On November 5th, Mike Stuchbery, an English and History teacher from Australia, working in a secondary school in the UK, wrote this blog. In it he details why he has banned the word “banter” from his classroom, as it masks low-level, chronic bullying and he doesn’t accept it as an excuse for such behaviour. His blog is well-reasoned and balanced; he goes to great lengths to explain his decision, and I think that most parents of children in his class would be heartened by his attention to pastoral detail.
However, unfortunately his blog fell into a category of story that excites much vitriol in our press. Being an Australian and a former fellow countryman of the now-expat Rupert Murdoch, Mike may have guessed what would happen, but what did happen is nothing short of shameful on the part of our press and the shadier corners of Twitter.
Blogging about banning the use of specific terms in the classroom falls into a similar category as Eurocrats measuring bananas. It allows a less sympathetic reader to cry out “This is political correctness gone…” (you know how that sentence ends). The press picked up on his blog and reported it in quite a measured way, giving a voice to many of Mike’s supporters. However, the leading thrust of the reports is the use of the word “banter”, which is of course what makes Mike’s position so newsworthy.
What happened next is that Mike became the victim of hate tweets and blog comments from readers who objected to his “no banter” rule, equating it with thought control and the Nanny State. Of course, these messages were not written with such reasoned argumentation; they simply told him where to go.
Mike’s blog is great. He is thoughtful, articulate and has a strong voice in his writing. He comes across as open-hearted, even giving his contact details on his “About” page (he may want to remove these quickly now).
I strongly suspect that many in the press knew that his blog would excite such negative sentiment, and that he would be left carrying the can. As a fellow teacher, I know that we have to take responsibility for what happens in our classrooms, and that the rules we create are not necessarily indicative of a wider attitude towards language and society. Mike was dealing with bullies who are children, and he was not letting them off the hook. Unfortunately, in seizing upon this as a news piece, elements of our press have loosed bullies upon Mike.
Read his response and judge for yourself the quality and impact of their banter.
I like Mike. I stand with him against bullies young and old. No one deserves such abuse, especially when to let bullying go unchallenged would be grossly negligent. Mike took a stand and his reward is a volley of abuse incited by our great British press.
He deserves our support. I’ve commented positively on his blog and will be following him on Twitter (I hope he stays there). I want Mike to know that he has a strong network of fellow professionals, that bullying in all forms is unjustifiable and that those who hide behind get-outs like “Can’t you take a joke?” or terms like “banter” should not be allowed to do so. Mike has eloquently brought this to the foreground of the debate on bullying, and the bullies (in both the press and wider society) don’t like what he has done because it gives them one less place to hide.
He’s not a bureaucrat issuing linguistic dictats; he is a teacher dealing with bullies. Let him get on with his job without abuse.