Exit Stage Left Part Eight
If you need to start from the beginning of this series of blogs, please click here:
The Shape of Evil
When I was a child, I was taught about evil. The nuns who instructed me were fixated on the topic. As an adult, I embraced a more secular philosophy, and I ceased to believe in evil as an absolute concept any longer. I preferred to consider evil as people who are ignorant and as a result of their ignorance, their actions do harm. The months of dealing with the ballet school have again made me consider the nature of evil; and I again believe in the more abstract, nebulous concept of evil. I have met it; embodied by many of the staff at the ballet school: a man who repeatedly humiliates and child in front of his peers; a woman who is hysterical and victorious during a meeting with a child in which a more nurturing and sombre tone is essential; a man who excuses all the behaviour of his staff because either his intelligence or sense of morality has been muted by a misguided sense of righteousness.
The evil that I meet repeatedly during my miserable dealings with the ballet school involves an inability to recognise the objective truth, take responsibility for mistakes and repair the damage done. They persist in presenting a front; of flawlessness; incapable of admitting that their organisation is flawed and needs urgently to reconsider its core values. Like the Catholic Church, or the Anglican Church, or the BBC, or football clubs, the need to protect the institution’s reputation eclipses recognition of the harm that is being done. This is certainly one manifestation of evil. I do not believe that the terrible abuses suffered at those other organisations are comparable to what my son experienced. The breadth and depth of damage done by priests, or Radio DJs, or football coaches exceeds by far the current dangers at the ballet school. But the ballet school is inhabiting a similar territory. The landscape is the same, even if the events are different. I truly believe that the need to conceal and hide their mistakes results in evil. I truly believe that the ballet school is desperately scared of a scandal waiting to break, and I predict that unless it seeks to change the way it behaves, far worse occurrences than those endured by our child are going to happen. I really believe we will be reading about the ballet school in our newspapers soon. This is my motivation for writing this particular series of blogs. This is why I made the complaint about the way the girl in my son’s class was spoken to, when it didn't actually involve our son. I believe the protection of all children is the responsibility of all of us, and the measures to protect them may not be compromised.
In dealing with the school, I have made two mistakes. These are the understandable I suppose, considering everything that we were dealing with:
We have waited weeks to hear the official written response from the school, and during this time we have been providing for our son’s education and, with the help of our newly discovered teachers, his ballet training. In the meantime I speak to an expert in dealing with trauma - a wise psychologist and academic who purely coincidentally has years of experience of dealing with students at various ballet schools. After listening to my story, she explains to me that it is essential that our son is given a chance to deal with the trauma himself without any intervention. In our case, the best people to help him at the moment are those around him. She tells us that sympathetic and patient parenting are his best chances of making a swift recovery.. We are only to get an expert involved if he shows no signs of improving in three or four months. The events are still too close for any expert in trauma to get involved, in her view. I am appreciative to be talking to someone so reasonable and full of sense; but I am seriously doubtful that I am able to be in anyway effective in this role. At work, I am a brilliant listener; at home my skills of listening and empathising need a great deal of development.
We are seriously worried about him. He is subdued and depressed. During this time he has two episodes when he refuses to leave the house for about three days each time. On one occasion he leaves for class, only to return thirty minutes later. One of his ballet teachers even phones me to ask what she can do to help. She gives me a message to give him - a statement resonating with tough love:
‘Your not coming to class is no good; you are ridiculously talented!’
The following day, I escort him to her class; and almost literally push him into the studio and wait outside.
His mother has encourage him to construct and paint tiny plastic models that she has bought for him. This shows a considerable insight on her part, and soon becomes an important part of his recovery. As his world is falling apart, he is able at least to have some control over the tiny model in his hands. He is keeping himself together by assembling and painting miniature figures.
Eventually the written response arrives from the school. I am on a train when they ping into my mailbox. I quickly open all the documents and scan through them. If it weren’t a matter of child safe-guarding in which we are seeking action, their responses would have been comic: imagine a response as written by Chris Morris, or Ricky Gervais, or Armando Iannucci.. They write three times in the various documents that the problems have arisen because I am not intelligent enough to understand the school’s procedural documents; this resulted in the staff being too perplexed by my idiotic questions. I'd like it made known that during the entire three months of dealing with the school, I haven't made a single comment about anyone’s intelligence. It's rude to do so, and anyway, their actions speak for themselves.
Their conduct has also been erratic. One of the reasons why we have been waiting so long, is because the safe-guarding officer at the school has been waiting for written confirmation from the Local Area Designated Officer (LADO) to say that no agency involvement is required regarding the ballet teacher’s comments in class (I love you etc.) - involvement from the police or social services is not required in the LADO's view. I phone the LADO myself, and ask what the delay is in supplying the written confirmation. The LADO is bemused. She has made is perfectly clear to the safe-guarding officer that if no agency intervention is required, no written confirmation will be sent. Speaking to the LADO, I realise that she has not been told of the whole story. She has only been given a selection of details. Oddly, she also knows nothing about the other incidents: the twerking or the calling a young woman sexy. She asks for me to put this in writing. I send an email.
Among their excuses and clear grasping at straws, the response documents also contain the following nuggets:
Still, today, I wonder if, as they are writing this, they are aware of how ridiculous their reasoning is. Are they really oblivious to the paradoxes contained in their all too transparent excuses? Can they see how ridiculous they appear? These are the questions that I would love to ask them, even today; if I was still in contact with anyone at the school that is. I still wonder which lawyer - if any - gave them clearance to send me such a preposterous document.
Basically, they didn’t yield or concede on a single issue of my complaint. That afternoon, the safe-guarding officer sent me an email demanding to know - now they had responded to my complaint - whether my son will be returning to school. It seems, then, that on some matters they can really take their time, but on other matters, immediate action is required. She threatened to report me to the education and welfare officer. Fortunately I had been having long conversations with the education and welfare officer about everything, so I knew how to reply. If I hadn't had the necessary information, this bullying approach from the safe-guarding officer would have freaked me out. I am still resentful of this attempt to bully me. I replied to the safe-guarding officer that she was welcome to report us to education and welfare, but, as I am already in contact with the local authority, she will be wasting her time, because as long as a complaint is ongoing, I am under no obligation to return my son to school or make any immediate decisions. She doesn't carry out her threat. Standing up to bullies is one of the only ways to thwart their evil.
I then write a letter of complaint to the governors asking for their help and intervention in accordance with the school’s complaint procedure.
Next time: More threats from the school, and the meeting the governors.