Pathetic fallacy is a literary technique whereby the writer uses the natural world, in particular the weather, to reflect the mood of a situation. Sunshine symbolises a happy state. Storm clouds signal impending doom. But it’s not just a creative writing device. Most teachers will recognise meteorological conditions as a barometer of their class’s disposition.
Sunshine = good, unless it’s blazing sun, in which case the temperature makes them intemperate.
Snow = hyperactivity, but this is bearable because it’s a rare occurrence across most of the UK and teachers become equally hyper, manically checking the forecast in wild-eyed anticipation of a snow day.
Wind = uh oh, batten down the hatches, we’re in for a rough ride.
The first two responses can be rationally explained, so what is it about a strong breeze that blows equanimity out of the window? We’re heading to the science classroom to find out…
First of all, let’s dispel any suggestion that the unruly effect a mighty wind has on student behaviour is purely imagined. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is very real. One colleague tells of a time when the schoolyard became a battleground for KS4 students brandishing rubbish bins, some of which were large refuse receptacles that had been upturned from their usual public spaces, others small wastepaper bins requisitioned from classrooms. The supposed point of this combat exercise was to observe debris scattered on the wind, like some mad mash-up of American Beauty’s plastic bag scene and Apocalypse Now. As with our earlier examples, search hard enough and you could find a degree of logic at the eye of the rubbish tornado: it was windy, ergo optimum conditions for their warped experiment. Common sense, however, had taken flight along with the litter. Another recalls the hurricane of ’87 hitting during her own youth; with school closed, she and a group of friends took to the top of the tallest multi-storey car park they could find to test whether or not they could take off from up there. Her rueful verdict three decades on: “If any of our kids were caught doing such a stupid thing, I’d wonder what on earth had possessed them.”
The older, wiser teacher had clearly evolved from her student self. So maybe there’s an element of evolutionary theory at play here… are young people more in touch with their primal origins?
Behavioural changes in animals according to the weather are well observed; thanks to their heightened senses, it is believed that various species are capable of predicting oncoming storms. Cows, for instance, can sense a change in the atmosphere and will lie down before rainfall comes so as to secure a dry spot for their udders. Scientific studies on humans are limited but it is believed that we too have some innate ability to detect changes in pressure which also impact on our mood. A report by the Canadian Psychiatric Association concluded that acts of violence and impulsive behaviour ‘are significantly associated with low barometric pressure’. So cows respond practically while Homo sapiens turn psychotic… not too sure what Darwin’s take on that would be.
The link between wind and wild behaviour certainly bears further study. If there are any meteorologists out there wanting a research project, there’s no shortage of lab rats running around our schools.
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