Had trouble getting Eldest out of the door to school this morning. Not because he was up late, or dawdled over shower and breakfast, or even because Grenouille was causing a holdup (a not-infrequent obstacle to progress). He needed to get something off his chest before he was ready to go and focus on academics. So I walked round the house with him, listening, as he packed his bag, tied his tie, gelled his hair, wiggled his feet into his shoes, and talked non-stop.
Yesterday an outside speaker had come to give a talk for the weekly PHSCE afternoon. She explained that her job as a senior social worker involved supporting people who had suffered abuse and hate crimes. In her allotted hour and a half she would, she said, be focussing on the groups most likely to suffer abuse and crime, but that did not mean, she said, that such things did not happen to other groups, and she named some of the minority groups whom she would be touching on in passing, but not talking about in any depth.
Seventy-five gruelling minutes later, she invited questions. The very first one was along the lines of, “You said that you would be giving us an overview of the topic but you haven’t mentioned any of the minority groups in your talk. What proportion of the total do those groups constitute, and do they come in for broadly similar abuse to the majority, or is there a qualitative difference?”
The speaker had lots of facts and statistics at her fingertips. The minority groups accounted for about 15% of the reported incidents. It was assumed that this broadly reflected the proportions in the unreported totals as well. She gave figures for the minority groups and some (gruesome) examples of incidents. The data suggested that on the whole, those minority groups were slower in coming forward and suffered worse injury. However, it was necessary to focus on greatest need, which meant on the majority.
You don’t get away with assumptions in front of E’s schoolmates. They may be kids of varying abilities, but it’s one of the great strengths of the school they have all, without exception, been rigorously trained in ethics and encouraged in critical thinking. The questions multiplied. “Why do you think it is reasonable to assume that the unreported proportions are similar to the reported ones?” “If people in the minority groups take longer to come forward and have suffered worse injuries, doesn’t that suggest your assumption is dodgy?” “How do you justify measuring ‘need’ by incident numbers, not seriousness?”
I think the speaker may have got a bit flustered at this point, because she gave replies that acknowledged that the data were arguably flawed, and that the seriousness of minority abuse was probably discounted, but then said that this ‘wasn’t important’. I gather a bit of a hubbub promptly broke out and the Head of Year diplomatically decided that there wasn’t time for any more questions, as he needed the last five minutes to thank the speaker for her time and input. As a result, E never got to put the point he was burning to make, which was that calling the experience and needs of any particular group, minority or majority, ‘not important’ was, basically, outrageous and unacceptable.
I agreed with him, but asked him to remember that because of his family situation, he has extra sensitivities. I wondered whether maybe the speaker was trying to say something about ‘statistical significance’, couldn’t find the precise words she needed, and so, under pressure, used an inappropriately vague one?
E glared at me. “If she couldn’t find the right words, then she should have just shut up.”
I tried again. “Or perhaps she meant to say ‘not paramount’ and got mixed up?”
E still wasn’t having any of it. “Somebody at her level would only say the wrong word if, somewhere at the back of her brain, she was thinking it”, he said, flatly.
He pulled his keys off the hook and half-turned on the doorstep. Suddenly, he looked tired, sad, and much older. “I know I’ve got extra sensitivities. But as far as I’m concerned, the moment she let that ‘not important’ out of her mouth was the moment she stopped being a social worker and started being a git.”