Monday, January 25, 2010

Two Boys Fighting

Quarter to eight in the morning, driving through a rather dodgy part of Leeds on my way to the swimming pool, slowing down before reaching a big roundabout at the bottom of a hill, and something caught my eye.

I looked again. In a kind of alcove in a hedge were two boys fighting. Or rather, one boy punching another boy repeatedly - one boy raining blows on the other one - - lots of quick punches. The other boy was either squatting or kneeling - - low down, anyway.

They weren't very big boys - probably aged about ten - and, with the story of the two Edlington boys fresh in my mind, I stopped the car half-on the grass verge just before the roundabout, and rushed out. It wasn't really much of a decision - - more my Inner Schoolmarm bursting out from within.

"OY! YOU TWO! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" I yelled in the voice of a Crazed Teacher from Hell.

(Of course, it was pretty obvious what they were doing - - but I find, like many teachers and ex-teachers, I excel at stating the obvious on such occasions).

The boys sprang apart. The one doing all the punching was white: the other was Asian.

"Are you all right?" I asked them both. Another stating-the-obvious question but I didn't want to humiliate the Asian boy by suggesting that the other one was knocking seven bells out of him.

"Yeah. We were only playing," said White Boy who retained a certain swagger.

"Well it didn't look like fun to me," I said. "And I recognise your uniforms, and I also know what you both look like now. So I want you to go off to school and I'll watch you all the way down the road, and if either of you lays a finger on the other I'll be down your school at top speed to report you to the Head Teacher. Got it?"

Of course, I didn't recognise the uniforms at all. Dark colours, white shirts, no tie - - really school uniforms are SUCH a help when it comes to identification purposes, aren't they?

Anyway, my Schoolmarm Voice (once heard, probably never forgotten, I fear) did seem to work and they went off on their way.

Though, of course, I was left wondering.

Was it bullying? A racial attack? Or were they, perhaps, only playing? Best friends who'd had a quarrel? Who knows.

And, of course, I didn't really know if the fight was going to continue as soon as they were out of sight - - and yet I didn't see what else I could do really.

After years of teaching, I just have the naive belief that youngish children will obey me. I taught in secondary schools and these boys looked more like top primary age.

I think with that age group - really with any age group, I suppose - part of getting them to obey is expecting that they will. "You get the behaviour that you expect," I read somewhere when I started teaching, and in general it's absolutely true. If you expect a riot, you will most certainly get one.

So - - I just expected them to obey me, and they did, at least until they were out of my sight. But would I still have stopped if they had been fourteen or so? That would have been dangerous and the honest answer is I'm not sure - often in such situations I act first and think afterwards, and that's probably not a good thing.

I'm still not sure if what I did was the best thing to do, but at least I stopped the fight for a while, perhaps long enough for the heat to go out of it. Or perhaps not. But of one thing I'm certain: it was really hard to tell exactly what was going on.

In the 1990s two ten-year-olds took the toddler James Bulger from a shopping centre and murdered him. Lots of people saw him being dragged through the streets and indeed one or two challenged the two bigger boys but accepted their explanation that they were taking him home, or whatever.

I can see why. It's so hard to tell what's actually happening when you suddenly come across something strange that you don't usually see. It's so hard to know what to do.


Blogger Ailbhe said...

I've called the police for teen-on-teen violence before now. And roaring at children beating each other up does seem to work quite well. I really don't care if they are playing; I don't approve of that kind of play one teeny tiny bit. They can join a sanctioned violence club if that's what they want.

Ever since the two little boys in the car outside my window, I've been much quicker to call the police.

11:10 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

You did the right thing.

12:37 am  
Blogger Jan Blawat said...

Kids need to know that all the rest of us are on the job. Sometimes they do dumb things without thinking. Sometimes they really want someone else to stop a group's behavior. I always speak up and I've embarrassed myself once or twice, but it's worth it. I would have wanted someone to speak up if they caught my son misbehaving when he was young.

6:03 am  
Blogger Daphne said...

Ailbhe, Bog and Jan - - I agree and thank you for backing me up!

11:40 pm  

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