(This is re-posted from the K802 blog for registered students – as an example of the posts to be found there, and as an illustration of the kind of issues covered by the module)
I don’t know about you, but the news story last summer about Megan Stammers, the teenager who ran away to France with her schoolteacher certainly gripped our household. It wasn’t just that our family had taken the same high-speed train from Paris just a few weeks earlier, or that the shopping street in Bordeaux where they were arrested was one we knew well from our own stay in the city. What really prompted heated discussion around our kitchen table was the issues that the story through up – about adult responsibility, the age of consent, and the definition of childhood.
Because the schoolgirl in question was still only 15, she was legally a child and therefore cast in the news coverage as the victim of an abduction by her 30-year-old teacher, Jeremy Forrest, who ran the risk of being accused of child abuse and branded as a sex offender. This outraged at least one teenaged member of my own family, who thought the girl was old enough to make her own decisions, and for these to be respected, however wayward they seemed to others. And, of course, if the girl had been just a year older, and the teacher perhaps a few years younger, the media might have told the story differently: as one of two romantic young lovers running away to seek their happiness.
The story provides a useful illustration of some of the issues discussed in Block 1 of K802. Do we tend to construct children and young people as passive ‘victims’ – even when they’re almost adults – and thus deprive them of ‘agency’ and responsibility for their own actions? Does this influence our response to issues such as teenage pregnancy, for example? And to what extent are our reactions culturally conditioned? After all, 15-year-olds in some societies (and in our own society, in centuries past) are often married with children, and thus treated as responsible adults. Does this mean that all our attitudes to children and childhood are socially and culturally constructed? Or are there certain basic, universal ideas associated with childhood that we should hold on to?
None of this is to take away from the rather sad realities of this particular news story. Inevitably, it ended badly, with the teacher in custody and the schoolgirl back at home, presumably heartbroken. Perhaps the TV pundit who said he felt sorry for both pupil and teacher, because at the end of the day they were both just a couple of rather immature children, had it about right. What do you think?