I’m as bored of having a timeline full of times tables chat over the last few days as the next person but, perhaps inevitably, it’s taken a shift in rhetoric and to be honest this trend for equating things to child abuse has proper pissed me off. I came perilously close to spewing out a Twitter thread about this on Thursday but thought better of it in order to focus my thoughts a little more. This isn’t a subject to be flippant about and quietly seething at the quiz was probably not the right time to put my point out there.
The word ‘abuse’ has many uses and degrees of seriousness; whether that’s in terms of verbal abuse, abuse of power, emotional abuse or physical abuse, I think most people can understand the nuances. I understand that the word ‘abuse’ can be used as hyperbole – I’ve used it myself when people (hilariously) suggest triple barreling mine and Howard’s surnames and I tell them that should we have children I would consider it tantamount to child abuse. The thing about these recent comments though is that it’s not being used as hyperbole, it’s being used as a direct comparison with actual life-changing abuse as a central point in an argument against doing something with children. Again.
I’ve worked with children from some very difficult backgrounds for well over a decade; many of them having suffered different forms of abuse and children for whom school is their safe place with routines when home is chaos. There are children who have witnessed and experienced things I can’t even imagine and school is the one constant in their lives. Often these children are ones with 100% attendance and poor behaviour on the run up to holidays because they won’t be at school for a week. Far from being an abusive environment, school and education can be healing.
Of course kids’ll complain about learning things that are tricky. It’s what they do. But basic maths isn’t abuse, it’s a right. I understand concerns about workload, pressure on pupils or staff from these tests, all of that. It’s a separate argument. My issue here is that it doesn’t matter what the argument is – phonics, school uniforms or rote learning, at the moment I couldn’t care less. Flippantly making use of the term ‘child abuse’ to describe pedagogy people disagree with is not routine, throw-away commenting we can afford to get complacent about. It’s not hyperbole, it’s insulting and it’s damaging.