Friday, 2 May 2014

Johnny B Goode

Much angst was recently generated with the trickle of reports that have lately become a flood, as concerned teachers wring their hands over students starting school without the basic behaviours of a civilised society. Unable to use a toilet unaided, unable to focus and some apparently unaware of their own names, having been only sworn at for all of their short little lives, these neglected kids are a major concern for everybody.

In Mary’s reception class she feels she has been relatively lucky, with most of the toilet training sorted out by the end of the autumn term and much of the antisocial behaviour kept in check. Finally, after months of putting in place the preparations that should really be in the remit of good parenting, she is ready to try and get back on track. Today, in a lesson which should have been held months ago she is going to attempt to engage her charges in the language of the country she wants them all to call home.

The electronic whiteboard flickers briefly and a large capital letter ‘A’ appears on its magical surface, accompanied by jolly music and an animated background – imitating television has so far proved the only way of attracting their attention at first. Once she has gained their focus she knows that they will begin to respond to her voice although she is not 100% certain that all of them have grasped that this is real human interaction; most replies to her questions are directed at the screen, rather than at her real self. Except for Johnny.

Sweary Johnny Simpson; the face of an angel on the body of a cherub, but with the language of a trucker. From a fairly withdrawn start back in September he has gradually established himself and become the outspoken voice of his infant generation, with a received wisdom beyond his years and a vernacular to match. Quite where Johnny gets his ideas from is a mystery, thinks Mary, having met his dull mother, but his extensive vocabulary of inventive profanity can only be the product of his grandfather, a well know and verbose local drunk.

But now the lesson must start and Mary asks if the children can give any examples of things beginning with the letter ‘A’. Johnny is right there, his hand waving in the air for attention and his lips eager to form a word. But Mary has heard Johnny’s A-word too many times before to risk inviting it into the open; he once used it to refer to the head teacher and amusing as it was at the time it was highly inappropriate. Instead she chooses another child who tells the screen “Apple” and is suitably rewarded with encouragement and applause.

The screen changes to display the letter ‘B’ and once again Johnny is first to raise a hand. But B is fraught with danger. He might say the relatively harmless ‘bum’ but Mary has heard a whole waterfall of B-words tumble from his mouth in the past and is unwilling to subject the others to this particular education. Eventually she coaxes a “Boat, Miss?” from a shy Darren at the front of the class, although it is by no means certain he knows quite who or what ‘Miss’ is. No matter, this is leaps and bounds ahead of anything thus far achieved and all the class now seems to be engaged.

Half the hands go up almost before ‘C’ is displayed and a sibilant chorus of whispered “catss” is heard. Mary is tempted to give Johnny his opportunity to trump this monosyllable but suddenly remembers that the C-word is the very worst word of all. This will not do; Johnny must wait his moment and so on they go.

‘D’. Mary ponders a second. ‘Damn’ isn’t really even considered a swear word any more and Johnny is by now bursting to contribute. Mary quickly examines her own vocabulary and concedes that, no, she can’t think of anything offensive. So she cautiously invites Johnny to offer his suggestion. The class turn to look at him, sensing entertainment; Johnny is always entertaining. He draws himself up and takes a breath. Mary tenses. “Dinosaur, Miss!” he says and she breathes again.

How dinosaurs became extinct

“That’s very good Johnny,” says Mary and in an effort to develop the theme asks, “did you have any particular dinosaur in mind?” Johnny doesn’t hesitate, “T-Rex, Miss. Fucking great big bastard!”

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