Wednesday 29 June 2011

Flogging Dead Horses

Perhaps, I am not best placed to say much about teacher’s strikes or what happens in schools. It is now twenty five years since I was in one for matters to do with education and only twice since and then over twenty years ago as part of music audiences which had nothing to do with the schools.

There are rumours that changes have taken place. But in my time there were also changes. There was the notion that Elementary Education was no longer enough. It was argued that many, the radicals asserted all, of youngsters should have some form of basic secondary education, lasting even as long as the age of 15.

It was a few years after my time that this came about and there are some ancients who once felt it would not do much good who now claim to be vindicated. Also, there is in my memory the indirect experience of people whose education began in the 1860’s and 1870’s. In the extended family some began teaching in the 1880’s.

In all that time we have a plethora of reports, commission, campaigns and all the rest that have produced the situation we have now. I do not use the words “service” or “system” or “sector” because it is not clear at all what it is for. Also, this emanated from government, interested bodies and vested interests, notably the trade unions representing the teachers.

What rarely appears in the discussions, or in the economic equations, is what we are dealing with. No, I am not going down the pupil as “client” or “customer” road, I am talking about what goes on in the heads of young people as they are going through the education years. In my experience this has changed and neither government nor teachers take on board the implications.

Imagine a world with no radio, TV, film and where coloured visual imagery was limited to a small number of options. Imagine growing up in a crowded house with several siblings and maybe three generations with perhaps other family or lodgers as well.

Imagine that for almost all of your class work would begin at 11 or 12 and that might be for sixty or so hours a week. That work normally would be very physical and that capability was critical. Very often you would be just one of a team and as a child you would have spent so much time on the streets such a group would be the norm.

If you were a little more prosperous with higher status then some form of shop or clerical job might be had, the group would be that of the church you attended, on the whole stricter conditions might be applied, but otherwise unless you have access to the most expensive books it would be much the same.
From this we can move on down the generations in stages as the world has changed. Print material became much more available with more in colour. Then came film and then recorded music. With this came the tidal wave of American influence on popular culture. By the 1930’s it became clear that Britain may have had the biggest empire but America was winning the war of the film and music media.

So what was in the heads of the pupils by the 1940’s was radically different from that of the 1880’s. Since then the pace has quickened. Firstly there has been TV and bigger film and magazine output with a strengthened media and marketing force targeting the teenager and then moving on to the younger child and then the youngest.

In the most recent decades we have had the early computer years running parallel with the media and marketing forces of the time. Now the coming of the internet and the whole raft of satellite and other communications systems has transformed the young into almost a different animal.

In short what the pupil groups are that now face the teacher are almost another form of life from what the teacher was at their age. They must certainly be very different from my own youngsters of the sixties and seventies. Quite how they compare with my mine and those I knew from long before is astonishing.

The expectations of the length of education, the nature of the work they might aspire to, how that work is governed and what they might encounter and what future there may or may not be has gone beyond any sensible comprehension.

What might or might not be considered “punishment” has changed a great deal since my Headteacher pursued difficult parents down the street waving the policeman’s truncheon used in lieu of inadequate canes.

In the item “Punk Banking” a few days ago, I pointed out that the punk years were those of many of our political and financial superiors and I think it shows. This applies also in the education world.

That they have to manage youngsters whose world and home experience is so radically different from theirs is possibly something they cannot cope with.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

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