Penguin Education Specials:
A LAST RESORT? CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN SCHOOLS. Editor: Peter Newell. 60p.
THE PAINT HOUSE: Words from an East End Gang. The Collinwood Gang and Susie Daniel and Pete McGuire. 30p.
A Penguin Special:
THALIDOMIDE AND THE POWER OF THE DRUG COMPANIES. Henning Sjostrom and Robert Nilsson 40p.
Three books, each important, each original, each an attack on common assumptions, and all written well without propagandising.
The first two, A Last Resort and The Paint House, are about two different aspects of violence. And instead of laying the blame where it is usually put (on the children in schools or the toughs’ in the skinhead gangs), they place it squarely where it belongs; on the shoulders of the people who made them that way, and on the society which sanctions and uses violence as the quick and easy way of getting what it wants.
A Last Resort was compiled from material collected by the Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment (STOPP), and is the first shot in their campaign to abolish corporal punishment in schools. They are doing this along with the National Council for Civil Liberties. The book demonstrates how educationally and socially destructive the threat and actual use of physical punishment in schools is, and how a school can work better, both for the teachers and the pupils, when it is removed. Unfortunately, abolishing it also means that the traditional teaching methods and attitudes have to be questioned and modified or scrapped, and the book includes examples of schools where this has been done
One example will show how destructive caning and the threat of it is. Caning is often used as a punishment for truancy. This makes the school an even more unpleasant place to be, so the child is more likely to play truant again, and less likely to want to go back – after all, the first thing he will face is a caning. Eventually he will lose interest in being at school and want to be away from it as soon as possible. It may take longer to talk to and understand a child, but isn’t that better for him and everyone else (since it avoids building violence into him as a means of getting his own way), than the easy way out with a cane?
The Paint House is about East End boys whose background (including their schools) leaves them no means of self-expression except violence, and no importance except in the eyes of one another — hence the gang, and the violence they can get away with as a gang, become the most important things for them.
Who can blame them for using violence for getting their own way? After all, police, parents, government, teachers, even doctors use violence in one form or another to get their way. Some of us have a recourse against this in our social status – they have no such comfortable bolster.
The words are the words of the gang members themselves, with a thread supplied by the two ‘outsiders’, and occasional comments (highlighting the misunderstanding and ignorance) from people in authority, whether in school, work, pub or whatever.
It is a committed book, about change and about class differences, but it restrains its preaching and puts a cogent case. That we are all people, but you wouldn’t think so from the way we treat one another. Most of us are subtle about it. Skinheads are not.
The third book I want to talk about is about one of the worst cases of disregarding people in order to profit — the thalidomide story. Thalidomide and the Power of the Drug Companies. Time after time, so calmly you almost don’t notice, the book details how Chemie Grunenthal ignored mounting evidence about the various permanent side effects of thalidomide, until the sudden incidence of ‘thalidomide babies’ gave them no option. Even years later, when on trial, the contended that there was no proof that thalidomide caused the damage. Profit, in other words, was a higher consideration than people. The amazing thing is that, with the exception of the USA, most countries have done little to tighten their regulations regarding the introduction of new drugs. And that the majority of the population in some countries where thalidomide was sold still do not know about what happened!
Three books then, that attack basic assumptions and structures in our world. If you don’t believe things need changing, read them and see.