|‘You want ME….’ etc|
Readers of a certain demographic will recall Benson, the sardonic, rebellious butler played by Robert Guillaume in the daytime soap-satire ‘Soap’ and then in his own spin-off ‘Benson’. The concept of having a black butler for a wealthy WASP family might provoke discomfort in denizens of the 21st century, but we’ll glide over the vulgarities of our forebears. His shtick was that he, servant to a family of hypocrites, adulterers and liars, was dismissive of them all.
|Ah, they don’t make ’em like this no more. Thankfully|
‘All school children should take part in compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons, MPs have recommended. It comes after an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on body image heard evidence that more than half of the public has a negative body image. Girls as young as five now worry about how they look, the MPs’ report said, while cosmetic surgery rates have increased by nearly 20% since 2008.
Media images of unrealistic bodies were said to be largely to blame, they said.
The MPs released the Reflections on Body Image report after a three-month inquiry, involving an online consultation and oral evidence given to the cross-party group.’
|YOU HEARD ME. YOU ARE.|
You want a solution? I’ll give you a solution, although some may not like it: raise children to view differences as acceptable; to understand that there are many ways to think and many ways to look; to be aware of our own imperfections before we criticise the imagined flaws in others. How do we do that? A lifetime of modelling good behaviour; of demonstrating those values themselves; of exposing them to difference in contexts that encourage them to accept rather than revile.
Where have all the Golden Eggs gone? says butcher.
|DOWN WITH THIS KIND OF THING|
And schools already have a primary job: it is our sacred mission to teach them the best of what humanity has learned so far, so that they can surpass us, or at the very least match our generation. The second that schools don’t do this, we condemn our descendants to a civilisation less enlightened, less wise, less informed than our own. It isn’t simply an accumulation of facts, but the bequest of culture, scientific and aesthetic to our children: the most valuable gift of all. The more we attempt to DIRECTLY teach children to vote, to not riot, to love the skin they’re in, the less time we have to teach them about how the world was made, how science works, what our common history is, how the planets roll, the beauty and efficacy of numbers; the shimmering, transformational power of language and communication. This taxonomy of subjects is core and key. It is the sign of an over indulged society indeed that we choose to crowd out these precious jewels so carelessly, in favour of other things.
|Is this what you want? IS IT?|
But teaching these values directly in a three part lesson is the myopic, utopian response of a fool. It’s cheap, it’s almost worthless, and it does a massive disservice to these problems. Worse, it pretends that something is being done, when something isn’t. So it becomes part of the problem itself, by deterring further intervention.
I am outraged. I’m fuming. How can people be so insensitive? They should be ashamed of themselves.
In fact, I’m so outraged, I think I might be able to wring a decent article out of it. The source of today’s horror is the news, reported in the Telegraph, and no doubt coming soon to a media outlet near you, is the news that in the recent AQA Religious Studies exam, they had the temerity to ask this question:
‘Why are some people prejudiced against Jews?’
The Jewish Chronicle led with this; Michael Gove jumped in with his size 12s. Lou Mensch hit Twitter like it was being rationed by Francis Maude.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, branded the move “insensitive”.
He told The Jewish Chronicle: “To suggest that anti-Semitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre. AQA needs to explain how and why this question was included in an exam paper.”
I had to rub my eyes a few times to make sure I was reading that right. We can’t question why prejudice occurs? We can’t try to understand the frankly obnoxious reasons that people might discriminate against any segment of the population? We can’t try to unpick the stitches in racism, anti-Semitism, or hate-thought?
How utterly, utterly, endlessly, bottomlessly appalling. Prejudice needs to be challenged; it needs to be understood; its brittle bones broken. The fog of discrimination grows darker in the shadows. It doesn’t emerge, like a miasma, from nothing. It is a primordial soup of ignorance, half-truths, fear, cruelty and imagined injustice. Suggesting that the only appropriate reaction is to condemn it, does the reverse; it condemns us. I have been to Auschwitz several times; after the abysmal anti-life that this place represents, many were inspired to say, ‘Never again.’
Well nothing is dispelled by treating it as something transcendent, mystical and unintelligible. You analyse and confront; you do not retreat into dogma and simplifications. The German people are not inherently evil, nor were the people of Rwanda, Serbia, or any other ghastly gardens of genocide and intolerance. Hate is not defeated by ignoring it, or pretending it arises ex nihilo, like a genie. Understanding it takes us a step towards dispelling it. Refusing to even question its origins is a step towards ensuring that it perpetuates like gangrene in the wounds of the world.
This was a valid question, and always will be. I teach RS, and I have always- and will always- expect my students to understand why humans can hate each other. AQA understood this when they set the question; good RS teachers understand it when they teach and discuss it. Rentagobs, manufacturing outrage are the enemies of wisdom. This question was well-worded, and anyone free from a fetish for headlines and populism can understand that this question, in this context, wasn’t just permissible, but vital; urgent.
Sometimes I feel that we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. Sometimes, as someone who tries to help students understand why reason sometimes dislocates in favour of race-hate, I feel so weak in the face of the cyclical nature of ignorance and ugly sentiment. The faux, proxy offended play to the sentiments of the bigoted when they classify all explorations of racism as racist.
Humanity deserves better than this. Our children deserve better than this.
NEWS: Recent comments by Ofsted that the maths exam is ‘too easy’ has been greeted with cries of ‘but that’s what you f*cking asked us to do’ by most major stakeholders in England and Wales. Additionally, the DfE rottweiler has accused schools of teaching to the exam and gaming the A*-C figures by entering candidates too early. Tired, confused teachers have responded with various degrees of, ‘But….we only get paid if the results constantly increase like an enormous soufflé predicated on infinite expansion. Help, we don’t understand what you want.’
‘Yes, said one maths teacher. Tell us what you want. We’ll do it. Please don’t hurt us. Take my last testicle. I don’t need it any more.’
The Daily Guru has received an advance copy of this year’s GCSE exam, criticised by many as being too obsessed with relevance and engagement with the children’s context than assessing functional maths skills. See for yourself:
Aspirational social class:
1. If Kelis’s milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, and assuming the combined mass of all the boys is equivalent to 1.13 X 10^5 kg and the length of the yard is exactly three times the width of the yard in a right angled rectangle, then calculate:
a) How much would you have to charge?
b) Is it > yours?
2. If the value of Billy Jean ≠ my lover, then does n tend to 1 where n is equivalent to just a girl?
3. In the shape to the left, is the area of the red triangle closest in value to:
a) It takes a nation of millions
b) Nuthin’ but a G thang
c) 50 cent
d) FUCK THA POLIS
4. Baby got back. Is Sir Mix-a-Lot:
c) Down to get some friction on?
5. ‘My anaconda don’t want ________ unless you got buns, hun.’ Is the missing value:
c) Sir Michael Wilshaw
6. Lady Gaga has lost her telephone. How bad IS her romance, to the nearest three places?
a) Ra ra, ah ah ah
b) Roma, ro ro ma
c) Ga ga ooh lala
7. What’s six inches and goes in One Direction?
8. Simon Cowell, the legendary lady-killer and playboy is having a party where Sinitta, Cheryl Cole, and Amanda Holden will be strangling kittens for his amusement in order to gain the Dark Lord’s favour. You have been invited. Calculate
a) how far you would have to jump in order to be assured of a quick death.
b) the diameter of Sinitta’s Adam’s Apple.
9. Calculate the X-Factor.
10. Will-I-am is twice as dope as Jessie J, who is a sixteenth as dope as Tom Jones. Danny = a dope. What is the smallest number of duets Tom Jones must have performed with Elvis before Danny gets a kick in the tits?
11. Extension: Sean Paul wants to get busy. Using the following terms, does he want to get busy with Miss Jodi or Miss Rebecca, or all of them at once in an unhygienic daisy chain of wicked, libidinous foam?
Girl get busy, just shake that booty non-stop
When the beat drops
Just keep swinging it
Get crunked up
Percolate anything you want to call it
Oscillate you hip and don’t take pity
Me want fi see you get live upon the riddim when me ride
Show your workings. No credit will be given for unjustified answers.
Please indicate your preferred grade here (note: candidates who leave this blank will only receive a C):
|OK, this last one might be by me.|
|The Techno Viking is a digital Viking|
TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO
Further to yesterday’s blog, I received a comment from Joe Nutt, who used to be a principal consultant with the CfBT, adding to the points I raised. He’s written an extremely readable report (click here), and an even more readable power point presentation (yes, that DOES sound like an oxymoron) which makes many of the points I did, but with greater precision, research, and fewer references to viscera and swearing (if you LIKE that sort of thing…).
Joe’s got form; English teacher for 19 years, state and private; then consultancy work with a number of bodies; Teach First, helped implement the national intranet for Scotland, etc, etc.He is, in many ways, righteous in matters IT and teaching, which makes him a rare beast.
His report says, among other things, that:
- The implementation of IT has been driven by suppliers, techno-zealots, and the surprisingly digitally illiterate.
- That the push for digital literacy is simply a push for conventional literacies using new delivery mechanisms, and don’t rely on anything ground shaking. In essence digital literacy is simply regular, ready-salted literacy with a funny hat.
- That IT professionals are often the driving force for the adoption and implementation of resources in the classroom
- That the government works hand-in-hand with educational suppliers in partnerships designed, from the outset, to promote the adoption of greater IT in classrooms
- That teachers can be marginalised from this process
- That there is a staggering paucity of data that supports the purported gains promised by the IT evangelists; that the gains they suggest in grades are spurious and unproven
|‘Mr Bennett is a C-U-N…’|
Anyway, read it for yourself. It’s fascinating. Just because children operate in an environment that sizzles with the EMP of wireless interaction, doesn’t mean that they need to be taught in a substantially different way. Every future is new; every future is built on the foundations of the past, of now. There is nothing new in this. Just because some people are frightened of the future, doesn’t mean the future is frightening. Just because IT is interesting and new, doesn’t mean that schools should bow to their integration at every level; where appropriate, yes, but no further.
There is a dreadful assumption in schools now that greater and greater adoption of IT systems is ‘what’s happening next.’ This is because it has become a shibboleth, trickling down from the top via partnerships with IT suppliers, down into LEAs, through Ofsted, and into the school arena. No one ever got a promotion by standing against the rising tide of useless IT. You may as well apply for a senior post by decrying the use of data-based interventions (and see how far THAT will get you).
The Digital Natives are Restless
|‘Blud, when I get out, we goin’ Nando’s, innit?’|
Can you hear the drums? That’s the digital natives, beating a binary tattoo, demanding greater use of interactive and blended learning. Actually, no they’re not. Like children everywhere, they like to use what they’re comfortable with, and I’m perfectly happy to run with that at times. But they don’t dictate what the best way to learn is. Teachers know that. If it’s paper and pen, it’s paper and pen. If it’s text on a screen, then let it be so. One of Joe’s points I echo is that even if information is gleaned from multimedia sources, it still boils down to the same thing: text, audio, video. We use them already, only we call them books, TV, recorders. The different resources vary in their usefulness and applicability.
And the final myth is that, as digital natives, kids are somehow proficient in their IT use in a profound way, and teachers have to skip and hustle to keep up. Well, let me tell you, I teach a LOT of kids, and the word ‘proficient’ doesn’t spring to mind, at least for the vast majority. Because it’s only ever a minority that are truly proficient with anything. Some kids are coding geniuses (although they don’t learn it at school, I assure you, where the emphasis is on ‘How to use Excel’ and I am NOT f*cking with you), but most are as hapless about even the basics (like the intelligent use of a search engine) as they are about many things. Digital natives MY ARSE.
Liking Skyrim, Diablo and Halo, Facebook and BBM, isn’t the same thing as being literate.
Just because kids are immersed in technology doesn’t mean they are digital natives, literate and comfortable in the sophisticated manipulation of those tools, any more than bats, because they live in belfries, are Catholic.
This blog has been brought to you with the pre-digital literacies of reading, writing, and the letters A, B, and C.
SOYLENT GREEN IS TEACHERS!
The CfBT report (with link to powerpoint)
My previous blog on this topic
Mt blog on the uselessness of ‘Shift Happens’ (warning: written before I understood the value of brevity in blogging)
The Techno Viking. Possibly one of my favourite internet memes ever. Wait til he starts doing HIS THING.
|Your new school governors. What?|
I am not, nor have I ever been, a communist. I believe in America. I begrudgingly concede Milton Friedman’s point that capitalism (with all its faults) is the least bad system we’ve devised yet. It remains riddled with anti-life equations; Marx’s analysis of its weaknesses was more or less correct, although the alternative he painted remains a sketch.
Some of its central structural flaws: its dependence on desire as the driving force of delivery; the utilitarian obsession with valuing what it can measure, until all else is not only ignored, but becomes forgotten, as if it had never existed. And in its Darwinian quest for advantage, it favours those just vicious enough to maintain a status quo of cooperativeness. It seeks short term goals, it pits all against all, and without regulation, it would return us to an age of robber-barons, and perhaps it soon will.
That’s the good news. But to be fair on Adam Smith, it delivers on many levels: as a conduit between perceived need and supply, it approaches cartilage in its connective powers. But there is one circular charge against it which can never be squared: it values profit above all things. Marx called profit theft; more generous commentators call it the fuel of ambition and innovation, the psychological egoist pay-off for competing and striving.
Profit, above all things. Kant claimed that the only true moral motive was the good will- the desire to do good for its own sake. Anything else fetishised the intention, and made good an instrument to an extrinsic goal. For example, if I am an honest shopkeeper because I want my business to prosper, then what I really seek is prosperity, and the minute I can pursue this without honesty, I do so. That is what is so damning about profit: whatever one does in its name, if profit is your sole goal, then all other goals become subservient to it. I believe I’m not conceiving anything controversial when I say that money is an intoxicant that ruins the keenest of hearts.
|The future of law enforcement|
And profit sits very uneasily with education; not because I cannot conceive of anything educational having a margin, but because of the temptation to see the playground as a marketplace. There are many aspects of state schooling that, like the health of the nation, cannot be amended to the spreadsheet, because they are intrinsically non-profitable- financially. Listening to a kid who’s depressed; talking to a parent about ways to get their kid back into school; teaching with passion because you love your subject and you want your kids to do so as well. These, and a million more things, are what education is about. They aren’t done because of some loathsome hedonic calculus, or because we quantify experiences that are essentially qualitative. They are done because they are intrinsically valuable, not because they reduce to a bottom line, or a monetary value.
So I watch with horror the vultures circling education as I write, looking to see which part of the school pack looks like the most lucrative place to maul and bleed first. Which part is the most lucrative?
|‘Would you like fries with your dreams?’|
Of course, schools have outsourced for decades; we are far from soviet. Caterers, cleaners, IT supplies, and so on have all been seen as something that could be run far more efficiently by an economy of scale across boroughs. Now this may be practical on many many levels, but I only have to mention Turkey Twizzlers and you start to get my point: when something is done for profit, profit becomes the sole aim, and other aims- feeding children healthy meals- is not. There was a corner shop next to my old school that sold stink bombs and firecrackers. I am NOT kidding you. When I asked him to stop, he just said, ‘They’ll buy them somewhere else, won’t they?’ Ah, Heroes of Sparta, we salute you.
Two things reported in this week’s Private Eye reminded me of these factors today. One was an article about how private investor forms are ‘circling the university sector hungrily.’ As you can imagine, their intentions are strictly honourable, looking to move into distance learning- that highly regarded and noble part of the tertiary education sector, as the University of Wales knows.
Coming Soon- The Soylent Green Academy
Then there was this article about Michael Gove’s long, unedifying history with the now pariah News International Gang, helping them to- almost- set up a News International School in Newnham. Anyone fancy the chances of that now? No. Incidentally, Boris was on the tours to find potential sites too. Eeh, it makes you feel all warm, doesn’t it?
‘Murdoch told investors he sees schools as a “revolutionary and profitable” area for business expansion. In the US, indeed, he bought Wireless Generation, an education technology company that could digitise classrooms. Given its pisspoor record in New York schools, however, Britain – and Gove – appear to have had a very lucky escape.
According to the New York City comptroller (auditor) John Liu, the “costly tech program” was supposed “to help principals and teachers track progress and thereby improve student learning”. But “$83m later, there is little discernible improvement in learning and many principals and teachers have given up on the system.”’
Schools aren’t a ‘profitable area’ into which businesses can expand. They aren’t a line in a P&L sheet. They are not hot dogs.What makes this worse is the emergent (and to my eyes, grossly oversold) IT revolution that has been promising to revolutionise education for decades. It hasn’t. It probably won’t. It’s an enormous con designed to sell white boards, tablets, software, maintenance contracts, etc. These things can all be great, of course, I use them myself. But to suggest that we couldn’t learn properly before them is obviously a lie, and a stupid one at that; and the idea that they will make us all learn…what, quicker, better? is also a lie, because it is without foundation. Most tech I have seen in schools is redundant, foisted on an unwitting staff by budget holders who want to be seen to be cutting edge, but are really just flailing about looking for solutions. And there will always be people willing to sell you solutions.
Soylent Green is teachers.
|‘Is that Wilshaw?’ ‘He’s SO hot right now!’|
Second blog of the weekend because I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS. Why? Because every time I pick up a paper I read things about teaching and teachers that bears no resemblance to the reality of education. Usually it’s from someone who only steps foot in a school to give a speech, who’s never actually taught a child, and doesn’t know what it’s actually like to be a teacher.
And why should they? No one actually asks us. It’s why some of us end up fomenting our own Arab Springs via blogs and Tweeting with one hand as the other marks (‘Only one t in innit, Caspar.’) which is about as desperate as it gets. It’s King Canut turning back the tide as he pisses into the wind, wishes on a star AND tries to put the cat out as he lights a fire. It’s a Kessel run in less than 11 parsecs; it’s the hill of Sisyphus; it’s the definition of optimism.
Her comments come as a survey from the biggest teaching union, the NASUWT, reveals that nearly half of its 230,000 members have considered quitting in the last year, amid a collective crisis of confidence in the profession.
More than a third said that they did not believe they were respected as professionals and half said their job satisfaction had declined in the last year.
Hmm. Thinking abut leaving, and leaving are two separate concepts. Who hasn’t thought about leaving at some point? I love my job and my school, and it crosses my mind because I don’t imagine that a spell keeps me to any one place like La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Anyone fancy a follow up survey to see how many of those teachers left after a year? Anyone?
Also, in a market where people are hanging on to their jobs like Britain clutches dancing dogs to its bosom, I have never seen, in ten years, a worse time for teachers to be thinking about jumping ship and starting up another career. In a storm, people furl the jib, lower the mainsail and batten down the hatches. They do not go for joyrides on inflatable bananas.People might want to leave the profession, but that’s far from a talent drain. I’ve worked in and outside the school sector, and believe me, schools seem like Anderson shelters by comparison to the world beyond the school gates.
|‘Obey the inspector…happy…’|
So why the claim that the profession is being undermined? Ironically, the claim is entirely correct, but for entirely the wrong reasons. We have never been so tragically underestimated and represented; we have never been seen as less important than now. Rhetoric that ‘teachers are the backbone of society’ (which is rolled out in EVERY public speech, ever, about teachers, by everyone. We’re like nurses, or minor saints. Which makes it odd that we are so relentlessly bummed by successive leaderships, but oh well) is Newspeak.
- No one asks us what we think about teaching and learning. Ever.
- No one asks us what we think of targets and target setting
- No one challenges the orthodoxy that, the targets we are evaluated on, are composed of fluff and fairy tales.
Let me be clear; the reason why teachers feel a bit crappy is because
1. Behaviour. Poor behaviour, weak leadership, poor training to handle it; a culture where children are seen as equal stakeholders in the classroom; where parents have more recourse to provide input than professionals. And the death of the exclusion system.
2. An obsession with Data. Nothing wrong with having targets, but they have to be meaningful. As I’ve said elsewhere, FFT data is a completely inappropriate way of predicting where a child ‘should be’. It;s based on unreliable data from feeder schools, and the school and the teachers spend the rest of their education trying to dance around the scatter graphs to show mindless, moronic progress. And the targets get harder every year, as if we operated in some soulless factory production line predicated in infinite expansion. Give me strength. Targets, I’m fine with. Meaningful targets though.
2.5. The marketisation of education (see: Information economy, JESUS CHRIST). This leads to the view that there is a model of education that every school should conform to, and every teacher should aspire to. one size does NOT fit all. Instead of trying to cram human experience into geometric models, we need a system where teachers scrutinise teachers, where key education factors are focussed on- punctuality, attendance, behaviour, lesson quality, mutual respect, effort- and the flim-flam of data management plays a distant second fiddle; as a commentary not a critical factor.
It isn’t because of the odd shirty comment from Wilshaw that many teachers are feeling lousy. That’s a manufactured outrage, and completely inconsequential to the day-to-day job of teachers. So SMW made Rambo noises about stress. Oh NO! Boo hoo, how will I sleep tonight?… seriously..
Twiggy Twigg is banging on about Wilshaw being Mr Nasty, and international comparisons with Japan; Gove is worried there are too many posh people in education (which is like Lady Macbeth worrying that the House of Lords is unrepresentative); Gilbert says, depressingly, that the profession has never been so professional, presumably because we have all that lovely data now. In times like this we need to focus more and more on what’s important in education.
But more and more it seems like no one’s talking about it.
And as a teacher, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.