So I was walking today past my old alma mater, Homewood School. Now when I was there in the late 70s/ early 80s it was just called Homewood Secondary School. These days they call it Homewood School and Sixth Form Centre, as if it's some sort of mini-college or something. Well, perhaps it is. Why do I say this? Read on and find out.
Just outside the school gates runs a footpath that goes down between the school sports field and the back entrances to the houses on Silver Hill. The back entrances of the houses usually have fences with gates and a couple of them have back steps. Pay attention to all this, it's important.
Back in my era the students were not allowed to leave the campus during school hours unless they were in the Sixth Form, and even then only during lunch hour. You just knew if you weren't a 6th Former and you wandered near the gates, you were being watched by a teacher. You sensed it, you could just feel a pair of eyes burning holes in the back of your skull. It was just common knowledge that you were asking for trouble if you tried to bunk off.
These days things have changed. First of all, no-one, not even teachers, can smoke on site. So the gate always has a member of staff or two standing outside in all weathers having a crafty ciggy. There's even a wall-mounted ashtray there, for pity's sake! Not only that but students smoke there too. What is wrong with this picture? For one thing, given that the price of cigarettes and tobacco products is astronomical (over £6 for a pack of 20 - that's about $9 a pack), where are schoolkids - 16 and 17 year-olds - getting the money to smoke with? Their parents must have more money than sense.
Back when I attended, teachers smoked in the staff room. We all hated being given something from one teacher to take to another if that teacher happened to be in the staff room. You opened the door, instant Wall O' Smoke. And heaven help you if you were discovered smoking at school. My friend Jim told me he was once hauled up before Mr. Hughes, the Head of Music and Head of Upper School, because he was caught smoking. As soon as he entered Reg Hughes' office, he was hit with the Wall O' Smoke. As he sat down to receive his telling-off, apparently Reg offered him a B&H.
Second thing that bothers me is the fact that at any time during the school day you will see schoolkids walking up and down the street in packs, but enter the campus and it's deserted. I just want to go up to one of them and yell "Does nobody actually GO to school anymore?" Someone in the know tells me that only 6th Formers are allowed off school grounds, but I'm sorry, they can't all be 6th formers, can they? How many bloody 6th Formers are there? I mean, I live with a 6th former, and some of them look a lot younger than him. Just today I saw three such examples, a right group of herberts, strolling down the footpath. One of them had one of those gelled-up fauxhawk hairdos, looking like a reject from X Factor, replete with a goofy smile and sunglasses. Yes, sunglasses, on a cloudy day in December. What a twonk. He and his cohorts sit down on somebody's back step, in full view of people playing on the sports field, and break out their rolly ciggies, and brazenly start smoking. And I'm sorry, this kid could not have been more than fourteen. And judging by the faces of the other adults I encountered while walking this route, this sort of thing is not uncommon, and to some little old ladies, fairly intimidating.
There are so many questions that jump into my mind. Firstly, why are the school not taking a harder line on this sort of stuff? Why is there not tighter security? And why do these kids walk around with apparent impunity, acting like they own the place? Why are they not in their damn classes, being taught stuff? Does the teacher even notice they're not there? And what's with this misplaced sense of entitlement that they all seem to have? Because you just know if someone actually did something about it, if the school took away all this impunity and adopted a less laissez-faire attitude, then they and their parents would piss and moan and scream about how their poor little angel's rights were being trampled on. The society we have become is one of gimme-gimme all the time, and with world economies collapsing, climate changing and resources depleting, this gimme-gimme culture has to change, and it's with the kids that it has to start. A bit of social responsibility and willingness to learn. I know I sound like an old fart, but goddammit, if I had to stay there all day, then they should too.
If it was my school to run, I'd lock the damn gates from 9 am to 4pm. Tough but fair, that's me.