I wonder what the future holds for freelance writing. Tumblemoose did a blog last year on the wonderfully creative writing talent that can be found in the oh-so-young. Whilst such occurrences are undoubtedly widespread and should indeed be lauded, those of you who know my posts will appreciate I sometimes look at the darker side of life …
I have some bad news: Some children are not writing nice things. Of course, if you leave a child to their own devices, the likelihood is that a good portion will write something horrid. It’s not too surprising. The stories they are exposed to in book form (if they can read) and on the TV nowadays would have sent me scurrying behind the sofa when I was a kid; now they are utterly inured to it all.
I do vaguely remember receiving guidance about what subjects were “nice” and “not nice” when I was in primary school. I certainly recall several occasions when my teachers told my parents to encourage my writing, because, nice or not nice, it showed promise.
The input and encouragement of a teacher can, for some kids, be the most important factor in why that child later in life goes on to pursue a certain vocation, such as freelance writing. The ability to spot talent and the willingness to nurture it are characteristics of every good teacher on the planet.
I am questionably a writer and was nearly a teacher, but this article is not about me. I trained for a year to be a teacher but was utterly defeated by it all, and if I had any writing talent at all it is now being given vent only via these blogs.
No, this piece is about the woeful tale behind that picture top right; about the child who created it, and the teacher who gave it pride of place on the wall of the school hall.
‘Twas on a bright spring morning five years ago that I arrived for a brief placement at my local primary school. I was training to be a secondary school teacher, but we had to spend a few days with smaller people wearing short trousers and pinafores (the kids, not me). I’m not sure why. Possibly to show us the error of our choice; how much easier it was to lord it over pre-growing-spurt midgets rather than 12 year-olds whose sudden sprouting of hairs had turned them overnight into a snarling hybrid of Vinnie Jones and the Gallagher Brothers (that’s just the girls).
I noticed the offending picture at lunchtime whilst gazing at the walls to avoid getting embroiled in a small-person conversation about how much like James Bond I looked. (I know I don’t, but one small bespectacled person had said it out loud earlier and they’d all started staring.) The picture was taking pride of place amongst a bunch of other Turner Art Prize candidates.
I read it. Re-read it. Then read it again. I was so shocked I started giggling. Then I took a picture of it on my camera phone, which probably confirmed to the kids that I was indeed 007. That’s not a good combination, by the way: giggling around small children whilst holding a camera phone. You could get arrested.
Anyway, I called over the teacher in whose class little Adolf resided. She read it and looked at me puzzled. The problem? She clearly couldn’t see one. I read it back to her, emphasising with RADA-esque tones the part to which she might pay attention.
“… even if they’re black.”
“… EVEN IF they’re black.”
“…EVEN IF they’re black.”
Ah, the penny dropped. She looked horrified. Possibly at an innocent oversight; possibly at being rumbled as a Nazi who’d allowed such propaganda to adorn the wall. She clicked her heels together, flicked a little wrist salute off her chest, and promised to take it down at some unspecified time in the future.
Growing up, we are all products of our environment, but we don’t have to remain so. Teachers have the responsibility to teach. There’s a clue in the title. That involves more than congratulating little Johnny on spelling “decapitated” correctly; it means pointing out that his puppy-killing story is perhaps not appropriate. What you get up to as a grown-up freelance writer is a different matter, but the nurturing of a budding writer requires some finesse.
It could also involve educating the parents, although I admit that’s a bloody scary proposition.
“What do you mean my Adolf’s a baddun? He writ you had to make the effort not to beat up blacks, didn’t he? I had to slap the little bleeder for that. What more d’you want? Next you’ll be telling him he shouldn’t push people in wheelchairs down the stairs, or that he’s got to stop fire-bombing gay bars.”
The future of freelance writing is happening right now in every school across the globe. What that future will look like on paper or touchscreen in years to come is in the hands of parents and educators.
Some, it seems, must try harder.