‘The most famous octopus anecdotes are tales of escape and thievery’

In Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith he also quotes Claudia Aelianus, third century AD, writing about octopus – ‘Mischief and craft are plainly seen to be characteristics of this creature’

Mischief and a craft for destruction… my memories of a very small minority of the children I have worked with.

Peter Godfrey-Smith goes on to argue that for too long we have ‘assumed’ as to the why of certain animal behaviour; that though we have little understanding as to the reasons for the behaviours of Cephalopods that does not mean those reasons are to be dismissed as unimportant or unintelligent. In fact he shows how the alien octopus casts insight into our own minds. He quotes David Hume’s attempt to find himSELF, ‘ “I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception.”

I draw parallels with this ‘perception of’ oneself and the raging debate on children’s behaviour. I often can not fathom why incidents of more extreme behaviour have happened, escalated or resolved. On many occasions nor can the child. Their perception is lost in conjured images and a confused and sometimes wounded inner voice. The confusions or blind reactions that led to the incident- the perceived wrongs and intentions of others. I am usually left dealing with the aftermath as confused and concerned as to my next steps as they are to the perceived injustices. For me, to shut down any process of trying to understand goes against my nature. I want to try to understand and with some individuals this is a complex evolutionary detective story. Therefore, I struggle, on occasions, with the concept of dealing out punishment for complex behaviour in a systematic way. It feels too draconian. There’s a line in Jonny Cash’s San Quentin:

San Quentin, what good do you think you do?
Do you think I’ll be different when you’re through?

On the live version of the song it gets the biggest cheer from the inmates… they understand his words better than anyone who looks through the prison bars from the outside. Often, that is how we deal with some behaviours and no one is the better for it. I can not adhere to a simplistic processes for a small minority of behaviours, I know that I need to adjust my principles and this is a tough ask.

I know I have said this many times… but:

On my very last day of school I decided not to turn up. I hated school. I was an outsider and, quite frankly as far as I could tell, they hated me. Or worse… didn’t know I existed in the first place. I wasn’t that disruptive, I didn’t tell teachers to F Off, or incite violence (in fact I did my best to avoid it). I just didn’t want to be there and based on experience they didn’t really want me there either – it was a mutually agreeable win-win scenario. Therefore, what was I communicating? Or is communication more than a one way avenue?

I believe that in the current climate teachers not wanting you around is a big issue (I am not implying that this tweet is saying that by the way. I am thinking more about the bigger Exclusion issue here)- if they don’t want you – who the hell does? Who is the last line of hope? Parents? The State? Peers? Who will hold out and in many cases save foolish young people from falling all the way out of being saved from their naive and unguarded selves and impending destiny?

My attendance in my last year at school was sub 70% at best and there were no exams I was likely to pass (this prophesy was to come true with a E and U in CSE Maths and English respectively). I had spent that time NOT in school skulking along the local seafront arcades (in full goth regalia) playing Track and Field and Defender (though I failed to hit top ten even here). This required far more endurance than realised. I had weathered many January storms, my skinny black jeans wet through and my cold, numb fingers hardly able to slot the 10 pence into the games box. I had made sacrifices and I had done my revision. I was still destined to be a nobody… even when I endured the kitchen sink arcade dramas.

So, last day at school whilst both parents were at work (mother a cleaner and father a shift worker) I decided to not go in. Imagine my horror as the phone rang and before I could stop her my nan picking up the massive ivory mouth piece and after a few seconds handing it to me.

Mr Henry said five words,

“Walton! Get here! Right now!” The menace in his voice meant there was NO debate. This man was famous for zero tolerance and now I was on his radar.

I turned up at school. Bricking it. There were still many myths floating around that behind the doors you could get a hiding (this was the 1980’s!) and I was scared because despite all the bravado I was still a little kid. 15, dreaming of 16… I still wanted someone to just take care of me. I wanted someone to see that this council estate lad who could hardly read or write wanted to show what he could really do. I could have been a somebody!

‘You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.’
On the Waterfront (1954)

This is my exclusion story. I was told I was expelled from school on the last day. There’s a certain cruelty to this. I read it more and more often in the generalised behaviour debates. The way social media seems to define each and every miscreant as one unpalatable blob morphed in to a modern virus. I was told I was expelled not because I hit a teacher. Not because I sold drugs, or threatened the safety of others… not because I was angry, bitter or twisted (though I probably was in a indie/ new-wave kinda way)… but because school did not connect with me and I found it easy to reject it. Because I was an outsider. Even though I needed a kick up the ass, I need it from someone who had compassion and investment in me. I ask too much?

This is why I resist zero tolerance and one size fits all rules that disregard basic professional inquiry, effort and disregard the rights of the most vulnerable. Rights that quite often have ‘nothing’ to do with study or learning. Rules that say power here is unquestionable… we are right, because we are the powerful. This is why I hate the rhetoric we hear each and every day on twitter. Many of us need to be saved from ourselves… and now, more often, from the system within. If you advocate zero tolerance, even when you later back track and say you don’t you advocate stepping over the needy… as easily as walking past a homeless person. But zero tolerance is fluff and bravado – it is words that hope to ensure the vast majority to could fall in to high jinks keep in line. Zero tolerance does not work for those that need our help the most. No professional could see it through with no excuses. It’s just too horrible to contemplate some of the scenarios I have had to dealt with as a school leader in the past with a zero tolerance stance…

I was a good for nothing truant who did make a real effort at school. Not in traditional ways, not in accepted ways. I was not academic but I so wanted to belong, to have hope and have people invest in me; as much as I was desperate to invest I them. I needed someone to look at me differently. I was entrepreneurial in some ways… When professionals did notice me, my life clicked in to place. But, this had nothing to do with school and everything to do with people caring about me beyond acceptable norms of behaviour… this was about tribes and punk, odd hair colour and clothing that strayed from acceptable norms. It was about questioning gender identity and boundaries. That was how I not only survived but flourished as a young man.

That is why I resist the current traditional rhetoric about behaviour. That is why the debate should be about tolerance and solutions rather than bias and doubt; understanding and advocacy rather than inflexibility and protest. Our attitudes to this subject is the difference. That is what will make the changes needed… or not.

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