The Plastic Hippo

August 27, 2016


Filed under: Education,Politics,Society — theplastichippo @ 1:03 am
Tags: , , ,


With a paucity of remotely sensible political analysis being made available to a bewildered yet cynical public, it is tempting to simply join in with the blizzard of outrageous allegations and smears against friend and foe alike safe in the knowledge that any factual evidence will never be checked. Even if some naïve soul investigates the veracity of various claims and counterclaims, we have rapidly realised that proof is irrelevant and irrefutable evidence is best ignored. With politics descending further into playground name-calling followed by little boys starting a fight and then running away, the most efficient way to stick the boot in is with the tried and tested personal anecdote.

So, my wife once met a man on a train who said he knew a woman who had a sister who knew a man that told this absolutely true story.

About eight years ago, my young son who was about seven years old, was required to attend a dental appointment on a Monday morning during school time. I collected him and the permission slip, took him to a successful check-up and returning to school during lunchtime. Delivering him to the canteen as arranged, the usual peace and quiet of 300 primary school children having lunch was shattered by a single child screaming his head off. This was no ordinary tantrum over vegetables and mechanically separated poultry product, but a boy also about seven years old genuinely terrified. He seemed to be screaming for his life.

The Lunchtime Assistants were clearly having difficulty as it was obvious that the boy could not understand or speak a word of English. I am sure it is against all the rules to intervene but as a parent with a child of similar age I sat on the floor in front of him and pulled a “funny” face. Having briefly caught his attention, I quickly exhausted my limited language skills with “parle vous” and “habla” and moved on to saying the names of European capital cities. We eventually found a city that we agreed on and he stopped crying. The Head Teacher arrived and confirmed both his name and his nationality and sent for an older child who by good fortune originated from the same eastern European nation recently joining the European Union and so had the language skills the rest of us lacked.

After some gentle questioning, we discovered that the boy and his mother had arrived in the UK a couple of days previously to join his father who had arranged admission to the school and a number of job interviews for his wife. The boy thought he would go home for lunch as he had always done but his parents had arranged school dinners for him. Unfortunately, the confused chap misunderstood school dinners and being escorted into a canteen full of children triggered the hysterical reaction. We found out later that his understanding of large numbers of children eating in canteens only took place in orphanages and so he wrongly concluded that he had been abandoned.

Mercifully, after urgent phone calls, both his mum and dad were contacted and arrived at the school to reassure him that this was not the case and calm was restored. I allowed myself a proud dad moment when my own son sat down next to the newcomer and befriended him with the promise of a game of football. “You can be Beckham and I`ll be Wayne Rooney.” Over the weeks and months the two became friends and managed to get each other into all sorts of trouble. After they moved on to different secondary schools, the friendship waned as they often do and we saw less and less of the little boy who thought he had been abandoned.

On Friday, the day after the publication of GCSE results and by complete chance, I met his mother outside the local supermarket. She asked how my lad did and I was pleased to say he secured a sixth form place and some A stars meant he had various options if he decides upon university. She told me that his old friend without a word of English and terrified eight years ago was awarded one A and nine A stars.

With education again under attack from a government eager to blame teachers, parents and children for government failure and a government encouraging division, xenophobia and hatred, I rejoice in that young man`s achievement. He might not play football as well as Beckham and Rooney, but he speaks better English.


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