Tom Bennett

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Monthly Archives: April 2013

English, Maths, Science, Porn. Will this be on the testes?

‘Will this be on the test?’

There isn’t enough porn in schools. 
This apparently odd conclusion isn’t the title of my career suicide note (at least I hope not), but the view of the Sex Education Forum, a group of sex education advisers. They want pornography taught in terms of “media literacy and representation, gender, sexual behaviour and body image”. 
Their intentions are entirely honourable, but misguided. The first, minor complaint I have is that it provides yet another mis-use of the word literacy to include…well, just about any understanding whatsoever. It’s this kind of dilution of denotation that dissolves meaning until a word can point to just about anything, and therefore nothing. It’s explains why understanding an IKEA manual can now somehow be called literacy when it used to mean spelling, grammar and Shaw. 
It isn’t the content of the SEF’s cause that I reject- in fact a lot of what they say is perfectly sensible: porn creates unrealistic expectations of body shape, sexual experience, reinforces the idea of the male gaze, and escalates the arms race of who does what and to whom. They even want the positive side to porn on the curriculum- many people use it as part of a loving relationship etc, although I feel that far more use it as part of a loving relationship with a locked door, drawn curtains and a remote control. 
At University I found myself, as the only man on a Feminism course in politics, writing an essay on porn (‘the depiction of vile whores’ in Greek). Commentators like Andrea Dworkin and Germaine Greer were pretty clear: porn was corrosive, addictive and oppressive. Most women in the industry were victims collaborating in their own oppression; addicts or the products of fractured histories based on abuse and desperation.
Running clubs in Soho, I saw the industry up close: creepy all-night book shops that stocked Taschen and Penguin classics upstairs, while beneath the decks, buggery and bondage  stacked the shelves (a legal loophole allowed them to stock the lucrative bongo as long as 75% of their wares were PG or below). There was even a porn cinema, The Astral, on Brewer Street, the demise of which it is impossible to be sentimental. One of my club promoters had a sideline in making stroke movies for the Fantasy Channel, and he even filmed a few links and promo trailers in the bar when I wasn’t looking. At one point he asked if I wanted to guest star in one, but I demurred. I assure you, you will Google in vain.
I’m often asked at what age I think it appropriate to allow a child to have a smart phone. I answer, ‘That depends- when are you happy with them seeing porn?’ Human nature is curious; anything forbidden immediately becomes precious, and the market price escalates. Few things are as forbidden, or as interesting, as sex, especially for the emergent adult. When I travelled as a 17 year-old through Europe, my eyes were out on stalks as I saw the permissiveness of continental adverts and TV- we even had programs like Eurotrash that offered us Brits a What-the-butler-saw keyhole of their damnable foreign lasciviousness. Now, yesterday’s porn is today’s scenery. 
Children now exist in a society that sexually, permits everything except prohibition. When I’ve taught sex-ed, the breadth of novelty of the pupils’ apprehension exceeded the vocabulary of a 19thcentury trapeze artist. Yet this surface knowledge of eccentricity (‘Sir, what’s a Plushie?’ Me: ‘You never need to know.’) is accompanied by the same incomprehension that children have always had for events and experiences that are beyond their capacity. This is the danger, particularly of porn for children. Girls have enough problems with unrealistic expectations of their bodies, without porn multiplying them with its pneumatic cartoon characters acting as role models. I’ve heard young boys talking about anal sex as if it were something you brought up on a first date, something that proves she’s into you. 
In the absence of parents talking to their children about such matters, porn fills the vacuum. It’s a tragedy that something so mechanical should be used as the template for the intangible sorcery of human relationships.
And yet I don’t want it in the school curriculum. Because this is another example of schools being expected to fix every problem in society with a badly delivered lesson. For a start, the timetable is already stuffed with English, Science, etc which makes it hard to know when this is going to fit, especially when it competes with a million other, equally worthy causes like lessons on vandalism, social responsibility, healthy eating, voting and on and on and on. It’s as if we were walking down a street full of chuggers and being asked to justify why we weren’t dropping our change into the cans of every one.
Society has many issues. People need to stop looking to schools to fix them, because we can’t. What we can do, if you let us, is teach them about the great legacy of human thought and knowledge. We can try- try- to act as good role models, and to instil them with manners and codes of community conduct. 
We are not the pilots of their lives. We don;t have time to teach them every thing society would like them to know. We can do our best, and their parents can too. Beyond that, they’re on their own.

Fury as Gove admits ‘he likes teachers’. The speech to the NCTL

Well, here are some quotes nobody expected from Michael Gove:

‘I’m a great fan of Andrew Old, whose brilliant blog Scenes from the Battleground provides one of the most insightful commentaries on the current and future curriculum that I’ve ever read; but I’m also an admirer of John Blake of Labour Teachers, who has transcended party politics to praise all schools which succeed for their pupils, even if they are academies or free schools…’

This is exactly how it must have played in the DfE last week:

 Then this:

‘I also hugely enjoy the always provocative work of Tom Bennett, the Behaviour Guru, who champions teachers at every turn while challenging them to up their game.’

By which point this is me:

Next time I get stopped for driving drunk with my knees at the wheel on the M11 I’m pulling a Reese Wetherspoon, throwing a copy of this speech at the Feds and shouting ‘Have you read THIS?’

Got home from a busy day releasing butterflies from children’s hearts, to find that Michael Gove had mentioned my unworthy self and several others in his address to the National College of Teaching and Leadership. I’m not going to be cool and pretend it’s anything other than plusgood because it wasn’t so long ago that I was plugging into my first blog and wondering how you got anyone to read the damn things. The temptation to style it out with a casual shrug and play the demagogue is an itch that chafes my contrary nature.

I was asked if I thought it was a good thing, to be thought well by an an SoS, and I realised what a double-edged butter knife of Brutus recognition by the Alpha class can be. Some rakes suggested it was done with political purpose, and my weary inner inquisitor thought, ‘What isn’t?’ Politics is a Hall of Mirrors, of appearance, semblance, and the semblance of semblance, regressing into infinity. And sometimes it’s just appearance. Who knows? Speculation about the interior lives of others I’ll leave to psychologists and other clairvoyants.

It was reassuring to see DJ Gove dropping shout-outs to voices from the Cursed Earth of education, like Daisy Christodolou, the anonymous Old Andrew (brilliantly referred to as Andrew Old: ‘To you, Mr and Mrs Old, a son’), David Weston, Matthew Hunter and others. These people are in it for the love, plugging away, saying what they believe like John the Baptist without the locusts and honey (apart from Andrew). Not me. I get a pound for every word I write. I just gave Paul McCartney money for the meter.

I often hear that teachers are constantly battered as a profession. I think the reality isn’t quite the match of the charge sheet; the principal culprits, if any, are a handful of journalists trying to plug into the Zeitgeist and blowing everyone’s fuses for shits and giggles, hits and headlines. At the least (and here I lay myself open to accusations of playing the dupe) was a speech aimed at the back of the stalls and the upper circles. It was the equivalent of Justin Bieber lolloping out on to the stage of Wembley and shouting ‘I love London’ as Twitter creams and palpitates.

Some of the more social-collectively minded of the named elect will probably have some explaining to do at tomorrow’s breakfast table (‘So, WHAT do you call THIS then? Who have you been talking to on that social platform when we’ve been out campaigning for oppressed centaurs?’), but I have no figs to give. My house allegiances are long gone, like tears in the rain, Deckard. I’ve been called a bleeding heart and a bully, and it stopped meaning anything to me years ago. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of the enemy are deadly, goes the proverb. Worst dating advice ever.

The story the papers are running with is, of course, Gove’s thoughts on the creation of a Royal College of Teaching- which needs a blog in itself, and not the vanity of a handful of bloggers. Appropriately enough, Gove says:

‘The creation of a Royal College is not DfE policy – on the contrary, I’ve had nothing whatever to do with it – which is why it’s such a good idea. Now, I realise that any endorsement from me might blight its chances before it even gets off the ground’

Some of the teachers he names might feel the same. Maybe it is just a ploy to sweeten the profession. If he announces tomorrow that the Tech Bacc has a ‘kids up chimneys’ component, I could be convinced that we were being softened up for bad news.

I won’t let this change me. Kids at school are the most effective humility bomb you’ll ever encounter. I’ve just got over them finding out my book was called Behaviour Guru, which is like painting a target on my ass, and rightly so.

Touch me.

Always someone else’s problem? No, it’s ours, thanks. And you make it harder.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner, yesterday

Fans of witless bureaucracy and low expectations of children were not disappointed today as the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) launched their report ‘Always someone else’s problem’. Here’s the groovy gist of what it says over 56 gripping pages:

1. Many schools exclude children illegally
2. Exclusions are beastly things anyway
3. Schools that do this should be fined and prosecuted.

I’m not kidding about that last bit. The OCC wants to get tough with naughty schools, which is deeply ironic when you think about it, which they haven’t. Now you don’t have to read it. I’ve written about the OCC before, mainly along the lines of how unlikely I would be build a commemorative shrine were it to suddenly sink into the ocean like Atlantis.

Cards on the table: they are absolutely right that this happens. In fact, rather than their cautious estimate of 2 or 3% I would say it is far more widespread than she suggests. It isn’t the data I substantially disagree with, but their conclusions. Let me clear about something else: they absolutely shouldn’t. There is little a school does that shouldn’t be absolutely transparent, and nothing that it does that should be against the law. If a school has a policy, or the governing bodies have statutory guidelines and requirements, they should be followed.

Ghost exclusions

But why do schools act in this manner? Speaking as someone who actually works in a school, rather than reads about them in the papers, I can tell you. They ghost-exclude because they’re terrified of doing it properly. Because the system has been skewed for so long against excluding at all, that they’re scared- correctly- they’ll be clobbered by Ofsted.

Inclusion has become the new orthodoxy. When I entered teaching I was mystified why so many apparently unteachable children were allowed to remain in classrooms where chaos reigned. Answer: inclusion, that contemporary, well meaning but ruinous excuse for adult responsibility. The aim was to make sure no one was marginalised. The reality was classroom after classroom ruined by a tiny minority of extreme spectrum children, whose needs exceeded the capacity of a mainstream teacher to provide. They need special provision; they got sealed in a classroom with everyone else. Everyone lost, everyone.

We have failed generations of children in this way. You want to radically improve every school in the UK? Scorch the moronic practice of inclusion at all costs, and pay for appropriate in-school internal exclusion facilities, with trained teachers, facilities and teaching materials. You’ll see exclusions wither, I promise. And pay for external provision- PRUS, specialist schools- that can cope with small groups of extreme spectrum children. To do otherwise is as sensible as shoehorning a dozen sick and a dozen well people into a lift and hoping they all get better.

The peril of no destination

‘Your value-added is f*cking unacceptable, Bennett.’

The fact that there is a section in the report titled ‘Lack of a meaningful sanction’ (against schools) suggest to me that the authors are masters of parody and irony, because no one could write that sentence and fail to apprehend that the lack of a meaningful sanction is exactly what they are advocating in schools, which means that boundaries will be entirely unenforceable. Can you guess what this looks like to a teacher? Let me assist.

It means this: when schools don’t exclude as a matter of procedure, without fear of rebuke, then children quickly realise that if they defy the class and school rules then….nothing at all will happen. Consider the classroom teacher who needs to set a short detention for, say chatting. What happens if the child doesn’t turn up? Well, the sanction tends to escalate, both in severity and up through the hierarchy. But what happens if the child doesn’t attend, or continues to tell the teacher to blow their lesson plans out their ass? It has to go somewhere. Such children (and they aren’t many, but they are a consistent minority in every school) need to be taken out of the classroom.

But what if the child still tells the teachers, and the world, to go f**k themselves? Then the child is beyond the means of the school to manage. We literally cannot control their behaviour- only they can do this. All we can do is offer incentives and deterrents to behaviour, and hope that they amend. Greater society also has this last resort- the gaol; not to be wished for, but necessary, as inevitable and indispensable as a lavatory bowl. There has to be a terminus for repeated bad behaviour, to be used as little as possible but as often as necessary. I work with many, many teachers who are told variations of ‘we don’t take children out of classrooms.’ The people who suggest this invariably don’t have to teach them. Maggie Atkinson certainly doesn’t.

A well run LSU/ PRU is a place where children can access one-to-one support, and trained staff. It should be a positive step to exclude, because it’s what the child and their peers need. Ah yes, the peers- only a teacher can tell you what the damage caused by reports like this looks like- exhausted teachers lashed by rude, often violent children, and classes torn apart by the selfish, desperate actions of a few. From the way the OCC writes, you’d think classes were stocked with nothing but avatars of kindness and altruism. They are not. They’re people, just like us.

The pointless OCC (and why do children need an expensive office to look out for their interests? What the Hell do you think we’re trying to do, turn them into nuggets and drop them in a fry basket?), if it was genuinely interested in the well being of children and not merely concerned with showing how lovely they are, would say something like this:

  • Schools to provide appropriate levels of internal provision for children based on education and socialisation, not just a holding pattern over the school runway.
  • No condemnation to be attached formally to any school that excludes whenever it needs to; not from Ofsted, not from Governors, not from the anodyne OCC
  • Exclusions to be seen as either a way for children to obtain and access appropriate services, or as an admission that the pupil is beyond the capabilities of the school to manage, or the relationship has broken down too severely. Maggie Atkinson, I’ll wager, has never had to teach a child that punched her in the face, or sexually harassed her, as many teachers do.
  • Schools to be funded appropriately for taking an excluded child. Some schools specialise in these kinds of children; if you’re good at it, encourage schools to take them for positive reasons.
  • Ofsted to ask the right questions about behaviour, such as ‘Why is this child still in a mainstream classroom,’ rather than ‘Why have they been excluded?’ Again, my challenge to many inspectors is. ‘Howe would YOU deal with this pupil?’ and I’ll stake my shirt that many of them wouldn’t have a clue.

I asked someone from the DfE what penalties exist for schools that exclude children. The answer is surprising; very little. Of course, schools lose the finance for pupils they permanently exclude. The only other penalty is the possible disapproval of the inspector, who might take a dim view of exclusion as so many of them are suckled on the dogma of yesteryear. In which case, Sir Michael Wilshaw needs to add this thread to any subsequent inspector training: inclusion not always good; exclusion not always bad.

There are a dozen things wrong with this report, and that’s before I get past the title:

  • The authors go to great lengths to include the views of children, but the only time teachers are asked their opinion is as part of a survey where they are merely asked to report quantitatively about ghost exclusions, which is a bit like asking a pineapple what their opinion is of canning factories (Christ, someone will jump on that metaphor, I know). If you’ve ever taught any naughty (sorry, troubled) kids then you might be unsurprised that when you ask them what they did wrong, they often deny it or even- vaudeville gasp- lie about it.
  • Putting targets before real improvement. I’ve heard from teachers who were told that their exclusion rates had to plummet in the next 12 months. There are two ways of achieving this: putting structures in place that mean exclusions are needed less, or just cutting the number of children excluded, with no other effort made. Can you guess which option is easier? I’ll leave that with you.
  • My main problem is that the OCC seems most upset that paperwork hasn’t been done, rather than supporting the right of children to be safe and learn in an environment that promotes their flourishing. It’s anti-education; the administrator’s gag reflex. It ignores what children need, and focuses on what form needs to be stamped.

There are schools doing incredible work in the area of exclusion and inclusion, largely because they have clear and rigorous behaviour policies that serve a greater aim: the well being of the community AND the individual, but not at the expense of the many, as most inclusion policies are; which is odd- isn’t the many composed of the sum of the few?

You’ll already know most of this, if you’ve ever taught difficult classes. Unfortunately for most of us, the panjandrums of the commentariat often haven’t. The OCC wants to paint the whole world with a rainbow, and that’s a lovely ambition. It wants to teach every child to sing their heart song; I just want to teach them, to be safe, given boundaries set with compassion, not unconditional and bottomless altruism.

I want what’s best for them, not just what they want. That’s the difference.
What is the Children’s Commissioner actually FOR?
Little bit of satire.
Inclusion, the opiate of the chattering classes
When everyone’s special, no one is.

Notes on a scandal: Giving up on students

One of the most rewarding things I do outside of teaching is acting as resident Agony Uncle on the TES website’s Behaviour Forum. I, and many other teachers do what teachers do best: offer free advice and perspective to those wading through a river of chains. Occasionally a correspondent raises a problem and I think, ‘Christ, have we sunk so low?’ Most of the problems to which I respond are fairly straightforward; but a large percentage involve teachers being placed in unnecessarily difficult situations by school management systems that seem designed to encourage poor behaviour, and in this case, give up on the kids. Here’s a summary of what someone said recently:

‘I feel embarrassed posting this, as I’m an experienced teacher who would normally feel  that my behaviour management was pretty good – but I am at my wits end with a Y11 class (bottom set).

…Only about 5 out of 28 would do anything they were set.  They were just about polite enough that when I insisted they face the front and listen so that I could talk through brief powerpoint, explain the objective and set the work they did so without interruption.  This was hard work. 

One pupil told me ‘We are leaving school in 4 weeks – and no one cares if we do this’ to which most agreed, despite me telling them strongly, ‘Yeah?  Well I care!’
Very few did anything more than a couple of sentences of half assed effort.  2 or 3 did nothing. I have this class 4 times a week.’

So far, so normal. I get this email a dozen times a week. It’s awful that this is repeated so often in classes up and down the country, but that’s another issue. No, this is the bad bit: he carries on-

‘I feel really pathetic writing this – I have spoken to [the] HOD – who tells me, ‘Oh no one expects them to do anything’.  SMT have told me I cannot [my emphasis] phone home, that I can issue detentions ‘but they won’t come’ and that ‘well…they are leaving soon…it’s very difficult to get them to do anything’.

As there does not appear to be any consequences for their behaviour they will quite happily just sit and chat through every lesson, but I am obviously not happy about this….I’m just highly frustrated and pissed off that no one will back me up and that the class won’t do as they are told.’ 

Once I’d pulled my head out of my keyboard this was my response:

You know, if more parents knew about this kind of attitude then there’d be an earthquake in the scandal rags. Can you believe that a school would just give up on its children like this? Sure, what they’re saying makes perfect sense- but we’re paid to do more than just baby sit them; we have to have high expectations from them every day up until the minute they leave. That’s the job. If the school doesn’t give a shizzle about these kids, it doesn’t deserve to have any.

Your strategy has to be to insist upon full school support. Follow the behaviour policy to the letter, and expect/ demand the support. Remind line management what the policy is. The surest way to fail is by not trying in the first place. Have kids removed who fail to comply. If you can’t motivate them in the short term you can at least present them with an immediate inconvenience (ie hassle from senior staff/ yourself etc) to the point where they consider it easy to work than not. 

We’re paid to believe in them even when they’ve given up. If we give up, God help us.

This is institutionalised thinking at its worst. The minute we cease to believe that we are responsible custodians of children’s futures, and that we have the power and duty to do something about it, then we should quit the job on incapacity grounds, and let someone else look after them. Does a doctor give up on a patient because they probably won’t make it? Does a fireman ignore an alarm because, well, there’ll be more fires tomorrow, and you can’t beat fire? This school might as well have said, ‘We couldn’t give a damn about these kids anymore. Damaged goods.’ It’s the same diabolic thinking that inspired a thousand ‘Reaching for a C’ programs, where schools ignored their consciences and treated one group of students (C/D borderline kids) as more important than the others (the safe bets and the no-hopers).

When I ran restaurants I had a door hostess called Suky who wasn’t the sharpest blade in the drawer. One Saturday night an angry customer grabbed her and said, ‘We’ve been waiting for an hour for a table!’ Suky replied, with perfect sympathy and sincerity, ‘I know! It’s mobbed isn’t it?’ Maybe she went into education afterwards.

The next time a line manager tells you that nothing can be done, you might want to think about finding a department with a different line manager, possibly in a different school. We’re paid just as much in April as we are in September. Our salary is the same whether we’re launching year sevens into secondary or parachuting sixth formers into University. They need us every minute they live under our care. Of course for that to happen, we actually need to care, and vast number of teachers do, of course. Which is why it’s so depressing to hear this kind of croaking.

Use the Force, Harry: beware quotes with no sources

King Agamemnon and the Angry Birds: what have we learned in 3000 years?

Scene: 13th Century BC Greece; the throne room of Agamemnon, King of Mycenae. The King waits alone in front of a huge enchanted mirror. Suddenly the surface of the mirror ripples with a rainbow of colour, and two men step through, both dressed strangely.

The King: By Zeus you have returned. To what strange land did Circe’s mirror take you?
First traveller: To the 21st century, Lord Agamemnon.
The King: And what marvels does such a future hold? Show me.
First Traveller: It is a world of magic, majesty. (He empties a bag on the floor in front of the King) See: this black box of glass allows the owner to talk to anyone across the known world. Like the Delphi oracle it answers any question man’s mind can frame, and like a mechanical homunculus labours silently to its master’s tasks.
The King: It shines like a lamp. Here, give me it. (He examines it) What’s this?
First traveller: Angry Birds, majesty.
The King: I would know these Angry Birds.

Three hours later

The King: We shall return to conquer these magical swine later. What other miracles will our descendants enjoy?
First Traveller: Every joy and comfort that philosophy can conjure, majesty. The art of the apothecary has been elevated such that many live into great ages of forty, fifty and more. It is possible to wear the same teeth throughout a man’s life. Horses have given way to iron wagons, driven by trapped Djinn of fire that roar and steam as they propel men along faster than wind. Great cities stud the world as bright and as tall as Olympus. Men fly around the world inside giant falcons…
The King: Like the Birds that are Angry?
First Traveller: (pauses) Sort of. Sure.Wars are settled as the Gods do; by hurling great thunderbolts of fire across nations, and by all manner of Hephaestian device. It is a world of the casually miraculous.
The King: Astonishing. Nature itself bows to the sorcery of mens’ minds, centuries hence. What a future you have shown to me. And you, man: what part of our kind’s destiny did you explore? What have you to tell me of our path, millenia from now?
Second Traveller: (puts hands in pockets) Er…
The King: Speak. Your companion has sought the marvels of men’s conquest of nature. What did you explore?
Second Traveller: Schools, sir. I spent some time speaking to their wisest augurs, and studied their greatest arts.
The King: Ah, this is happy news! What secrets of men’s minds have our descendants divined? What alchemy have the wisest of their mages discerned?
Second Traveller: Well….
The King: Well what?
Second Traveller: Well it is said that children learn best when they are taught by experts, and given new information which they are then asked to recall and explain. It is also said that this should be neither too easy, nor too hard.
The King: (not impressed)….go on.
Second Traveller: (visibly sweating) And they also say that they should probably be tested from time to time. And shouldn’t muck about.
The King: Is that it?
Second Traveller: Pretty much.
The King: Hmm. That sounds exactly how my own education went. Is there nothing to match the invention of the Furious Birds of Nemesis? Be careful how you reply, or you will suffer the fate of the Boss Pig in Ham ’em High.
Second Traveller: There’s this, my liege. (Pulls out a cap)
The King: What’s this?
Second Traveller: It is a Hat of Thinking. Placing it on a child’s head gives it the wisdom of Hera.
The King: (trying it on) My mind is no clearer.
Second Traveller: It is because you are so wise already.
The King: Ah yes, I knew that. What else?
Second Traveller: (warming to a theme) It is said that children learn best, not when taught by a teacher, but by each other, in groups.
The King: That seems somewhat counter intuitive.
Second Traveller: You can’t argue with science, majesty.
The King: Let it be so throughout the land from now on. And let the spinning wheels of Mycenae weave a coloured hat for every child, until we rear a nation of Apollos. Anything else?
Second Traveller: Yes- the children should be taught through the medium of drama and role-play. They should cast their books…
The King: Nobody has books. This is the 13th century BC.
Second Traveller:….their scrolls aside and be taught instead how they feel about carpentry, blacksmithing, war and nature.
The King: How are they expected to…are you sure this is all legit?
Second traveller: Their sages were quite clear on the matter.
The King: Well…if you say so. I’ll have every script and scroll pressed to feed the furnace. What more?
Second Traveller: If it pleases sir, I have a most wonderful thing that will transport teacher and pupil alike to greatness. (pulls out a piece of paper)
The King: A note?
Second Traveller: A design, majesty. It is the architect’s plans for the fabled Learning Bicycle of the 21st Century. I wasn’t quite clear how it worked, but it seemed very popular.
The King: Let us build a fleet then, and raise an army of….
Second Traveller: …of Independent, creative digital natives and discovery learning explorers.
The King: You know, for a minute there I thought you were going to say that we had learned nothing in all those centuries. Of course, I would have to kill you for your failure.
Second Traveller: (going pale) Yes, they have this philosophy too in the future. They call it high-stakes accountability.
The King: Instead, you are more the hero than your companion, for his marvels have run out of power and we have no leads or wall sockets to restore the spirits inside. I will announce you as Prince of Education to the people.

[Kingdom promptly falls]

King Leonidas has 300 Followers. 
Xerxes likes this.

What can we learn from the Kryptonian Education System?

Never mind the Union Christmas Lists, the earthquakes in education, Free Schools, and the whole damn circus. What I want to know is: how smart is Superman? And how did he get like that?

Fortunately the comics provides clues.

Forget all the epistemological argy bargy of cognitive psychologists, handbagging each other with different definitions of intelligence, IQ, Multiple Intelligences and such; in Superman’s Universe we have a handy 1-12 scale, which must make comparative assessments over time a doddle. Here’s how it goes:

‘Highest level of genius intellect currently defined is a 12th level intellect.

  • this has been displayed as the ability to consciously have 12 simultaneous thought processes at a genius level of intellect being performed concurrently. Intellectual capacity at that level is capable of developing sciences and concepts beyond the comprehensions of even other known geniuses and associated with the potential to master an unlimited number of disciplines. Such intellects are capable of memorizing entire libraries of information, multitasking and building entire mental simulations with the speed and accuracy of supercomputers. 
  • It has been hinted, however, that intellects at a level greater than ten are inherently unstable and prone to erratic behavior’

This means Brainiac, Sam Freedman, etc. But did you get that last bit? Brainy people are ticking time bombs, so get your G&T coordinator working at the same desk as your social worker and save yourself some time. Unfortunately this scale isn’t much use for schools because….

  • ‘The entire 21st century Earth’s population is considered to be at a 6th level of intellect.’

Ah. Not so useful. Kind of takes the fun out of common assessments. ‘Well done, kids, everyone’s a level 6. Again.’ Superman comes in at Level 8, which means presumably that by the end of Key Stage 4 he’d be expected to get at least an A* in English Language. Funnily enough, level 8 is also where many of our Year 7 kids are coming in from their feeder schools, but when we test them three months later they all seem to drop down about three levels and we get clobbered by Ofsted for value added. Must be that ‘dip’ thing I hear about.

(Incidentally, for a beautiful discussion on how Superman’s super-intellect works, go here, where serious and literate people take time and effort to consider such things.)

Kryptonian Schools

Superman of course isn’t a product of just any old education system, not even Finland. He’s the Last Son of Krypton, where even the year 1s are hothoused to little Einsteins. Junior doesn’t get engineering at age five? Get Junior into a nurture group quick.

‘Kryptonians, though otherwise completely human, were superior both intellectually and physically to natives of Earth’

So, somewhat of a head start. Kids from Krypton could enjoy further advantages, the likes of which are rarely seen outside of Eton or Wellington College. For example…..

‘According to Superman #53, Krypton’s inhabitants were humans of high intelligence and magnificent physical perfection…..a super-scientific, intelligent people, and as a great people physically perfect and of immense intelligence and science. On the Planet Krypton, explains Action Comics #233 (1956), even three-year-olds could solve complex mathematical equations.’

‘In Kryptonian schools, lessons were taught with the aid of sophisticated telepathy helmets which enabled teachers to transmit knowledge to their pupils telepathically at phenomenal speed. The treatment of psychological problems was facilitated by an ingenious mind reading device……thanks to the pioneering work of scientist Lon Gorg, whose supra-psyche treatments successfully transformed morons into geniuses.’ 

How else was the super-mind taught? Well, by a super teacher of course: in the joyous ‘The Super Teacher from Krypton’ (Adventure Comics #240 Sept. 1957) we meet…well, Super Teacher, built by Superman’s Dad so that even light years away from his dead parents, he can still be nagged into doing his homework:


There are union issues with untrained non humans delivering lessons here that I’ll skirt over, let alone health and safety. But I like his style: ‘Memorise this instantly’ ‘Shut the f*ck up’ etc. I suppose Jor-El was just concerned that his precious son’s eighth level intellect might not be best served by the Hick provision of Smallville High, something that many middle class parents are concerned about when they move to rural areas. Maybe they should build a robot.

This also reminds us of Richard Donner’s version of Superman: the Movie in 1978, when we had a clear view of how baby Kal-el’s school days went. Trapped in the crystal life raft from the doomed planet Krypton for four years, his Dad (yes, him again) provided the ultimate in in-car-entertainment: school, on an endless tape loop for YEARS AND YEARS. Christ, think of that, morning, noon and night. ‘The fruit fly is of the genus Drosophilia Melanogaster……the boiling point of sodium is 1690 Kelvin……blah blah blah.’ It’s a wonder that Superbaby didn’t put his bloody foot through the escape hatch and bail out over Saturn. Jor-El was clearly a fan of direct instruction, which at least, according to Hattie, has an effect size of 0.82. John Dewey and progressive education had obviously not reached Krypton, but then they were a race of intellectual supermen and women, and maybe there’s some connection between these facts.


As with every educational tourist, from New York State to Hong Kong, we have to answer the question of ‘what can we learn from the Kryptonian Education System’? I propose the following:

1. Thought transmitters to be installed in every classroom as a basic right for everyone, not just for independent schools with supportive affluent parents that score highly on the BBC ‘How class obsessed are you?’ test
2. Every child to be graded as having a level 6 intelligence, immediately, increasing by no less than 2/3 of a level each year in exact increments, automatically, unless higher progress is indicated, in which case we’ll make something else up and all clap ourselves on the back for doing such a great job.
3. Create a new post of Super Teacher, encouraging high performance practitioners to remain in the classroom (or indeed hovering high above it) instead of seeking promotion into management. Teach Firsters to be part of the Wave One cohort. Advertising to match this.
4. Design a curriculum where understanding and comprehension is predicated on the belief that knowledge in context is the basis of all intellectual improvement.

I know, that last one is crazy, right? Looks like we’re still waiting for Superman.