Sunday, 9 November 2014

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Aged fourteen I developed an unhealthy obsession with my physics teacher. I hated him. I wasn’t alone in my aversion to him Most of my (male) classmates shared my visceral loathing. In our eyes he justified our dislike. With his thick moustache and short height he looked caricatural to our adolescent eyes. To make matters worse (for him), he used to ogle our female classmates at every opportunity, even sitting behind his desk in a way in which he could see their knickers when the girls accidentally opened their legs too wide. As a consequence of this animosity (mutual as it turned out; he also hated us), this physics teacher flunked us all boys, five or six of us, in our final year in secondary school. As I waited to re-sit my exam in the early part of the summer holiday I fantasised about hurting him. Hurting him, not killing him.

This is the reason why I find the case of Will Cornick, the adolescent who killed his Spanish teacher, Ann Maguire, so hard to reason out.

My initial reaction was one of disgust and sadness. The latter for the teacher and her family. Apparently she had been a model of an educator, a dedicated, committed professional, always thinking about the children. My disgust was caused mainly when details of the case surfaced. Apparently Will Cornick had already expressed his intentions to hurt Ann Maguire. As sentence was passed this week these alleged facts became reality. Ann Maguire’s murder had not been a spur-of-the-moment act. Will had deliberately targeted his Spanish teacher.

Yet, another side of me emerged and I can’t say that I was surprised to see it, even though this happened at an unconscious level. Being exposed to Will Cornick’s babyish face, splashed across all newspapers and television news bulletins, made me think of my own children, especially my sixteen-year-old son. Will was fifteen when he killed Ann.  He was given life with a minimum tariff of twenty years, although the judge said that he might never be released.

How fair are you?

Whilst I sympathise with Ann Maguire’s family and condemn Will’s actions, I also feel that the sentence reflects more the public mood than actual justice. So many elements conspire against the punishment meted out to Cornick. First of all, he used social media to make his hatred against Ann Maguire as clear and vocal as possible. No one picked up on that despite the fact that we all know that we are being spied upon by government agencies and corporations. Where’s GCHQ when you need it? Secondly, in the wake of the trial there were some reports saying that Cornick himself confessed to wanting to be caught and put in prison. Surely this points at an unstable state of mind. That leads me to the third conclusion which involves the trial itself. Apparently Will Cornick showed no emotion for his actions. But, as the parent of any adolescent can tell you, this is part of teenagers’ personality. They don’t need to kill someone to show you that they don’t care whether it is their responsibility to take the rubbish out every night or not. I might sound glib but what I’m trying to say is that an adolescent is not a fully formed person; they are half way out of childhood and half way on the road to adulthood.

There’s still another side of me that struggles with these feelings of compassion towards Will Cornick. It is the side that is married to a teacher, albeit my wife works at a primary school. According to reports from former colleagues, parents and her own family, Ann Maguire summed up what education is for. She was a kind person who believed in the “innate goodness of children and young people”. So, looking at it from this point of view, Will deserves a harsh punishment. But this harsh punishment must be accompanied by a thorough and far-reaching programme of rehabilitation. He has to understand what he has done. Leaving him in jail forever and ever says more about us as a society than it says about him as a young offender. If a person as young as fifteen murders an outstanding teacher and at sixteen shows no remorse for what they have done, surely alarm bells should ring and professional support must be given.

I confess that I am torn on this issue. Part of me thinks as the father and the other part as the husband. Part of me wants Will Cornick to be punished, but the other part would rather the punishment had an effect on Will’s understanding of what he did and why it was wrong. Teenagers are famous for not knowing right from wrong sometimes. Or choosing not to know, as the cynic inside me would probably say.

I feel that Will Cornick is being made a scapegoat and his sentence used for political purposes. Especially now as we gear up for a general election in six months’ time. Locking Cornick up and throwing away the key masquerades the fact that many young people with chronic mental, social and emotional problems can’t access the services they need because these services have lost their funding and consequently closed.

By murdering Ann Maguire, Will Cornick committed a terrible and despicable crime. But are we punishing him for his actions or are we using him to divert attention from more important issues? Sadly as it usually happens in cases like this, the truth is the real casualty and I'm afraid no one will get a life sentence for killing it.

© 2014

Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 12th November at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. As always the blame game gets played and the final shift goes to whatever best serves the agendas at play. But most of me says lock him up and throw away the key.

  2. Muchas veces odiamos a las personas hasta pensar en matarlas, pero de hacerlo hay una gran diferencia.
    Un buen domingo

  3. My curiosity aroused, I immediately did what I should not have done after reading this post: I found photographs of the victim and the murderer on the internet. This, as you pointed out, CiL, potentially influences one's opinion even though it should not. (Frankly, this is one reason I am opposed to media or personal cameras in any courtroom.)

    I spent more time thinking about matters in terms of recalling myself as a teenager than I did thinking as the parent of one or as the companion of a teacher. By coincidence to your experience, my own "opponent" at age sixteen was a male, physics teacher. In my instance, I successfully mounted a campaign involving other students which led to his contract not being renewed the next year. (A bit short of murder ....) Somewhat to the relief of my questioning conscience in my adult years, I learned since that he led a very successful later life outside the world of teaching and inside a corporate laboratory. (Perhaps, I did him an unknowing favor.)

    Leaving my conscience out of this incident and being sort of a pragmatist, I think the sentence here was appropriate. Had the teacher been at mid-career rather than nearing the end of it, my decision would have been different. Whether the killer should be released after twenty years is a matter to be determined in twenty years.

    As for your point about programs and budgets, I suppose the argument is much the same in terms of students who go on shooting rampages. I agree funding is an issue, but I also think too often problems such as political correctness and lazy, inattentive counselors are reasons programs for discovering and treating troubled students are not always successful.

    Another thought-provoking post, CiL, and I very much like the music. I am eager for more of both ....

  4. Realmente mi conocimiento del idioma inglés es bastante corto, por lo que en ocasiones tengo que recurrir al traductor de google para poder entender bien tus estupendas entradas. Siendo por esto, a veces, que no me entero muy bien de los giros que le das al texto.
    En este caso me ha pasado que deseé tener más sabiduría de esta lengua o que escribieras también de vez en cuando en español...
    En fin, el tema (de tu post) es bastante peliagudo y requiere más charla que este pequeño e insulso comentario.

    Te deseo una buena semana.
    Saludos desde Andalucía.

  5. over here we make a difference if the person who committed a crime is an adult or a child. they will be treated differently. i think though that probably with the tough punishment they want to set a sign as well for other students that think about killing their teacher. and i think as well... back when i was a student we hated some of the teachers but no one would've thought about killing them. it shocks me how that has become an option

  6. I am really torn on this one, arouses so many conflicting emotions.
    On the one hand, yes, in cases like this, all the pointers are there long before the actual act takes place - yet there appears to be no help for people who are clearly displaying symptoms of mental disorders. Therefore lack of government funding definitely plays it's part.

    On the other hand, I really sympathize with his teacher's family...they are the ones who have the real life sentence - their loved one has been been cruelly taken from them for no apparent logical reason...and how does one live with that?
    I have to say...I don't think I could.

  7. Oh how I agree. The crime is despicable, of course. But he was 15. It is possible to hate the crime and yet try to understand the criminal - and even show some compassion. We don't know what lay behind this- and maybe it's right that we don't. The press is busy pressing the punitive button, and so few people are going to stop and wonder what it's like, being Will. How does he make sense of himself?

    I have a stepdaughter who is a psychologist in prisons. The chances of him getting any useful help is almost zero. We've lost a gifted teacher, and we're also effectively condemning a child to spend his life in prison

  8. Yes. Such a difficult question. So much pain. And I feel so sad not only for the family of the teacher he killed, but for his family. They too have a life sentence ahead of them.

  9. I have two sons in their twenties. I've been through those teenaged years with them and you're so right about not always choosing correctly between right and wrong. But not to this degree.

    To commit murder and feel no remorse or compassion speaks of something much greater than Teenbrain. It's not the teenaged corners this boy can't see around.. it's much deeper than that. Rehabilitation - yes, absolutely. BUT there's a much bigger problem at play here and I wouldn't want that boy to be allowed to come into manhood without restraint. He certainly fell through many holes on his way to the crime but that doesn't diminish the outcome.

    There could well be political motivation here.. isn't there always? But this boy has murdered and can not grasp or appreciate compassion. My heart is with both families.

    And just what is it with male phys. ed. teachers? I've heard of so many despicable ones through the years.

  10. In England they are stricter with crimes of minors than they are here in Canada. However, I don't think it is a bad thing, to be honest.

  11. Thanks fo ryour comments nad your own anecdotes. Yes, what is it with (male) physics teachers?

    Before pressing the "publish" button I hesitated for a nanosecond. Should I have used a photo of the killer or the teacher instead of the scales of justice? You're quite right that once you see their faces (especially the one that was circulated in UK newspapers of the murderer) your opinion is somewhat swayed.

    Also, on purpose I left out the bit about whether the killer's identity should have been made public or not. That, I think, is part of another debate, one about media intrusion and boudnaries.

    Thanks for your feedback, I really appreciate it.

    Have a nice week ahead.

    Greetings from London.

  12. Eh.. I did read that as phys. ed. teacher and not physics. I wondered about the desk. ;) It's gym teachers that I'd heard a few stories about. Nevah mind. :)

  13. I hadn't heard of this, but it is sad.

  14. My view is that punishment was due and so it was administered. To me teenagers are well aware of right and wrong and to commit murder warrants strong punishment. He WILL get help at some point but he has to go through the punishment or what would be the point of it? These days there is too much emphasis on violence and too much reporting of same. Never a day goes by but there are several murders reported in the local press.

    One query I have ... why is there a law to withhold the names of juveniles in the courts?

  15. What a terrible situation for all concerned.

  16. If I could chime in and answer Valerie's question about names.

    In the US, the decision to withhold the names of defendants under the age of 18 is usually based on the type of crime committed. If the crime is serious in nature (i.e. murder and rape) and if the juvenile is above the age of 16, the media will often identify him. Under the age of sixteen and if the crime isn't serious or if the juvenile's age is in single digits, they will not identify him.

    Mostly, I believe, is due to respecting the privacy of the family.

    Father Nature's Corner

  17. I second GB. Valerie, I think it's mainly to protect not just the identity of the perpetrator but also to avoid any kind of retaliation against the family.

    Greetings from London.

  18. Thank you GB and Cuban for your response to my question. I understand now, although it has taken a few years for me to do so!! The sad thing is that often the family deserve punishment as much as their culprit child, but I hasten to add that, thankfully, it is not always the case.

  19. Did you ever read "Killing Mr. Griffin?" I think the book was so popular because many students do have that fantasy from time to time, sadly. I think the fact that a student acted on it is yet another sign of the increasing violence in society today. At one time, kids fantasized about causing harm to teachers or students who bullied them--now a select group of kids are actually acting on those fantasies.

  20. I was unaware of the case of Will Cornick. Just got caught up in reading all the details of this very sad and disturbing case.

  21. Your physics teacher sounds horrible and certainly deserved to lose his job (although not his life.) It's tragic when someone commits murder, but I believe a teenager should be tried as a child and not as an adult. A life sentence before becoming an adult doesn't factor in the impulse control that comes with maturity. He needs counseling more than punishment.

    I'm a big fan of Michael Nyman but hadn't heard that piece. Thanks for sharing!

  22. I think it's a real shame for everyone that action wasn't taken on Cornick's comments on social media. Then perhaps the murder could have been prevented. I sadly have no faith that prison will reform him and I doubt he'll get good enough psychiatric care, which is what i think he probably needs.



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