In recounting his own tale, however, he proves he misses the point spectacularly…
One of my most distressing experiences as a father came when I was summoned to a meeting with my son's headmaster after the boy had been accused of causing criminal damage at his school.So, what had young Master Utley done?
As I burned with shame over my failings as a parent, the young teacher opened the case for the prosecution.Oh, Tom, you know what they say about assumptions, don’t you?
One day, the previous week, he said, my boy had gone into the bike sheds with two of his friends. This was during the lunch hour, when the sheds were out of bounds.
There, they had 'jumped on' and smashed three bicycles belonging to younger boys - by which I assumed he meant that they'd thrown the bikes on the ground and leapt up and down on them.
I just couldn't believe him capable of doing anything so cruel as maliciously destroying younger pupils' bikes, with all the ugly connotations of bullying that implied.So Tom did what any sane person would do – asked to see the evidence.
I knew and liked his two fellow-accused, too, since they'd often been for sleep-overs at our house. This just didn't sound like the sort of thing that any of them would do.
But the young teacher was adamant that they were guilty as charged. He had 'video footage' to prove it, he said - and that seemed to clinch it.
But when I asked if I could see the CCTV, just to make sure that I really had been deluded about my son all these years, he seemed a little shifty.Now, most people would smell a rat here, and so far, Tom has proved himself no different to most people.
No, he said. This footage wasn't actually CCTV. It had been recorded on a pupil's mobile phone and shown to him in confidence. He couldn't let me see it, because that would mean identifying the boy who had reported the incident to him. Also, the images weren't very clear.
I felt like making a magnificent speech about the fundamental principle of British justice that every defendant has the right to see the evidence on which he's charged - and, anyway, why would showing me the footage mean identifying the boy who'd filmed it?So, why didn’t you?
But I restrained myself and asked only if the teacher would describe roughly what the pictures showed. He said they showed some boys - though not clearly enough to identify them - sitting on bikes in the racks and swaying from side to side.So you’d been lied to, Tom, and lied to blatantly, and to your face. How did that make you feel?
So these boys were sitting on the bikes (as my son had freely confessed), not 'jumping' on them - except in the loose sense that one might say somebody jumped on a horse.
And the lying wasn’t over:
After further grilling, it emerged that the bikes hadn't actually been 'smashed'. If I remember rightly, one of them had a bent wheel, another a broken rear light (which all three boys hotly denied breaking - and I believe them) and the third was unscathed.Did you point this out to him, and to the headmaster? Did you consider this a useful object lesson for your son in how power corrupts, and how some people are content to let the ends justify the means?
With his colourful talk of jumping, smashing and destruction, this young teacher had greatly exaggerated the offence.
Sadly for you and your son, you didn’t:
As other parents may understand, I found myself in an extremely uncomfortable position. My paternal instincts made me want to stand up for my beloved son against the teacher who seemed prepared to get him expelled by presenting the case against him in the most lurid possible terms.No. By lying. Let’s call a spade a spade.
On the other hand, everything I've ever been taught made me believe it very wrong indeed to undermine a teacher's authority in front of his pupils. And anyway, my boy clearly deserved to be punished for breaking the rules.Yes, he did. But what authority did that teacher have after their dismal performance?
You’ve admitted that he had lied to you and been caught out. Any authority he had at the start of the interview he’d squandered by the end of it.
So I choked back my paternal instincts and roundly rebuked my son in the presence of his accusers. I promised to pay for all the damage and thanked the teacher and headmaster profusely for agreeing to suspend the boy instead of expelling him.What?! Oh, give me strength…
I know I made the right decision.Oh, you couldn’t be more wrong if you tried…
And having told your little story, you then lay into Walton with merry abandon:
Give me strength! If this is the sort of parent teachers have to deal with nowadays, is it any wonder that so many schools have discipline problems - or that so many teenagers have lost all respect for authority, both inside and outside the school gates?But you are the mirror-image of Walton, can’t you see that?
Walton insists that until he’s seen evidence of something to respect, he sees no need to. You, on the other hand, see evidence of something to disrespect, yet meekly kowtow to authority anyway!
Walton’s a boor and an idiot, but you? You’re worse…
As for my son, his taste of rough justice on that charge of malicious damage seems to have been just the kick up the backside he needed. He'd been heading for Bs and Cs before his suspension. After it, he sailed through his exams with straight As.Because his qualifications are all that matters, right Tom?
So what if he’s also learned never to stand up for his rights, always to cower before someone in authority even when the facts are clear, and that ‘might makes right’?
You have nothing whatsoever to congratulate yourself for when it comes to parenting.