Monday, May 31, 2004

Return of the Ring - an essay on the decline of moral conscience

In the spring of '95 I was an expectant teacher. I was also expecting my first child. Quite unexpectedly, at a routine pre-natal check up I was found to have "high blood pressure" As I look back, it is hard to imagine how any expectant 36 week gestation female could have done what I did and not have " all the symptoms of pre-eclampsia" The result of this was that I was hospitalised and was therefore unable to return to my job and not least, my students. I missed my farewell parties and the opportunity to say good-bye.

Some weeks later some students came to call. They asked me if I would teach them. They needed preparation for their GCSE examinations in Science. They missed me and were not so doing well with my replacement. A total of six old pupils re-united to form one of what became four teaching groups. My own tutoring business was born.

I had realised two lifetime ambitions: to be a parent and to work for myself. I was earning half my salary for four hours work a week.

In order to teach I had to organise baby-sitters. I had no shortage of offers from students. Reliable good people, with great testimonials.... my own. What a memorable time. With hindsight the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter of '95 were worthy of celebration. No time since has been so sweet.

Then came the Spring of '96. I had been teaching my classes regularly and effectively and enjoying my work. I was free from bureaucratic, governmental interference and more especially, free from the directives of Senior Management.
I was relieved to be free. I had seen the decline in the character of the average high school student over a long time frame. I would not say the ability; just the character. I remember commenting to my brother at one time that I was concerned about how well this current cohort of individuals would be equipped to work. They were part of the "I want it now" generation. They had been cradled to believe that they could do anything, achieve anything and they actually believed they deserved it. It was a time when everything was possible and the tide of rationality was low. No-one was ever told they just hadn't quite made the grade. The absurdity of it all became all too visible when examination results staggered through letterboxes in mid August. This was a generation of entitlement. The let down would be great.

I always laugh when I think back. My brother told me that I shouldn't worry. He said "imagine them working with each other and take comfort in that". After the high school intake of '82 something started to change. My instincts made me feel uneasy.

Tuesday evening at four o'clock six students appeared at my door. They always brought extra file paper for me. They boldly told me they had taken it from the English department. They thought I'd be grateful. I wasn't. "You know, what you did is tantamount to stealing. The paper isn't yours to give". The drill commenced.

After the class Karen asked me if I would allow her to study Andrew and work with him in order for her to complete a child-care assignment. I asked her what she needed. Naturally I was willing to help. We planned for her to start the following week. She was to bath and play with Andrew and make notes on his favourite toys, the words he was using and specifically what puzzles he could solve.

The fateful day arrived. I had a new baby-sitter. I considered myself lucky to have found her. As a result of events that evening, aspersions would be cast and I would doubt myself.

At 5.00 pm. the students left. Karen stayed as planned. We fed Andrew and discussed the dietary requirements of infants. We proceeded to bath time. Always expect the unexpected. Andrew did an enormous whopper in the bath and I had to get him out of there! I was distracted, apologetic and disoriented. Karen was behind me, quiet and practically invisible. I remember feeling relieved that she hadn't overreacted and was particularly grateful that she took it so well.

A little after 7.00 pm. we said goodnight.

In the morning I went into the bathroom to put on my mascara. Something was wrong. Something was missing. My Garrards 18-carat gold diamond encrusted elephant band ring, a gift from my mother, was missing from the shelf. I searched on the floor. I called to Kevin and asked him if he'd moved it. He hadn't. I knew in an instant Karen had taken it.

I called the school and asked for Karen's timetable. I asked Kevin to stay home for an hour while I went to the school. I got all the information I needed easily. No questions asked.
I went to the school and found the class. Ironically it was a child development class taught by my friend Fiona. She was delighted to see me. It wasn't a social visit.

I glanced at Karen who was totally unaware of my presence. I approached her. I saw my ring on her finger. I claimed it as my own. Her face contorted. She was pleased to see me. She was shocked to see me. She was caught red handed. Someone unplugged her circulatory system. I did that. She turned white and then grey. I'd never seen this shade of grey before.

We left the classroom. I asked her why she had taken it. She said that she had found it in her bag when she had returned home. Then why had she kept it? Why was she wearing something which was not hers? She never admitted to stealing it. She saw it and liked it and wanted it. She took it.

She even had the audacity to suggest the baby sitter had put it in the bag. There was zero chance of that. It made me wonder at the possibility though.

I kept waiting for an admission of guilt and an apology. I consulted with the parents. They were not totally convinced of her guilt. She had "found it in her bag" after all. That was what she had said. Some parents are blind to the faults of their offspring. This is only to the detriment of the child in the long term. A trait of the society at that time was to find someone else to blame. No-one accepted responsibility for anything. If something happened you didn't like, then it was easier to find another party to blame than to accept the fault as your own.

While Andrew was covered in crap and I was wrestling with shit, she had blatantly stolen it from behind my back. She never admitted her guilt and I believe I didn't serve her well.

With hindsight I should have involved the police. I should have had her interrogated. I should have facilitated her therapy and maybe have done some good. Instead, I was concerned that she would have a criminal record. I didn't go to the police. I waited in vain for an apology. I even kept teaching her, thinking she would tell the truth eventually. She never did. This memory reminds me that when I left the teaching profession I was relieved to go. I saw signs that filled me with unease. Forget about being taught the academics- the children weren't being taught the difference between right and wrong anymore. A moral conscience is not inherited it is learned.

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