Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Silence of the Lambs

I’ll do anything to get out of the staff ‘do’, last summer it was my son’s birthday (I took in the birth certificate to silence the doubters) we just had a quiet meal, then he went out with his mates to get legless. You can’t choose your workmates or your family but you can choose your friends. But not wanting to be seen as a grinch I paid up front for the Christmas night out.

One of the problems with primary teaching is the ‘goldfish bowl syndrome’. Staff spend most of their time in this cloistered environment. It’s also prey to intrigue, gossip and back biting. Coming late into teaching I know some of them need to get out more. There’s also the long hours, nose to the grindstone, where teachers spend countless hours planning, ticking boxes and assessing and lose sight of why they came into teaching in the first place – to inspire children and create a love for learning.

For the staff meeting I prepared a hand out against formal half termly testing, when it came to the agenda item I waited … and waited. It was the silence of the lambs. Then came the usual justification that, “we needed to do it for Ofsted.” Yeah, if you let gangsters take over your community you’re finished, what about doing what’s right for children?

Have some teachers lost the will to teach? I didn’t come into teaching to test children to destruction. What will it take for teachers to speak out? Thumbscrews to get better results? Yeah, I think some schools have tried that already. I’m sure in America when elementary schools banned morning and afternoon playtimes teachers sat there in silence and justified it by saying, “we’ve got to do something to improve our results.”

In primary teaching imagination, creativity, reasoning, critical thinking, spontaneity have become part of a dead language, teachers will gaze back in incomprehension, “how do we measure it, where are the tick boxes, can we level it?”

I know there is a streak of religious and political fundamentalism that works from the premise that, either you’re with us or against us, no shades of grey. Any deviation from the line or the way of truth and people are treated as apostates, heretics and traitors (read Garrison Keiller’s ‘Lake Wobegone Days’ about the Plymouth Bretheren for more details). I’ve lived through that as well and it doesn’t work. You can’t judge people entirely by your own standards, sometimes you have to trim and make alliances.

On the other hand there are certain standards or moral absolutes, sometimes you have to make hard choices. Do you cross a picket line, speak out against vile racism or stop someone getting beaten up in the street? I’m not setting myself up as a paragon of virtue or a moral arbiter, I’d fail on the last one, I’m a physical coward, my wife is much more courageous when it comes to that.

Every morning when I glance in the mirror I’m looking myself in the face, both literally and metaphorically but I can’t look people in the face who can impose or acquiesce in testing children to death. A futile gesture? Probably, but I’ve pulled out of the Christmas night out.

Aside from all the high falutin’ morals ‘n’ ethics I must be honest gentle reader, a crateful of cheap lager down my gullet and I know I’ll go OTT and tell some of the spine of a jellyfish staff what I think of them. I don’t relish coming back in the New Year after that - “Could I have a little word please?” Somehow I just don’t want to break bread with people inhabiting a moral charnel house. I may be the last of the True Believers, but so be it.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only sane person left in the education asylum.

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