August 13, 2011


The 'Yobs' Are the Problem: What's a "yob"? Teacher and author Francis Gilbert explains how knowing the definition of "yob" is crucial to comprehending the London riots --and how educators can help. (Francis Gilbert, Aug 11, 2011, Daily Beast)

[T]o understand where I'm coming from, it helps to understand the word "yob," which is Victorian slang for "boy," and has come to mean anyone (usually a young man) who is loutish in his behavior, whether this is in the way he talks, his verbal abuse, or in his physical aggression.

Like many secondary-school teachers, I've encountered my fair share of teenage yobbery. When I first started teaching in Stepney Green, east London, not far from where some of the London riots took place, the kids at the school would run up behind me and hit me on the back of the head, frequently yelling abuse or mocking me. My classes were riotous during my first years; objects were regularly thrown, abusive language was commonplace, and, during one lesson, all the furniture was pushed out of my room. At another school, the teenage boys would often fire pea-shooters at me when my back was turned; some threw pins, other put ripped cans on my chair. Vandalism, theft, and verbal threats were everyday occurrences. As teachers, we became hardened, perhaps even brutalized, by the atmosphere; either you left, or you put up with it.

During my first decade as teacher I learned that your classic yob in school looks for "special occasions" which give permission for them to be particularly foully behaved: school trips, break-times or even certain lessons. The worst behavior I've seen often occurs on last days of term. I've just published a novel, The Last Day Of Term, which depicts one of these nightmarish days; threaded through it are things I've seen first-hand and stories culled from colleagues. The departing pupils shoot fireworks at their teachers, causing one of them to have a heart attack, and they smash the glass fa├žade of their shiny new school. The chief instigators are a gang, led by a charismatic leader who stirs everyone else up to cause mayhem.

This is exactly how incidents like the London riots happen: a few persuasive yobs use a particular event as justification--in this case it was the police shooting of Mark Duggan--and exhort their mates to "kick off."

Posted by at August 13, 2011 7:29 AM

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