Do not ask children questions about what they think if you are not prepared for truthful answers, they will tell you exactly what they think, untarnished, unmoderated, sometimes without thought as to what they are saying.
So it was on Friday that the fortnightly personal, social and health education lesson asked them about their experiences during lockdown and asked what caused them stress about the return to school.
They were uninterested in the sheet which invited them to use emojis to express their feelings. One boy screwed it up, others would have thought his response was not unreasonable. Nor were they interested in making lists of things to which they were looking forward. What animated them was being able to express what caused them stress.
“What do you mean when you say “teachers”? What is it about teachers that causes you stress?”
The answers were numerous. “They are unfair.” “They have favourites.” “They pick on people.”
“Are you sure? Don’t you think that may be just the way you see things? Do you think that sometimes you might cause them to speak to you?”
There was a pause.
“Things are unfair, sir. We don’t get fair treatment.”
It was not hard to recall having similar feelings fifty years ago, but what point was there in complaining about what could not be changed.”
Striving to choose words carefully, I said, “we need to understand that there is an inequality of power, that means some people have all the power and we don’t have any.”
“I’ll explain what I mean. I switch on the television and I see stuff about football players and rugby players flying all around Europe and news about politicians and business people flying all over the world. They are rich people or powerful people and they can do what they like. On Wednesday, it was the first anniversary of my dad’s death, but I wasn’t allowed to go to visit my 83 year old mum.
“That’s what inequality of power is about and there is no point in complaining because there was nothing I could do about it.”
One student spoke. “I’m sorry for your trouble, sir. You should ask Boris Johnson why it’s like that. School is unfair, though.”
“School is unfair, but we all know that the world is like that. There is no point in getting into trouble about things we can’t change. Let’s keep our heads down and let’s just get through this.”