Wednesday, January 21, 2009
You can always rely on journalists to lose all sense of perspective and proportion, then fail to ask any awkward questions. Was Barack Obama's inauguration really the Second Coming?
I'm not trying to traduce or belittle the thousands of Afro-Americans, standing in the freezing cold with tears in their eyes. After living through the nightmare and bitterness of segregation a black face in the White House must have seemed like liberation day.
However, just how much does the rise and rise of Obama equate with or reflect the collective black experience in America? He was raised in Hawaii by his white maternal grandparents who paid for private education, from there he graduated to Harvard. True he had to overcome the prejudice and 'handicap' of his skin colour, but one or two black faces in the corridors of power cannot mask the every day life experience of the majority - poverty, poor housing and low educational achievement.
Obama represents hope after eight bleak years of George Bush, in a similar way Blair was hailed as a saviour after eighteen years of Conservative government - a skilled orator who dealt in generalities, Hope, Change.
Obama attracted record numbers of small donations from millions of supporters to his campaign fund, but he didn't raise the billions needed from that source alone, he needed the money from large corporations, in order to compete with Clinton and Bush.
In a crisis democratic systems use voting to vent social discontent through the ballot box. What was the contrast with the Civil Rights Movement? Millions were involved in debates, marches and they formed permanent organisations. In Obama's campaign his supporters were reduced to the role of cheerleaders for the chief. The Democratic Party doesn't debate or vote on policy the conventions are there to anoint the new leader.
Like all American politicians Obama subscribes to the myth of the ‘Founding Fathers’. So what did most of them have in common, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? They were white slave owners. Afro-Americans only won the right to vote some two hundred years later.
There was a massive groundswell for change, particularly after the banking crisis and the threat to people's homes and jobs. What will Obama do next? He will be judged on what he does not what he is.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Barack Obama is not George W Bush. That fact alone will guarantee him an avalanche of support and goodwill. Thousands of tearful Americans at the inauguration? For once it isn't hype and hyperbole, showbiz has been suspended. For the first few decades after it opened the only blacks allowed into the White House were slaves. Forty years ago some southern states still retained the notorious Miscegenation Acts, which outlawed marriage between black and white people.
There's a tendency to shout 'sell-out' from the rooftops before the incumbent has been inaugurated. However, Obama's campaign was long on rhetoric and generalities but short on specifics. On the health crisis, where 50 million working Americans are uninsured, he managed to outline a programme that was even more timid than Hilary Clinton's. The multi-million insurance companies covered all the bases by bankrolling both Bush's campaign and Obama's.
In education Obama supported Bush's misnamed 'No Child Left Behind Act'; if you though testing was bad in this country in America any school that doesn't reach national targets faces closure. The results of all this? The familiar teaching to test, narrowed curriculum and rampant cheating to avoid failure.Will Obama tackle the uneven property taxes, which ensure that a child in inner-city Chicago has $7,000 per annum spent on their education compared to $20,000 in the wealthy suburbs?
Teachers pay in America is set by the local school boards, so in many cases it is derisory, just one reason why its teachers are recruited from the lowest 30% of university graduates.
Obama has the hopes of the world resting on his slim shoulders, let's hope he doesn't flunk the test.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
I’m back! For contractual reasons I stopped blogging in December 2007. Sadly the sales of ‘How Not To Teach’ weren’t exactly in the JK Rowling league, as a consequence the retirement plans are on hold. So what’s happened since I ‘retired’?
In April we had the one-day NUT strike over pay. The one thing it did demonstrate is that unions are still a force to be reckoned with, thousands of schools closed down for the day. In many schools where the union had lain dormant for years, crushed by management dictate, there was a revival, the ‘green shoots of recovery’. Lively marches and meetings were held in towns and cities across the country. Unfortunately the union leadership didn’t follow it through, left the pay campaign on hold, as a result when they re-balloted in October there was a slim majority for action but the turnout was much lower.
The Knowsley Building Schools for Finance (BSF) ‘Learning Centres’ are almost up and running. Shiny new buildings, state of the art computer facilities… shiny new buildings, state of the art computer facilities, so that’s everything sorted, what else do they need? Ah… of course, teachers! Two years ago when the BSF process began Knowsley called all the secondary teachers together for a meeting, the unsubtle message was poor results = crap teachers. All the schools would close re-open, as ‘Learning Centres’ and teachers would have to reapply for their jobs, ‘we’re only interested in appointing ‘good’ teachers’. Or, ‘most of you losers needn’t bother applying’. Needless to say, ‘challenging’ classes, relentless pressure for results, there hasn’t exactly been a long queue of applicants, (after national advertising 8 people applied for the 5 ‘Learning Centre Managers’ posts – a.k.a. ‘Head teachers’) one school failed to get any applicants for the Head of the English Department. So many teachers have applied for redundancy money that the bar has been lowered to any mammal with a teaching qualification.
The creationist academy in Norwich has opened – courtesy of funding from Graham Dacre, the second hand car salesman, turned Pentecostalist preacher. I can’t wait for the science lessons – was the Earth created 3,000 or 6,000 years ago? Maybe they could employ Sarah Palin as a teacher?
The same predictable suspects spewed forth their crazy ideas, Ofsted that fount of joy, creativity and imagination, declared that there were ‘too many boring teachers’. Yes, I’ve met so many ‘inspiring’ Ofsted inspectors. The General Teaching Council wanted to know why more teachers hadn’t been sacked. This from the organisation that arraigned a teacher before one of its disciplinary panels for failing to return library books and calling a pupil a ‘waste of space’. There but for the Grace of God…
The big news from me is that I’m publishing a second book ‘I 8 Skool’, it’s the usual mix of incisive analysis, humour and rage.
Why go through the pain again? Simply because the education book market is so dire. There is Ofsted throttling the life out of schools and what have we got to read? The market is dominated by the comfort read, whimsical, heart-warming, homespun tales from a retired teacher musing about life in their old village school, carpet slippers on, cardigan zipped up, a handy cup of Ovaltine by his side. I haven’t tried to write a ‘warts and all’ account of teaching it’s more a view from the trenches gazing in horror at the gaping mortal wounds through which the lifeblood pours out.
Teachers? In ‘Redemption Song’ Bob Marley opinions that black people in Jamaica, before they can do anything, have to ‘emancipate yourselves from mental slavery’. It’s worrying the number of teachers that can’t imagine life without Ofsted, league tables and testing. At best we have become functionaries, uncritical automatons; at worst, dehumanised, demoralised prison warders patrolling an overcrowded, discredited penal institution.
Just how grim, how dire, how utterly joyless is the primary curriculum? Let me put it this way, if I had a ten year-old child ready to enter Year 6, that grind of revision, mock exams and testing, I would give up my job, live on baked beans for a year and home educate.
I read an interview with a head teacher in which he declared, ‘I admit we are an exam factory and I’m not going to apologise for it’. Like many children I’ve become increasingly school phobic, I no longer see it as a place for learning more as a venue for testing and assessment. We need to keep asking the question - what the hell are they doing to our children?