I don't understand people who are muddle-minded and cranky and unable to get going until they've had their first cup of coffee. I haven't had a trace of caffeine since yesterday, and yet I have no problem writing a column.

Children are no damned good.

That sounds crotchety, I know, and you're thinking it's because I haven't had my coffee. You're wrong. It's because I've just finished reading a piece by the education correspondent of the Guardian of London, and . . . Well, read it yourself. It begins:

"An increasing number of children starting primary school (in England and Wales) are aggressive, obscene and destructive, according to a teaching union's report published today. Children aged four or five often cannot go to the lavatory unaided, cannot dress or undress for PE, lack even the most basic manners and give infant school teachers serious discipline problems, says the report. . . .

"The teachers find that the child insists on having its own way and uses such techniques as temper tantrums, obscenities and aggression toward other pupils in an attempt to get it."

You get the drift. We've grown used to such outlandish behavior in America, where too many teachers are ill-prepared and too many parents are neglecting their children in their pursuit of the dollar. But the picture we've held of English schools is of Little Lord Fauntleroys in Eton collars, smiling cherubically and filling the air with their polite "Yes, ma'ams." Well, even in England the children are no damned good.

Also in Japan, another land of false impressions. You ought to read some of the reports of Japanese teen- agers assaulting teachers, killing vagrants, beating their classmates. Russian children are no better, and I can hardly wait for word out of the People's Republic of China. Kids ar rotten the world over.

The report cited by the Guardian does not attribute the startling sassiness of British brats to the incompetency of their teachers, which isn't very surprising, since the report was done by the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association, which is to say, by teachers. But it finds plenty of other places to put the blame.

There is, says the AMMA report, a "lack of clear standards, expectation and example in the home" as well as an epidemic of "parental weakness." In other words, parents are no damned good.

And there is television.

"Pupils aged four to seven who are watching 'late night' movies and also seing videos before breakfast are not in a fit state to work sensibly at school," the report announces. Television (and most especially videos) is no damned good.

The Guardian quotes Peter Smith of the AMMA as laying to rest the "traditional view of primary schools (with) clean, rosy-cheeked children sitting in rows and singing 'All Things Bright and Beautiful.'nately, says Smith, "That is sentimental fiction. There are a large number of disturbed children in our primary schools."

And what does Peter Smith propose to do about it? Why, the AMMA is going to sponsor research into the problem, drawing on experts from London University and Goldsmiths' College, to discover the reason why British youngsters are no damned good. Well, take it from me, the research will be useless, the diagnosis worthless, and the kids will keep right on their merry way to hell.

And if Peter Smith thinks otherwise, then Peter Smith is no damned . . .

I think I'll have that cup of coffee after all.