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Our Children

22/02/2010

A pioneering Danish headteacher’s describes his pupils’ backgrounds. He is also, therefore, describing the social and parenting failures these youngsters have faced.

‘You ask about our children’s backgrounds. There are no special common threads, but they have all experienced failure in school and all – or nearly all – of them have been poorly socially conditioned.
They are not well brought-up. They are not in bed by 10 o’clock and they won’t stop drinking beer and they won’t do their homework… And they do bits of petty crime, or have too many lovers in too rapid succession, or try pills and cannabis and beers and, sometimes, mixtures of these…
But there are also children of so-called totally normal families: where both mother and father are working, but where they simply have been unable to make sufficient impression upon their children that they can cope in an ordinary school.
Our pupils are maybe not wholly gifted. They lie perhaps towards the lower end of the range of normal ability. Their parents have maybe misunderstood the idea of giving their children a free upbringing, so that they have neglected to set any boundaries at all. They have never said “When I say in bed by 9 o’clock, I mean in bed by 9 o’clock!” And they have never said “If I’m due home at 4pm, then I’ll be home at 4pm.”
They do, perhaps, a little private work in the underground economy and they live, maybe, a little alternatively. They live normally, that is, but anyway on the border of what ordinary people would consider sensible. They do not have the ability to set limits for their children and, therefore, their children often step over society’s boundaries. In this way, these young people do not act their age in terms of behaviour, schoolwork or social conditioning.
But they don’t have learning difficulties, otherwise we wouldn’t take them. Nor are they brain-damaged, because then we wouldn’t take them, either. They are not physically handicapped, but they may be socially or mentally weak. We say of them that they are special, sensitive, socially unconditioned young people who are sweet, loving and fun individually, but need a firm and loving hand…’

(Interview with Ulf, Headteacher at Lemberg Alternative School, Denmark (Translation); From Neil de Reybekill’s fieldwork journal, 1996)

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