Monday, 13 October 2008
All my ideas about education in a single blogpost
I used to do that stuff. Schoolteaching, I mean. I remember that sense of awkwardness and fear on first walking into a classroom - an art room in my case - and thinking: So now you're on stage? Do you have any lines worth speaking? Can you explain a task clearly? Can you devise a worthwhile task? And what happens if? Or if? And it did happen, and I learned some lines, and we didn't have to write up lesson plans and I remember picking up one particularly bellicose child and depositing him elsewhere. That is practically assault now. But it was OK, and sometimes it was better and, just rarely, it was worse, and most of the time most of them enjoyed it and some carried on being in touch once they had degrees and children, so really it can't have been too bad.
One of my head teachers once suggested I write a book on the teaching of art but for the life of me I couldn't take it entirely seriously. I couldn't quite take myself seriously as a teacher. I had no sense of mission. It had never been my desire to become a teacher. It was a job. But if it was a job, I thought we had better make the best of it. Do some good things, have as much fun as possible, and occasionally lose our tempers.
Teaching, as in the adverts for teachers, always seemed that much more proper, more devoted, more mad-eyed idealistic and than I thought I was. In my own eyes, I was an artist / poet who taught, and if anything was to come of anything it would have to come out of that. And it must have done because I did it for seventeen years or so, the last four part-time. I ran departments, wrote plays and scripts for musicals for performance. Some I produced, some I even acted and sang (badly) in. It could have been worse. A lot worse. I don't think I was a great school teacher, just OK, and have known much better (C is better), but sometimes I was good, and we got on. Some of it was just luck. I never worked the truly hard cases, never taught the truly murderous or utterly hopeless (meaning utterly without hope), and that is luck.
And the fact is I admire teachers, the ones who work at it, retain their imagination and independence, who face the class every day and can instill some sense of pleasure in the whole process of learning. I don't mean the careerists clambering up the ladder, the waspish, studious, shiny-faced ones. I have never liked head teachers either. They were not supposed to be liked. They sometimes became human again once they retired, but I regarded them chiefly as a form of plastic interface. But teachers, good class teachers, are a real gift and they get a bad bad deal from everyone, from inspectors, from governments, from parents.
Once upon a time they taught subjects and had a vague project to instill character, however character was defined then. The PE teacher was more likely to instill whatever it was than the art master. Then they were made responsible for a great roster of other things, healthy eating, correct sex, citizenship, while at the same jumping through horrible inhuman hoops, ever more horrible, ever more inhuman. And now they are to become narks, to report on likely eleven year-old suicide bombers. They get the blame for everything and the credit for nothing. And I'm not beefing. I don't even teach school any more. Haven't for fourteen years or more.
Oh yes, my ideas of education. Here they are. Let them go. Let the boys out at, say, thirteen. Let them be apprentices, skivvies, office boys, let them learn trades, use their hands and bodies, let them run and earn. Then, when they are hungry again, say at seventeen, let them back in and feed them heavy with knowledge and guesswork and the actual delights of learning.
Let the girls go too. A little later perhaps than boys. Let it be school out for a while. Higher education is full of people taking second chances and good luck to them. I can't speak for girls. They tend to do all right at the graft and the orderliness. But that may be simply because that is what is generally required in school now. It is not what boys are good at.
And let's not take school so deathly seriously as though it were the whole point of life. It isn't. Let's blow up the league tables, let's remove the snaffle and bit of total curriculum control. I feel quite Lawrentian (D.H.) about this. Let school have something of pleasure about it and even, if you like, irresponsibility. A little of that. Once that is achieved let's hang Gradgrind from the nearest lamppost.
Or if we can't do that, let there be just the faintest understanding that we are in this together, that it is what we would all like to do, both teacher and pupil.