Tom Bennett

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Teachers ’caused the riots’, and failing an Ofsted is good for you- It’s Odd Box

‘Careful, lads; they’ve got BTECs!’

Proof, if any was needed, that apes will soon overtake us in the race towards world dominance, comes today in the form of two headlines, each of which are so odd as to suggest that the people who write for the MiniTrue are daring each other to come up with the most spectacularly bizarre assertions. That, or the Gods of Olympus now actively play with us, for sport.

1. Schools should build character, says  the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel.

Where do I start with this? It’s like mugging a Womble, I almost feel bad. (No I don’t.) I read this twice in case the first time I was having a fit or coming down from a mescalin enema. Yet another report on last year’s riot; cometh the report, cometh the righteous finger pointing. Every time I read these things I just think, ‘Nah mate, bollocks; get a job’ (I’m printing T-shirts that say just that, and selling them outside TED conferences). Seriously, what on earth would these people do if they weren’t churning out rainforests of rot? Get. A Job. And f*ck off and stop telling me how to do mine.

Apparently schools have a key role to play in preventing further riots. You heard me. Yes, I’ll just revise my curriculum to include a unit on ‘How Not To Riot’. Which means I’ll have to TAKE OUT the unit I already teach on ‘How to Riot’. Honestly, make your minds up, lads. Do they seriously think that we don’t do enough of this stuff already? That in schools the message is in any way ambiguous about whether it is socially acceptable to spanner old ladies and torch furniture warehouses? Boy, I’d love to see those assemblies.

Apart from the infantile, reductionist approach to human behaviour that the report endorses and assumes, it also commits the ultimate sin of neuroscientism or behavioural voodoo- it assumes that a person is nothing more than the product of their biochemistry, neurochemistry, genetics and background; seed and soil, it would seem, are Kismet. Which is odd, because I teach a whole heap of children who are poor, a bit bored, and would quite like to be rich who DON’T pan in Comet windows or boost tourists’ MP3s. What on earth could explain such aberrant, altruistic behaviour?

‘Please stop me before I riot again!’

Could it be that people have a choice? That ‘not having a youth club to go to’ isn’t a sufficient excuse to riot? That ‘not having enough support’ is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of being a thug? I am dazzled by these people who claim that criminality is too simple an explanation for large scale disorder, and then provide such moronic explanations. Have they forgotten that human nature is often competitive, materialistic, opportunistic and selfish? That societies were invented as a mechanism through which cooperation could be encouraged, but that beneath that veneer man’s animal nature still beat a hungry tattoo?

Their school solution is true comic genius: we need to build student’s character. Now this is like shooting fish in a barrel, but here goes: what character would you like them to have? By whose standards? How would we assess such a thing? What rate of progress would you like? How would we personalise such programmes? Would they learn best in groups or independent enquiry projects? How would they be assessed? No? No idea at all? Then DO f*ck off. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Fortunately I do, and so do millions of teachers.

We put up with this kind of well-meant but tiresome chatter all the time; worse, it often comes from people who actually possess some kind of influence over us. I wonder if any of the authors were affected directly by the riots? I wonder if they have ever been mugged? Burgled? Actually personally involved with working with people who are capable of such things? I have, and I am. You have no idea of the bottomless capacity of the human spirit to plumb depths of selfishness, as well as heights of transcendence, unless you do. And you have no business speaking about something of which you have no idea.

Building character is a fine aim for a school; but our primary job is to teach. Perhaps you noticed? It’s in my contract. Building character is incidental to my role; I aim for it indirectly by providing a good example of behaviour and conduct. But it cannot be taught directly. I presume you don’t like brain washing? How many more or less rioters would be produced by a few assemblies or units on ‘not rioting’?  The more that such moronisms are loaded upon us, the more we look up to the Mountain Top and think, ‘Let My People Go.’ As I’ve said before, the people with the easy answers to the problems of society see themselves as Moses; but really, they’re Pharaoh.

Or, if all they want is for schools to produce yet another document that describes how this is taught, we see just another tier of tiresome paperwork, and a job for someone to do three weeks before Ofsted.

My favourite bit is the idea that schools that failed to produce a satisfactory level of character building would be penalised financially. See, now you’ve just crossed a line, bub. You want to penalise schools for not doing what they could never be assessed for? You uncivil, officious little turds. Get. A. Job.

2. Schools that fail Ofsteds ‘do better’

Isn’t that marvellous? It seems that all the pain, the stress and middle-management pill popping has a purpose after all, as a spur to greater heights. Er, well, 10% higher grades next year round. How many of them from BTEC magic bean equivalents? Soft subjects? Selective entry? Answers, there are none. And 10%, I mean….it’s not exactly Rocky II, is it?

So now we see the true purpose of Ofsted; not as a barometer, or even a dipstick of pedagogic standards, but a huge, bureaucratic clusterfuck game of Buckaroo!, using teachers instead of curious plastic bridles and buckets. ‘All Buckaroo! horses that shed their burdens, gained pieces 10% faster than those that did not,’ the report said.

Sometimes if it wasn’t the absolute certainty I possessed that one day our nearest star will consume us in the brilliant riot of a Supernova, I would despair.

Anyone got any more bright ideas? I can do this ALL DAY.

Police were the rioters, not us, claim rioters

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.