Opinion-Matthew Munson: Changing times in our schools

Matthew Munson Photo Thanet Writers

School life is somewhat different to what it was when I was in the education system. I recognise, by saying that, I’m channelling a stereotype of parenthood that I always vowed I wouldn’t.

I grew up in an age when technology wasn’t omnipresent, at least not in the same way it is now; Fortnite was a misspelled description of two weeks, a mobile phone was having a long enough cord on the phone in the hall to let you walk around, and a laptop meant putting the keyboard to your desktop computer on your lap as you wrote.

I go into my son’s school these days and see endless changes; there is so much more focus on a child’s emotional well-being as well as their academic achievements, and that’s good. Children are recognised as actual human beings, not just tiny beings who need to be educated into submission.

I was surprised to see another change in “the system” just this week; Bryan and I were walking home from school the other day and he told me he had to hide under his desk just before lunch.

“Why?” I asked. “Did you want to get out of your spelling test?”

Bryan looked at me as if I was talking complete rubbish. That didn’t faze me, of course; there are worst things in life than being thought of as eccentric by an eight-year-old boy. No, he told me, he enjoyed his spelling test; the entire school had to practise it as part of a “lock-down” practise. I was rather slow on the uptake, until I realised that the “lock-dowm” was designed to practice their responses if someone came into the school with plans to hurt the students.

I quailed inwardly at this, because I hated the merest thought of harm befalling my family, but of course it pays to be prepared for this hopefully-unlikely event. When I was at school, the annual fire alarm test was an excuse to get out of lessons for a bit, and we once were evacuated to the gym building during a bomb scare. The fact that the gym was no more than ten feet from the main school – and therefore unlikely to be protected from any bombs – didn’t seem to occur to anyone. We were more fazed by our teacher’s guitar solos than anything else.

Life changes on a whim, and so does society; I have to be careful not to put my own presumptions on the modern day, because I grew up in a different era – and had very different experiences to Bryan. I get regaled with stories of his friends and of something they play called “hide and seek extreme” – I can’t quite work out the differences to normal hide-and-seek, except that it seems to involve a wider area. There are some things I am content to stay in ignorance of, it must be said …

As we approach Christmas, too, events in the school are occurring with alarming regularity; we have a Christmas Carol Concert tomorrow, and a fashion show the week after. Bryan has indicated that he wants to use tassles on his shirt, and a very detailed description followed of the colour, texture, and length he needed.

I was happy to oblige, to give his creative mind free reign; it didn’t take too long, as the Haberdashery Shop in Ramsgate was able to fulfil the very specific requirements. After school that day, I showed Bryan what I’d been able to find. He was genuinely delighted, then hesitated and said, “Dad, I’ve been giving it some thought. I don’t think the tassles are going to work on the t-shirt. Maybe I can find a use for it somewhere else.”

He has the markings of a diplomat, it has to be said, but you’ll have to excuse me – I need to scream quietly in the corner first.