Tom Bennett

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Monthly Archives: August 2011

TES Resources: free stuff for teachers. Actually free.

Finally! I’m a constellation.

Just thought I’d show some love to the TES Resources department, for whom I do some work every week. Without bias or benefit I can heartily recommend this part of the TES online portal: lesson plans, behaviour advice, templates, Teacher TV videos, on and on an on. And all of it completely free. It’s like a vast, pulsing collective teaching wiki-mind, a colony intelligence of crowd sourced resources that is so achingly hip I’m surprised it hasn’t launched a perfume range. Of course, being open source, you’ll have to sift through the material to find something of the quality you require, but such is the bargain we strike with the devil of altruism. Besides, there is an enormous amount of high quality material available, so with only a little searching you should be able to get something helpful.

Every week I contribute three behavioural tips to the area, and once a month I write a feature for the Behaviour Newsletter, as well as compiling my pick of the resources available on related topics. And of course I contribute resources myself, normally with a behavioural/ classroom management slant (although I’m considering dumping all my lesson plans, powerpoints and whatnot on it too, especially for A-level).

Click here to take you to resources.
Click here to take you to my resource page.
Click here to take you to a fantastic video debunking learning styles.

Hope you enjoy it. Or indeed, why not share something yourself? Welcome to the Hive Mind……

The S-Bomb: Starkey didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition

 Now I don’t want to stand in between David Starkey and the juggernaut of disapprobation that is ploughing through his Christmas card list- I am neither Toby Young nor a moron- but the recent debate surrounding his somewhat incontinent comments regarding race, poverty and class seems to have been marred by a mighty wind of righteousness. And no matter what side the argument falls on, whenever I hear someone being torn apart by Twitter, I automatically find myself wondering if the momentum carrying the tide of opinion is washing all debate and reason with it.
What is it with media-friendly historians and race, anyway? First David Irving describes Hitler as the ‘Greatest unifying force in Europe since Charlemagne’, and now Starkey has fallen into the spiked pit of telly. Niall Ferguson better watch his back, that’s all I’m saying. You never hear Tristam Hunt talking like this.

Teaching Philosophy, I’m used to provoking and maintaining discussions that are designed to toe-punt as many sacred cows as possible, normally in the name of clarity and rigour. Half the time we’re spent gazing into our navels and asking if there actually are such things as navels, and do we know what we mean by the term anyway? As my old PE teacher would say, ‘Get a f*cking job.’ But it’s all to good purpose- our daily mental lives contain so many contradictions and holy uncertainties that it’s bracing to watch as trusted, nurtured prejudices and axioms perish with the merest philosophy.

Dreaming of marmalade. The BASTARD.
I also teach Religious Studies- easy soldier, I’m agnostic- and one thing we certainly discuss in abundance is the Comment Is Free trinity of nationality, ethnicity and faith. And it only takes the shortest of nails to scratch away any illusion that there is anything like a consensus of opinion over such matters. There are, of course, broad brush-strokes of agreement (I say of course; without them, society is impossible), but these are accompanied by concomitant subtleties of position that have taught me that the varieties of opinion and values held by the human mind are infinite in combination and degree.

When we discuss such topics, at first there is often a tacit agreement to avoid controversy- the teenage ostrich seeks agreement and unity. But this guardedness shatters due to another teenage tendency- spontaneity. As soon as an even vaguely controversial perspective is voiced, the space between thought and verbal response in some students can be measured in nanoseconds: and debate is begun.
Whenever someone makes a comment that’s a bit ‘my mate Chalky’ or ‘Are there any people here from Bradford tonight?’ I don’t leap on them, or try to clobber them with the shillelagh of shame; far better to steer the comments into a conversation, a kind of Socratic dialogue with either the rest of the class, or myself, if that doesn’t work. I have found that it is far easier to persuade people to adopt a moral position than to tell them to do so. Simply shutting down the debate doesn’t do anything other than encourage them to dig their heels in and defend their position with greater vigour, however unpopular it may be.
The six squeezes of Henry VIII. Gs up, hoes down.
Here is a universal truth about our opinions: the things we believe become us. We take a position, find it pleases us, and then, subconsciously or otherwise, say, ‘This is me; this position is who I am.’ It is a perfectly natural way of defining ourselves. Most of us, even the chattering classes, do our thinking on a subject once; then we position our opinions in a way that is most comfortable to us, a way that coheres most readily with the interconnecting web of existing beliefs. It is rare that we readily adopt a view that radically contradicts our existing paradigm.
This isn’t to say that our beliefs and values all cohere beautifully- did I mention we were human beings?- but that we filter the world to fit into a rough pattern that suits us. Kant would have described it as categorising noumena (unprocessed reality) into phenomena (our experience of that reality). This process is largely unconscious.
The problem is that we then become sympathetic to that truth; we become attached to it; we decide that it is part of who we are, and any attack on that view is an attack on ourselves.
And this is the chief danger in debate: the participants become antagonists; become opponents. The ideas and the ideologue become one, and soon face becomes as important as loving truth. This is the adversarial consequence of the debating chamber; it is the vice of the rhetorician, the sophist and the politician. 
David Starkey is a sinner in many senses, to be sure, but one thing he is not is stupid. Another thing he is not, is the universal arbitrar of truth, or a Renaissance man. Perhaps as a historian he is tempted to describe people in terms of class movements and great racial waves more than others. His comments were, in my opinion, medieval and broad. 
But the enormous hail of villification that poured on him recently was also unjust- the true test of a man’s status as a racist or otherwise must surely be in how he engages with others. And until that has been proven, the chattering classes should be more sensitive themselves to damning a man, however much he may have stumbled in expressing himself. I’ve witnessed too many witch hunts in the classroom to feel much sympathy for the slightly hypocritical gathering of skirts that followed his outburst. By their denunciations, they proclaim, ‘Oh no, not I! I would never make broad sweeping statements about anything!’ 
And of course, we all do. Starkey’s shame was that he spoke so publicly, so unwisely. But good quality debate is not generated by making Satans of anyone who trips the mousetrap of intolerance. We discuss; we debate; we consider and we meditate. Saying that I, too, have seen Goody Starkey dance around the camp fire with Lucifer does nothing but throw chaff in the face of real discussion, and makes real progress understanding differences between communities even harder. This isn’t a game show. No one wins by being last to be wrong.

Architects of Citizenship GCSE ‘baffled’ by riots

A rioter, if you live in Hampstead.

The panjandrums of curriculum design were distraught last night, as it finally sunk in that an enormous number of teenagers had decided to riot- despite having been taught Citizenship, either explicitly through a discrete GCSE, or some other modular or integrated model.

‘This defies explanation,’ said one unhappy DfE architect, who did not want to be named. ‘It specifically says in the GCSE not to riot. We taught them all about voting, and local government, and different types of laws and stuff. How on earth they could have misinterpreted this to mean that they should get their best Eveready hoodies on and pitch dustbins through the nearest TK Maxx window, I just can’t imagine. The world’s gone mad.’

Asked whether it was possible that in-school initiatives to explicitly teach children to be better citizens were doomed to failure, our source became aggressive. ‘Of course not! Look at SEAL; see how successful that was, eh? Now children are in touch with their emotions, and teachers know that it’s nice to be nice. Ground breaking.’

Teacher representatives were less impressed. ‘Ah yes, citizenship. It’s like a negative-version of musical chairs; if you get it, you’re out. Created explicitly as a way of getting kids to ‘re-engage with their communities.’ Makes you kind of wonder if there’s a problem with community engagement that it shouldn’t be tackled, oh I don’t know…in the communities maybe, instead of asking us to fix everything in society that appears to be a bit broken. Perhaps if they want kids to start voting again they should stop burgling their expense accounts and hiring crooks. Just a thought.’

Twitter-poll supports abolition of jails, apparently

Meanwhile there was controversy brewing as many criticised the amount of time it took to mobilise middle-class liberalism against the police. ‘It was a disgrace,’ said Athena Chiswick, ‘The riots had been going on for hours before there was a decent outcry on Twitter in support of the poor desperate, excluded victims of society who had been forced into mindless looting of Dixons by a world that doesn’t care. Awful.’

Many ideas have been floated as to the source of the violence, and some expert cultural commentators such as Russell Brand, who apparently is now qualified to comment on such things, have suggested that social exclusion is the root, as well as poverty-related lack of opportunity.

‘Thank God for Russell Brand,’ said a man yesterday. ‘Puts his finger right on it. These children have struggled through fourteen years of free education in a society so cruel and totalitarian that, in theory, starvation and exposure to the elements are impossible. How on earth haven’t they rioted before? Don’t people realise these people are only one giro away from being unable to subscribe to Sky Sports+? You can forget Somalia, Haiti and Ethiopia- these kids are really desperate.’

Others aren’t so sure. ‘Who the fuck rattled Russell Brand’s cage?’ said one yesterday. ‘Five minutes ago he was rubbing his knob on a phone and bragging to Manuel about shagging his grand-daughter. Have you read his book? Sorry; his booky-wooky? He thinks he’s the Messiah, instead of a tiresome lothario who talks about his winky a lot. Interesting that the millionaire Brand went on boozy benders wrecking stuff on anti-capitalism marches. Interesting. Oh, and apparently he thinks Mag Thatch started it. Is Arthur 2 coming out?’

Online, a petition is gathering strength protesting about the severity of the sentences handed out to the first rioters arrested. Entitled, ‘We don’t live anywhere near the riots but we imagine that they were just kids letting off some steam,’ it looks certain to trigger a Commons debate in Cameron’s new ‘listening’ parliament. The Head of the Met welcomed this, calling it ‘A wonderful example of Vox Populi. Anything else you’d like? Free energy? Chocolate that makes you thin? You’re welcome, incidentally.’

Other developments:

  • The ‘police started it’ claims Dianne Abbott, who was among the first to suggest a curfew. ‘They’re getting a bit close to my son’s private school,’ she said, looking worried.
  • The EDL are, it was confirmed, ‘still arses’.
  • ‘It’s a black day,’ said David Starkey, as he completed his retrospective DVD on the Minstrel show, and licked the lid of his marmalade.
  • Putting lots of coppers out on the streets arresting criminals ‘reduces the number of riots’, although experts are so far unable to explain the link between these two phenomena.

I love London: raging against the anti-lifers

I’m going to start with a story about Crocodile Dundee.

That was the name of the eponymous Antipodean film hero back in the eighties. Dundee, an outback Indiana Jones has just arrived in Manhattan from the middle of the Australian desert. Looking down at the teeming masses streaming up and down 5th Avenue, his eyes nearly pop out of their sockets.

‘Strweth,’ he says to Linda Kowlaski, ‘How many people live here?’
‘Around nine million people in the daytime,’ says his soon-to-be real-life bride. Dundee rubs his chin.
‘Blimey. They must all really get along with each other.’

The joke (it’s there, I assure you) leans on chronological context: at that time NY was still trying to shake off its reputation for violence and pushiness, so the punchline emphasised Dundee’s apparent naivety. (Incidentally, that was the funniest moment in the entire franchise, apart from the bit where he pulls a knife.)

But I think our rural emigrant hero spoke more wisely than he suspected. He’s right- they MUST be really friendly. Why? Because of the enormous population density and the concomitant pressures that puts on civil intercourse. Have you ever gone for a walk in the Highlands of Scotland, or the Rockies? What happens when you meet someone walking across a Glen? You say ‘Hello’ of course, aware that it would be bizarre to ignore the only other person in ten miles. Now consider how we interact on, say, the Tube, or a busy bus. You can have your chin resting in a stranger’s armpit for forty five minutes, but never exchange so much as a nod, like a very shy orgy.

Why do we do this? Because urban life dictates that we live in termendous proximity to others; but human psychology doesn’t readily adapt to those levels of fellowship. Or more simply, everyone loves a bit of space, but we rarely find it in economically developed communities, where expediency trumps instinct.

I live in London, and I live in this phenomena. The last time I checked (which was a while ago) the population density of my favorite city was around 700 people per square mile. In Canada, that figure is 7 people per square mile. And they often leave their doors open all day. I swear, there’s a gap in the market for a fleet of Brit vans to go over there and empty the place without a fuss. My point is that it takes a tremendous amount of civic duty and responsibility to live successfully in society. As every teacher knows, it often only takes one dedicated nut-job to ruin a lesson, just like it only takes one mobile phone to spoil a play, or one thief to make evryone lock their doors at night.

Creation is always more difficult than destruction, because destruction aims to no end other than disintegration, whereas creation aims towards a singularity. Societies are harder to sustain than the state of nature; everything tends towards entropy, and in order for us to refuse this, we have to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Every society, even the bad ones, are a success over the alternative: chaos. Aristotle said that anyone who could exist outside of scoiety was either a God or a Monster. Well, I think we saw that there are some monsters who live within our society, who feel no shame in taking what isn’t theirs, and ruining what they haven’t created, and couldn’t create. We shouldn’t be surprised.

But we also shouldn’t be complacent. I’ve watched the riots from abroad this week, and I’m desperate to get back and be part of a society in which I’m desperately proud: London, with all its raggedy, glorious history, diversity, lustrous as Elysium and dishevelled as any Tartarus, the best of things and worst simultaneously. It, and cities like it, are tremendous successes, a constant act of creation, as restless as the Thames and as perpetually new, however muddy it appears. Its very existence is an act of defiance against the agents of nihilism and despair. These people are the anti-life; they exist only because they can think of nothing better to do.

So what can we do? I adore New York’s ability to unify behind a sentimental and mythologised sense of itself. When I see the clean up crews picking up the debris of nocturnal chaos, when I hear proud residents sharing time and sweat and necessities in order to help one another, we see the other side of humanity- the golden part, the angel within. Communities rest on a knife’s edge: on one side is an abyss; on the other, a shining path leading up. In the last three days we have seen both, and proven again that the darker the shadow, the brighter the light in front of it.

What we need (and I speak now to Londoners, but I hope this can resonate in the minds of others) is for people to stand up and say how openly proud they are of their city; to say, without a trace of superiority, exclusion or triumphalism, that we live in a miracle; that we operate within the boundary of the greatest invention in the history of humanity: civilisation. That, while there will always be parasites and anti-lifers, there will always be love, compassion and humanity.

So today, I just want to say one thing.

I love London.

The London Riots. The Horror

Watching the news was like walking into a wall. At first it seemed surreal; abroad, the home news always seems like a foreign country. Today, it feels like a bad dream.

I am paralysed with anger, and weep with pity at the horror of it all. To watch the scenes of cold-blooded, unleashed egotism is more than I can bear. This is MY city; this is my home.

This is the fragile, futile awful truth; civilisation, with all its concomitant luxuries and prizes, is made of glass; a stone’s-throw away from rubble and ruin. All it takes is for someone to throw a stone, and for no one to say no. Last night, and the last few nights, many, many stones were thrown, and bricks, and home made bombs, and battering rams, and fists.

The part that devastates me as a teacher is that they are, seemingly, children; teenagers; gangs. These aren’t protestors; these aren’t activists; these are bored, opportunistic children. Don’t say they’re disaffected; don’t say they’re economically disenfranchised; don’t say they are the detritus of a society that doesn’t care. They don’t care. They are the fruit of a womb where actions have no consequence; where people take what they want; where might makes right; where do what thou wilt shall be the only law. This is the logic, the emotional paradigm of an infant, angry and selfish, allowed to calcify and endure past adolescence. This is reward without sacrifice; this is appeasement without boundary.

This is where justice, compassion and kindness are not; this is the dark side of the moon; this is the opposite of everything you have ever worked for. Don’t look through the entrails of burned out buildings, overturned cars and ruined shops, looking for some hidden message or meaning, some augur, some sign, some unifying explanation that makes sense of this. Violence and cruelty and savagery caught like a flame, and a firestorm followed; the violence and darkness that exists within all people, kept low by civility and empathy and society, but allowed now to leap from city to city. Millions, billions of pounds worth of damage; countless more value lost from the intangible economy of the good life. And for what?  A widescreen pasma? A few bottles of Blossom Hill? A fireworks display?

We need kindness; we need love; we need leadership. We need the boundaries redefined and confidence brought back to the streets. We need our government to do the primary job for whcih it is meant to be fit: security, stability and peace.

The horror. The horror.