Unpublished letter to The Guardian. 30 04 2014
Both local comments and national media reporting of the murder of teacher, Ann Maguire, at the Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds, by a 15 year old male pupil during a Spanish lesson (‘Boy, 15, held after teacher is killed in classroom’, 29 04 2014) have reiterated a double set of assumptions/emphasis.
First, that this was “an isolated incident”, quite exceptional as well as unexpected. “Isolated”, as opposed to the word unusual, implies disconnection, inexplicability within and by prevailing circumstances. By extension, both police and the head teacher have stressed that “no-one could have foreseen or prevented this ‘incident’”.
Second, talk of “mental health problems” was quickly being assumed as an explanation for the violence. Both these frames emphasise (and ‘isolate’) the school as a social environment, as perhaps contained (“safe”) and apart from society; as well as implying that this aberrant behaviour (murder) is to be explained by forces outwith (and inexplicable within) the school environment. Both these positions argue ignorance, in the sense that: ‘it’s nothing to do with us’.
It is understandable that the immediate, reflex reaction of those responsible for safety and order in a school and/or community / society, is to distance their organisations from such acts of violence. To describe these reactions as a form of denial may seem harsh at this most sensitive time, but it is not meant as accusation, rather to point to both the impact of institutional pressures, and the power of internalisation of social and/or religious assumptions.
The perpetrator has been described as male, a “high achiever”, “a loner” and “troubled”. Academic research, such as Professor Michael Kimmel’s on violences and masculinity, is surely relevant here. There are therefore other frames of reference that could be as or more relevant to this murder, such as the incidence of and circumstances surrounding male teenage knife crime in the UK; and the phenomenon of boys’ and men’s murder of known women, e.g. their girlfriends or mothers. No doubt the police investigation will establish whether the boy routinely carried a knife, and/or whether the attack was premeditated and specific (i.e. that the victim was the intended victim that day, as opposed to random).
There have been repeated references by pupils and school staff to teacher Ann Maguire as “mother” to the school and generations of its children over a period of 40 years (‘She was amazing. Even after we left she was a friend, like a mother figure to us’, 29 04 2014). So this boy has killed their / his “mother figure” (and as a “troubled” “loner”, we can assume he would have been on her radar, part of her pastoral caseload).
We are all too familiar with the phenomenon of the “troubled”, male “loner”, who kills a woman with whom he has or had an intimate / familial relationship. Male violence against women and girls is one of society’s most serious and under-acknowledged gender issues (as opposed to mental health issues). This killing is not just about this particular Catholic school, but it is too.