Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Breaktime: at breaking-point

"This is not a school; it's a municipal bus station!"
It was one of those phrases that hang in the air, as everyone in the staffroom turned, open-mouthed, to look at the forlorn figure hunched in his chair. Odd statements from disenchanted teachers are nothing new, but this time it was different: it took a moment or two, but gradually everyone began to see what he was getting at.
"The kids turn up when they feel like it. They hang around and chat with their mates and occasionally, when they can be bothered, they hop on board and actually go along with a lesson or two."
He was quite right; the fundamentally sound concept of 'child-centred learning' - adapting materials and methods to the individual pupil's skills and abilities - was long ago seized on by uncomprehending jargon-meisters, whose literal interpretation of the phrase wrested power from teaching staff and placed it in the hands of the mob.

When Pink Floyd sang 'We don't need no education', they laid the foundations for decades of hostility towards what was seen as the forcible imposition of unwanted knowledge on impressionable minds - and hence for future generations imprisoned and impoverished by their own wilful ignorance.

The progressives who took away our gowns, replaced our red pens with 'less confrontational' green ones, censored our language for political correctness (woe betide the teacher who mentions a 'blackboard' or corrects a pupil's 'street' grammar) and banned all but the most banal positive comments on reports gave pupils a clear message; 'You are the masters now'.

This approach was embraced with enthusiasm by those who think a school should be run by a 'Head Learner' and departments managed by 'Learning Leaders'; you can always identify these people at staff training days because they clearly get a disturbing buzz from role-playing - especially when asked to be pupils - and consider facebook a valid learning tool.

In practical terms, this egalitarianism causes havoc - teachers now have to join the back of the lunch queue like everyone else, so the choir spends ten minutes waiting outside a locked door while the music teacher finishes his shepherd's pie - but far worse is the damage to the status of teachers and that of the subjects they teach.

Prodicus has an excellent post at Orphans of Liberty on the use of names, and one of the comments, on college students on first-name terms with staff*, sums up the situation succinctly, unwittingly echoing the bus station analogy:
'If education is for the benefit of those who don’t know, then it helps the learning process to respect the process. Treating it all casually suggests learning is just something one one might or might not do as the mood takes you.'
The systematic undermining of the status of teachers has destroyed any respect pupils - and parents - might have had for their superior knowledge, along with the desire to acquire that knowledge and profit from it, replacing it instead with a vague resentment at having to attend school at all.

No wonder some of the most dedicated teachers crack up or burn out early. It's not easy, spending your working life casting pearls before swine.

*The first-name question has, naturally, surfaced in schools as well.


  1. Interesting! I've just noted two school-related stories to write up:

    This one about Quest Academy and this one about an 'assault'.

    Both indicate just this decline of respect and the sort of consequences we are likely to see - I'll link to this when they go up.

  2. Is this a common view among the teaching profession?

    From the outside it seems so, but I wonder how many there are just shrugging their shoulders and carrying on?

  3. The systematic undermining of the status of teachers has destroyed any respect pupils - and parents - might have had for their superior knowledge

    There was a five part series as to why they lost this kudos. Turning it round means throwing deeply entrenched people out at the top for a start.

  4. JH - do you mean your recent posts?
    I didn't know how to set about linking to all of them; if you have a common link, I'd be very pleased to include it.

    You're absolutely right about those at the top, and that includes many heads; teaching is unlike any other profession in the amount of power a single person exerts over all those working in the school. A bad head can destroy the atmosphere in a school - and the career of anyone brave enough to make a stand about it.

    AKH; I can only answer for those I know, among whom you'll find disillusionment, resignation and a rather depressing jargon-ridden enthusiasm in about equal proportions.

    Julia, thanks. Sadly, I think the number of these stories will only increase as time goes by.