Helen Martin: School of hard knocks needed

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WOULDN’T it be lovely if we lived in a world where everyone liked and respected everyone else, and always behaved sweetly, obediently and kindly?

Of course the world has never been like that and never will be. The truth is that any individual who liked everyone, respected everyone and was always gentle, kind and obedient would be sorely disappointed and probably taken advantage of in a society that preys on gullible victims. Often bullies and sociopaths win.

We live day in, day out with this disconnect between idealism and reality, trying to instil all the “nice” values in little children, hoping that by the time they hit puberty they will miraculously have sussed it out for themselves and emerge as a reasonably caring person but no push-over, someone who conforms sufficiently but won’t be manipulated or behave with blind obedience, and has enough self-confidence to stand up for themselves.

Throughout primary school everyone’s a winner, no-one’s a loser. Everything’s for sharing. Name calling or any form of “bullying” will not be tolerated. It’s a little Utopia. And then comes secondary school and the teenage years – a whole different ball game.

That’s when real bullying becomes criminally vicious – and strangely enough it’s also when schools suddenly take their foot off the pedal, stand back and say they can’t do anything about it. And we wonder why kids are confused?

A Livingston mother begged the school, the police and the parents of teenagers who had been persecuting her 14-year-old for nearly six months, to do something to end the bullying. The school said they could do nothing. The police issued a warning which was ignored. The bullies’ parents weren’t interested. Then one of the odious gang, who by now knew they were above the law, swore at the mother and she snapped, grabbing the girl’s hair and almost hitting her on the head before she came to her senses and walked away.

The mother was fined £250 for assault and admitted she was wrong. It’s easy to empathise with her. Primary school shouldn’t be a protective, sugary dreamland, but a place where hard lessons are learned for the future. Secondary school bullies shouldn’t be protected. They should be threatened with criminal prosecution.

Right now a 15-year-old Aberdeen schoolgirl has received hundreds of death threats and police are powerless because Twitter won’t co-operate citing “privacy and security”. God forbid that any of the threats should be carried out but if they are, who is to blame? Bullying is serious and becoming more so with social networking an almost custom-made weapon.

Schools must do more to join up their approach from P1 to S6 because fluctuating between being over- protective and telling delusional fairy tales about the way of the world at primary school, isn’t helping any more than teachers being uninterested in either victims or perpetrators at secondary school.

Will they log off as we log on?

A WELL-known Edinburgh grandfather who shall remain nameless has taken to Facebook and Twitter like a duck to water. His daughter complains: “My own teenage daughters won’t go on either now because they know their grandpa is watching every word they say.”

Fair point. Once social networking becomes the preserve of old folk, especially those less able to leave their homes, with “likes” for walking frames, re-tweets for incontinence pads and ads for nursing homes, perhaps going out and meeting people face-to-face will become the new “logging on” for the young, fit and able.

New repairs scheme repeats old mistakes

I’M delighted to see the city council is planning to reintroduce a statutory repairs scheme – but horrified by how they plan to do it with a dedicated arms-length organisation and a 35 per cent charge on top of the work.

The old scheme protected the city’s housing stock and backed up owners who wanted to pay to maintain their property, against the irresponsible ones who would let the whole stair fall down around their ears rather than stump up.

In an ideal world there would be no need for statutory repairs and the just way to achieve that is to encourage owners to agree and punish those who won’t by charging say ten or 15 per cent to the willing and 35 per cent to those who caused enforcement action. Only an idiot would choose to pay 35 per cent. On the other hand if everyone is to be charged a punitive 35 per cent extra, even more people will hesitate over calling for repairs while the building deteriorates.

Any “arms length” body will have its own overheads, staff, running costs and budget, not to mention expected profit. Rather than try to eliminate statutory repairs, the body will be dependant on them for its existence. End result . . . we all pay the council more than necessary, which as I recall, was what got us into this mess in the first place.

George’s plans don’t add up

HERE’S a Budget question for anyone qualified to answer it.

Many company pension funds are facing deficits. If new pensioners are allowed to take out as much as they like as a lump sum with no tax penalty, as per last week’s Budget, how can the fund ensure there is enough left to cover the monthly or lump pay-outs of current and future pensioners?