I don’t think this complaint makes these parents bad people. They aren’t crazed flagellants. They just feel angry (and a little bit ashamed) that adults have lost their authority, and they don’t know how to get it back. They look wistfully at their own childhoods, and seem to think that children used to respect adults. They remember an age when young people respected the police. So in their anxiety they reach for a single decisive solution – corporal punishment.
I can see why they say it, and indeed one of the many excellent things that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is doing is to make clear that parents still do have this right, within reason. And yet hardly any of us believes, surely, that the world would be a better place if we brought back the systematic flogging of young people by adults, with all its potential for abuse. In calling for these desperate expedients, these parents are telling us about their own mental state. They feel frightened of their loss of control, frightened at the aggression of young people. They want boundaries restored, and it is the job of the state to help if it can.
Yes, we need to get young people into jobs and we need to invest in apprenticeships. But it is no use upending a dumper truck of money on “regeneration” without giving young people the mental preparation to do those jobs. It used to be said that you can’t tackle the problems of education without tackling poverty. In fact, it is the other way round. You can’t tackle poverty without tackling education.
Across this country there are stories of educational transformation to rival the resurrection of English cricket. In some of the poorest parts of London there are schools that are overcoming the indices of disadvantage and producing outstanding results. Look at the number of Oxbridge entrants from Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, or the grades of the kids from Burlington Danes in Hammersmith. Yes, it is about investment in those schools, in good facilities and well-motivated teachers. But Michael Gove is right to insist it is also about a culture of discipline; of standing up when any adult walks into the room; of taking your hands out of your pockets when you are talking to an adult; of addressing your teachers with respect.
It is so much better to be demanding of these children, and to insist on high standards – even if it means being frank about failure – than to give in to the endless lazy condescension of false praise. There are all sorts of ways of teaching young people self-discipline and respect for rules, not least competitive sport – and especially cricket, where one wild swipe is usually punished with ignominy.
That is why Kate Hoey MP and London’s sports team are supporting everything from boxing and basketball to water polo, and we support grassroots cricket, too. If you want to spread the benefits of cricket to inner-city kids, can I suggest that you support the excellent charity, Chance to Shine, which for only £15 a head will give cricket lessons to young people who would otherwise never dream of even trying the game. Of course kids mainly want to play football. But doesn’t it make sense to induct them into a game at which England has shown it can triumph, as well as one where we are a chronic disappointment?
Cricket may be a small part of the answer. But it is not to be despised: you are more likely to give young people boundaries if you teach them to score them. And unless we expand inner-city cricket, the gulf will widen between two nations – the one that has the chance to play cricket, and one that doesn’t even know England is winning.