Teenage Gangsters

Imagine Britain without kids terrorising streets

I am afraid I know how many people react when they hear that another teenager has been stabbed or shot on the streets of London. For them, it is like the news of a small bomb in Albania, or a motorway pile-up in the Philippines.

It’s a tragedy, they may think, but one that has no real bearing on their lives. And if you belong, even vaguely, to that category, then I urge you to look at the map, and see how these murders are now dotted across virtually every corner of London.

Then you will see that it could be near you; it could be near me. It’s happening less than a mile from the Palace of Westminster, and it’s happening in towns and cities around Britain, too.

Then you reflect that for every death – and there have been 26 in the past year – there are thousands of less grievous injuries, and myriad assaults; and if you are like me, you start to feel a mounting sense of rage. What has caused this catastrophic collapse in values, this culture of criminality?

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School Playgrounds

Playgrounds too soft, mean streets too hard

I know you may think it distasteful, but it’s time to talk about scabs. Let’s all have another seminar about those fascinating crusty objects that used to turn up on our knees. Join me in a trip back to our childhood Elysium, and remember the rapt interest with which we used to look at a graze in the process of healing.

First the outer edges would harden, leaving a raw red patch still faintly weeping in the middle. Then the whole thing dries into a miraculous integument, as firm and knobbly as the edges of a bit of cheese on toast.

You could tap it. You could stealthily probe its edges, with the connoisseurship of the man from Del Monte, to see if it was ready. Then one day it would all be gone, and we saw the skin underneath, pink and new and whole.

The scab experience was a brilliant lesson in biology, and it is in some ways sad that our children these days seem so scab-free. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not calling for more of them to have accidents.

I am not positively advocating that we encourage our children to fall out of trees or get whanged off roundabouts moving at 200 rpm. But the scabophobic measures we have taken to protect our children have had consequences we could not have intended.

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Classroom Failure

I expect many readers will have blipped over the latest news of disaster in British classrooms. You may not have registered the importance of the revelation that our 15-year-olds are now among the worst at maths in the entire OECD, and have slipped to 17th place in reading skills.

Oh well, you may have said to yourself as you turned the page for more news of Maddy or the amnesiac canoeist; never mind. Someone else’s children. Someone else’s school. Some other set of parents who have failed to read to their kids, or who have allowed PlayStation to become a complete substitute for maths or any kind of academic effort.

Was that, roughly speaking, your reaction? If it was, and if there really are Britons out there who think they are immune from this classroom failure, then they need to think again. The educational problems of the minority can help to trigger an economic catastrophe for the whole of society. That is because mathematics – whether we like it or not – affects all of us, and our economy depends on all income groups having a basic understanding of numbers.

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