Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Column, November 15, 2005

“IT is a wise child that knows its own father, and an unusual one that unreservedly approves of him,” according to Mark Twain.
Precious little chance of approval nowadays, when it would seem we spend most of our time disapproving of anyone under the age of 20.
Society’s ills can be laid at the door of anyone who has not yet had a hand in shaping that society. As long as they are young, they can bear the blame.
Unsurprisingly then, Wales’ children’s commissioner, Peter Clarke, has said that the nation’s youth are a bit cheesed off at being blamed for everything.
UK politicians, Mr Clarke said, should be ashamed of the way they have conducted the anti-social behaviour debate, which has marginalized young people and made them feel they are a problem.
Young people, he said, felt they were not respected by the adult community. And quite right too, the day you’re respected by your elders is that day any teenage coolness evaporates in a puff of cheap aftershave and breath mints. If I were a teenager again, respect if not what I’d be looking for, bewilderment tinged with fear is the effect I’d be after, it’s much more rock’n’roll.
But is it entirely surprising that adults have so little respect for their juniors when they hardly know them at all.
We are reaping the results of a decision by successive governments that when it comes to bringing up children the state knows best.
Mum and Dad can, no, not can, must. Go back to work, slinging their newborns into whatever childcare they can find or afford.
Some of that childcare is, I’m sure, very, very good, where children are given lots of stimulation and learn to play with their little friends.
Some of it will be indifferent and some of it will be very bad. Unfortunately, you put children in these places when they are too young to tell you what a miserable time they are having. Then parents wonder, after such an atrocious start in life, why their children grow up with problems.
In these days when everyone has a right to a career come hell of high water it is rather unfashionable to point out that the best person to look after a child is that child’s parent. Furthermore, the latest research into the subject suggests that the best parent to look after a child is its mother.
Now, before you unsheathe your pens, I know, I know, I know there will be plenty of men out there who are just as nurturing as their female partners, but the research shows that as a whole, a baby responds better in its very early years to its mother.
That might be unfair, misogynistic, chauvinistic, or just plain offensive. Hard luck, it’s nature. You can tell me all you like how much a six-month-old loves being left in a nursery full of strangers – if it could talk it would tell you you can stick your nursery where you put the dirty nappies, hand me back to mum.
We are told that it is our choice whether we go back to work or stay home to look after our kids, but how many families can afford that? And how many men or women relish the ‘choice’ of going back to a battery farm call centre job just to make ends meet when they would rather be at home with their kids?
The fact that children thrive in the care of their parents is no great secret, studies have shown this time and time again, as has, well, evolution. Our primate forebears did not manage to descend from the trees by abandoning their offspring to the nearest ape.
So what does government do with this knowledge? Encourage both parents back into full time work by providing them with a range of childcare ‘options’, that’s what. Because they want as many of us in work as possible, all paying tax, a tiny bit of which they’ll hand back in the form of child care options.
The problem is that once you create a market for childcare options you find some are very good and some are awful.
And you can’t really blame the parents when you have made it economically impossible for one of them to stay at home and look after the children can you?
So that’s why, last week, we had the farce of a Labour government extending the national curriculum to 0-3 year olds. They are just trying to get a grip of the mess they’ve created in the first place.
They literally want a say in how your child develops from the moment its head crowns.
You do have to wonder whether there is any aspect of our lives that they do not feel at ease tinkering with? What happened to children just playing?
The age of three should be a time of untrammelled joy, not a time to be weighed in the balance by the government inspector.
Why they’ve stopped there I don’t know. Earlier and earlier is obviously the way forward, not back, and can it be very long before the Home Secretary announces the first in utero asbo for an unborn baby they know is going to be trouble?
I am hoping that Wales’ education minister Jane Davidson will treat this piece of Westminster tripe with the contempt it deserves and refuse to foist it upon the children of Wales.
I have to say though the noises she is making are not promising. Launching ‘Flying Start’ recently she enthused about free, ‘high-quality’ childcare for two-year-olds.
“International evidence has shown that supporting our children when they are very young gives them a better start in life and helps their development in the longer term.”
Quite what ‘support’ means I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet it’s not support for a parent to stay at home.
And then after a lifetime in childcare and school, we wonder why the teenage rebel scaring the wits out of us is such a stranger. We used to scoff at the upper classes who dispatched their children to boarding school at the earliest age, and look at us now, we’re all at it.
But if you’ve endured one more surly episode from a truculent teenager and despair of ever understanding them, remember what else Mark Twain had to say on the matter: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

1 comment:

Matt Withers said...

I can't believe I've never discovered this blog before.

By the way Banksy, my column starts in Wales on Sunday on January 1, so I'd be grateful if you'd remove the phrase 'Wales' most outspoken and controversial columnist' from your page. Many thanks in advance.