performance by the band with drummer Keith Moon, three months before his death. The title goes back further than that however, first released as the seventh track on the Who’s debut album, My Generation. The song was released as a single six months after the album came out in 1965. (Movie poster image - Ron Baker).

Since then, the phrase has been used, reused, paraphrased and repeated countless times and usually in a defensive context. Often this was as a result of misbehaviour of some kind by young people and it’s worth noting that the 1960s was the vanguard era when it came to rebellious youth. An era that spawned ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ it was a time when old societal barriers were being torn down, with most of the tearing coming from young people

The song was written by Peter Townshend, who said of it in 2000, "When I wrote this song I was nothing but a kid, trying to work out right and wrong through all the things I did. I was kind of practising with my life. I was kind of taking chances in a marriage with my wife. I took some stuff and I drank some booze. There was almost nothing that I didn't try to use. And somehow I'm alright."

Townshend has of course, survived, unlike many others from the music business, including Moon as well as the Who’s John Entwistle, and is now in his mid-seventies. Most of those who achieved fame (or infamy, depending on how you look at it) were actually of adult age or at the very least close to it and in their late teens, by the time they came to prominence. What they were not were ‘kids’ by today’s definition. Kids today are generally considered to be of school age rather than young adults. What has never changed however, regardless of era, is that school-age children – or kids of you prefer – have always faced challenges that older people do not.

Those challenges vary tremendously and for the most part are fairly mundane, can be attributed to the process of growing up and, again for the most part, are faced, overcome and left behind as every kid gets older. They are however, still challenges that are unique to the young, to those at school. But there is, yet once more, something else that has never changed for every child. Whether it be this century, the last or the thousands before it, all children (as I put it in my earlier article Careful Handling or Heading for Oppression? April 20, 2020):

‘…have been coughing, sneezing, spluttering and snorting over each other since children were invented…’

The sentence continued:

‘…but we have never hobbled education because of it.’

This of course brings us to now, today. One of the oddities of modern society - the term modern is used loosely as this goes back to 1870 in England and Wales - is that the Elementary Education Act of that year brought about compulsory education by establishing school boards to set up schools in any places that did not have adequate provision. Attendance was made compulsory until the age of ten. Since then, the leaving age has been consistently raised until the Education Act of 1996 made it a lawful obligation on parents to require children to have a full-time education from the age of five to sixteen. Put simply, every kid must go to school from the age of five until they reach sixteen (unless ‘home educated, an option not taken up by the vast majority – see later). After that, the Education and Skills Act 2008 saw to it that they must still be in some form of education, training or similar until eighteen, which could of course, include remaining at school, and many do.

(Local Government Association)

Even though compulsory education came to England and Wales later than some other countries, going to school has become the norm. It is what our kids do and it is ingrained. Far more than just a habit it is intrinsically integral to being a kid, it is a rite-of-passage that is the path from childhood to adulthood. Schools are the places where kids meet new mates (sometimes enemies), hopefully learning something useful, and meeting and overcoming some of those challenges mentioned, including the enemies. Where they look forward to the end of the school day Mondays to Fridays, the weekends, holiday periods and mostly are not too keen on the new term and having to get up earlier Monday to Friday once more. And every boy and girl does it and goes through it, sun, rain or snow, regardless of circumstance, no matter what - until now.

This is the oddity – until now, until March 2020. The oddity is that for all the benefits of education, for all the mandatory mandating of it, for all the exhortations from government and its agencies, that going to school is absolutely necessary, the UK has reached the point where it is now hurling children into an abyss of uncertainty regarding attending school. An abyss where up to now, January 2021, getting on for an entire year of childhood has been laid to waste – and twelve months is an interminably long time for a kid. Only in later years does time fly.

When you are of an age to really take in what goes on around you – and this varies hugely from individual to individual, but let's say from about nine or ten as an example – time still ambles by. Years at school go by slowly. Only when you leave does the passage of time seem to speed up and most come to realise that the years at school really are the best years of many lives - but not now, not today.

According to a November 2020 report by the Local Government Association (LGA) some councils have reported increases in home education registrations of more than 200 per cent for September and October, compared to the same period last year, fuelled by parents choosing to home school their children because of safety fears and increasing numbers of pupils having to stay out of school and self-isolate. Although many parents provide good home education, the LGA is concerned that COVID-19 has led to increasing numbers of children receiving unsuitable education outside the classroom and missing out on the benefits that a school environment brings, such as safeguarding and learning and socialising with other children.

It does not however stop there, at school. What happens outside the school gates is equally important to a child’s development. From the more ordinary of lessons, like using a bus, to organised sports, to a plethora of other activities, all have been snatched away. A less obvious example is that of buying one’s own clothes.

For many, it’s mostly Mum that buys things for the kids to wear but there comes a point where sons and daughters want, and need, to acquire their own. Appearance (especially to each other) is usually important to kids but they also have to learn that clothes cost money. So however much cash may be available, every kid has to learn how to use it to the best advantage; to make the money run to whatever they need and yet still look okay to their peers. And every son at some stage wants to purchase his pants himself – it gets a little embarrassing for Ma to do it. It can also be one of those rites-of-passage; who remembers buying their boxers by themselves for the first time? One gets an indelible impression that everybody in the shop is looking at one, thinking, “So that’s what he wears…” They aren’t of course. But it’s still a challenge to overcome, a mental barrier. And there’s the key.

These lessons are not being learnt. For a start, clothes shops are apparently not essential so they are closed. I’ve always had the impression that it is illegal to wander around naked so I’d say clothes are pretty essential. Especially in winter; it’s too cold to streak through the streets. And I’m still waiting for somebody – anybody – to tell me what the difference is between two metres in a food shop and two metres in a clothes shop. Nobody can pick up new pants right now, whether it embarrasses them or not.

Embarrassment however is a mental perception and it is the mental damage being done to young minds that is being ignored (not to mention the wider implications for older people).

(Sky news)

In school or out of it, children are not learning. They are not learning how to live a life outside the home. They are not learning the lessons of independence, something they will need when childhood ends and adulthood begins. They are not learning how to interact with others, of their age, close to it or for that matter, those not of their approximate age grouping. When education ceases and work beckons (hopefully), everybody they meet, work with and associate with in some way will be of vastly differing ages, backgrounds, abilities and personalities. Yet our children will not know how to handle it. They are cocooned in a supposedly protective bubble, unable to find out how to relate to and with anybody outside their home.

Even though it is well-meant, when one sees children out with a parent, dutifully masked, I keep wondering, what are we teaching our children? How much damage is being done?

The answer to the first is fear - nothing else. The second - who knows? But what is certain is that children do and always have, as I have already said, ‘been coughing, sneezing, spluttering and snorting over each other since children were invented…’

Children need the teaching unions to stop using them for political point scoring. Most teachers just want to teach – let them get on with it. Children need less fear mongering from Health Secretary Matt Hancox and his absurd remark about not killing granny. Schools must re-open, children’s activities, no matter what they are, no matter where they are held must restart and quickly. Yes, we must teach our kids to be aware – just as we teach them to look before crossing the road, we must teach them to realise that there are things that might be dangerous. What we must not do is to teach them to be afraid.

And most of all, we absolutely must let them grow, develop and learn, as right now, with their young lives neutered, the kids are not alright.

Find a way to get it done Prime Minister; it is one of the things we pay you for - because the kids will never be alright, not now or as adults-to-be, if you, and we, do anything else.

© Kevan James 2021

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