22 May 2008

On reflection on TV

I am gobsmacked. I don't know where to start, This film deserves a book on its own... and it is clearly an instant classic. (I'm assuming that all the complex ethical issues have been addressed.)

So, to invert the usual pattern, here are my reservations/complaints...
  • where are the girls?
  • the perspective is all hub and spoke: staff and child. Child-child does not figure; although bullying and imitation are doubtless as important as in ordinary schools.
  • and the routines? Mealtimes, bedtimes, getting up? They feature in the background, but only insofar as they are arenas for conflict or comfort, and
  • of course, the treatment of the outside world is hopeless. You couldn't presumably use anything without waivers? More later.
  • and for once I comment with some (limited) authority/background knowledge so I am not taking it all at face value. The producers clearly decided against voiceover explanations; it was a swings and roundabouts call...
The Mulberry Bush has been the epitome of therapeutic child care for half a century or more. It has, I think as an outsider who has never visited, been through several phases of development. As with so many initiatives , it was the vision of a charismatic founder--Barbara Dockar-Drysdale. Amazingly, unlike the Homer Lanes and the George Lywards, it has survived its founder and taken its own wing. In the process it has become more pragmatic, less ideologically Kleinian and perhaps more humble...

But this film is much more hard-headed. It shows that the "emotionally and behaviourally disturbed" label does not mean "mildly upset and stroppy"; it is about children emerging from the extremes of abuse. And it shows just what is involved for the staff. The title is exactly right; it really is about holding and letting go, literally and metaphorically. And, given that those staff are real live human beings who find it difficult---see them choose the constructive and therapeutic response in the face of extreme provocation, from moment to moment---and respect it.

Thirty years ago now, I was privileged to work with students who were already serving staff at other similar institutions, usually for older children, and those who worked in the unsung "bog-standard" local authority sector. I supposedly taught them something on the basis of my academic credentials, and on the whole they were kind to me in listening to my irrelevant drivel. Much more important for me was the experience of visiting them on practical placement. OK, they had a standard "defence" ----"What do you expect me to do when the whole set-up is crap?" (As indeed it was, much of the time, for good reasons which have nothing to do with this blog...) Beyond that, their expertise; their social skills, their empathy, their emotional intelligence (if we have to call it that) their second to second decision-making about how to respond most constructively to an instance of bullying, bad news from home, sheer stroppiness, being haunted by memories of abuse, not liking cabbage--was and is amazing.

And this film, beneath the surface, is about all that.

More generally, I am aware that I probably saw more in that film than the average naive viewer.

What does that imply for its use in teaching? Discuss....


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