Category Archives: Humane Education

When Push Comes to Shove: Kant’s Dove

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The dove, in free flight cutting through the air the resistance of which it feels, could get the idea that it could do even better in airless space.  Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason

Pity our free spirits, constrained by the school and kicking against the pricks. Teenagers, angst ridden, knowing full well if the school wasn’t there they would be free! Free to be themselves! They could be a contender! Free to make a difference to the world!

A great school tries to get kids to, metaphorically, fly. To the pupils this can sometimes seem like the opposite and it just isn’t fair, in fact it’s a drag; literally.

Weight, lift, thrust and drag are all needed to fly.

Opposite forces can combine to help achieve what can’t be achieved by doing away with those forces that might seem to hinder.

Ensuring the right balance is achieved is an art. Too much drag, too much push and too much pull…

No-one can breath in an airless space.

 

My Worst Job Interview

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I was running late, grabbed some toast, said goodbye “good luck!” came the reply and with that I set off, no worries I thought, the school will offer me coffee…

I arrived at the school on a drizzly summer day and pressed the buzzer, the door opened and in I went. Reception was packed with kids being dealt with, I was at the back of the queue, fifteen minutes later I was able to sign in and taken to a small, stuffy, room in which there were 12 chairs. I had been the first to arrive at 8am, my allotted time, I was told the others would be arriving at half hourly intervals and, yes, there were to be twelve of us. By 9am, gasping for a coffee, I and my two fellow interviewees asked whether there was any chance of a cup? No, we were told, but there was water. Grateful for anything we accepted. Water it was.

One of my fellow interviewees had stayed over in a hotel the night before and the other had come by train, that morning, from Bristol to London. Another arrived, newly flown in via London City airport from Scotland, it was 9.30 am and we were shown around the school by a couple of year 9 pupils who didn’t think much of the school.

When we got back from our travels we were handed a timetable for the day and my main interview, because my surname was R and there were no Smiths or Taylors, would not be until the end of the day.

We condemned interviewees sat in our stuffy room, chatting, wondering what to do and a new applicant arrived with the news that they had heard there was an internal candidate. A deputy head arrived to take someone up for interview, a candidate who had yet to have the inspirational look around the school, we asked whether it was true and we were told yes it was true and that he currently had the role on an ‘acting’ basis, he had had the role for the year and he was applying for the permanent position. At that point the person from Scotland withdrew and looked mightily relieved.

My tummy was rumbling, the others went off for dinner but it was time for me to do ‘the test’, I was taken to the library, given a ‘test paper’ with various questions about what I would do if…. The test was timed, I was hungry, pleased with my answers… But hungry…

I returned from the test and was immediately taken along to the dreaded pupil panel. This consisted of eight year 9 pupils who asked a variety of pertinent questions if they had been asked by adults, they were probably penned with the help of adults, but elicited awkward responses from me as I felt nervous about divulging personal details about my life and experiences to a group of thirteen year olds. I had to stop myself for asking for some chewing gum that most of them clearly had access to…

Beyond hunger I returned to the ‘room’, others talked about the poor quality lunch and I asked the receptionist when I could have mine, only to be informed I had missed it. I enquired as to whether there was a shop nearby and she informed me it was half an hour’s walk away and that my presentation ‘preparation’ time began in twenty minutes. I felt imprisoned by some bizarre regime whose job was to torture me in a variety of ingenious ways.

I asked for some water.

I watched as a plate of sandwiches were taken in to the main ‘interview room’.

Why did I stay? God knows.

I prepared a presentation on a given topic in my allotted half hour and was told to wait until the panel were ready.

Then, finally, it was my time to be interviewed. There were twelve people on the panel and a rather unassuming person introduced themselves as the Head teacher but only after the student voice rep had introduced herself, a parent governor, a teacher governor, assorted deputies of this and that and the other, a union official, and an interested parent observer and a couple of heads of department.

They had empty plates in front of them, coffee cups…

I did a great presentation but as the interview progressed I began to fall apart, hungry, feeling like an idiot for not withdrawing, upset with the way I had been treated, I felt angry and tearful. I didn’t want to show it, but my answers became more and more wild and ill considered, I was past caring.

But I still cared, I needed a job.

That evening I was rung up by the Head who told me I hadn’t got the job. I asked him who had, he said they had decided to offer the job to the internal candidate and had decided they didn’t need to interview him. I was apoplectic I gave the Head teacher a piece of my mind about how awful the whole day had been and how he could improve the whole process coffee and food featured highly in my feedback. He said he didn’t have to listen to this and put the phone down on me.

At the end of the following Autumn term I heard that the Head had been dismissed, suddenly, for unknown reasons. This gave me the opportunity for a wry smile, I wonder what had gone wrong?

What Then?

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When all kids have grit, what then?

When every school is outstanding, what then?

When every target is reached or surpassed, what then?

When everyone’s mindset is switched to growth, what then?

When all is meritocratic and we all get to where we ought to be, what then?

When every twenty-first century skill has been adopted and learnt, what then?

When every child attends the college of their dreams, when every child is fluent in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, what then?

When all children are creative, empathetic, can move from job to job with ease, what then?

When every school leaver is able to commune happily with artificially intelligent machines due to the new jobs that have yet to be thought of that they can now be employed in the exciting never thought of industries of the future… What then?

When the tense is future-perfect, what then?

Gentlemen, there are questions that worry me; solve them for me. You for example want human beings to give up their old habits and adjust their will so that it accords with the requirements of science and common sense. But how do you know that human beings not only can but must be transformed in this way?*

Isn’t the way of things that mankind is drawn to destroying the very things that might, in all sense, be to our advantage? Even in the life of one person don’t we sometimes do the very things we know do us no good whatsoever? Eat that extra bit of cake, drink a couple of glasses too many, wake up in the wrong bed on the wrong side of town…?

How many people will it take to make the system perfect? Won’t we get bored in this utopia, that we stick pins in our eyes, or the eyes of others?

If a system is doomed to fail is it just a vain hope? Has our vision of the future written out the awkward, rebellious, self destructive anti-heroes or zeroes that so many find themselves to be? Oh we are such disappointments us human-beings. We are our own nemesis. Give me a target and I might deliberately miss it and even I won’t know why.

In the meritocracy will schools be there for the inhabitants of the de-meritocracy?

 

*Dostoevsky: Notes From Underground (which is the inspiration for this piece)

 

Schools, Business and ‘Providing Intelligence’

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As April is the cruelest month I take a jaunt down by the river and see how things are progressing, so much building is going on, people moving in, putting plant pots on their balconies, and a bike on the nineteenth floor. Down on Greenwich Reach potential purchasers are promised property that combines: “…brilliant architecture, breathtaking views and sophisticated living accommodation, New Capital Quay provides a dynamic fusion of exclusive apartments attracting owner/occupiers, investors and tenants alike.” The glass fronted dynamism faces across the river the taller glass dominated offices of Canary Wharf, this is the brave new world.

The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails
Wide
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.

The old wasteland is still visible alongside the new one, not so dynamic anymore, the barges offer industrial colour and the red sails take tourists and office parties up and down the river. The Isle of Dogs is to be renamed the Isle of Designer Dogs, the residents are all Cock-a-Poo…

Progress is inevitable, but not inevitably better, we always take the rough with the smooth, the same is true of our brave new world of schooling. The decline into our contemporary educational wasteland might have started when some schools called themselves ‘academies’ but I think the worst sign was when some tried to ditch the idea of schooling entirely by calling themselves ‘learning villages’. Turning schools into villages is the same trick an estate agent uses to make some glass effrontery seem cutesy and community based. How many ‘investors’ are being attracted to London’s property market? Good place to park some money…

It is all about money, right? That Independent schools, used to being in the market place, might be entrepreneurial and look to the well heeled communist and business families of China as sources of income is understandable but an English State school too? Over 40 private schools have campuses in Asia and the Middle East we are told in this piece in the Telegraph  and now “The trust that runs Bohunt Liphook academy in Hampshire will open a new school in Wenzhou in 2018.” Yes, the school that took part in a telly programme to see if Chinese methods of teaching were more effective than ours; that the Chinese ‘won’ that particular game is of no consequence, as an English education as a ‘brand’ is easily sold abroad. Some money raised on the backs of the fee payers in the far east will be ploughed back into the state school academy trust in England. Schools are becoming more like businesses, they might be a good place to park some money for investors looking to see how the markets might be moving.

You would think that businesses would be loving these changes: academies, villages and markets but no they are not happy, according to the TES, the Institute of Directors say that: “In the past, education was about imparting knowledge… today, it is about providing students with the intelligence and skills to navigate an increasingly uncertain and volatile employment market.” ‘Providing intelligence’ as an ‘off the shelf’ alternative to ignorance perhaps? “Buy your intelligence at Bohunt Chinese Academy!” “Shop away your stupidity at our learning village where we offer a dynamic fusion of exclusive skills that will attract employers and investors in your branded persona…”

The IoD go on to say that pupils should be: “imbued with curiosity, open-mindedness and the ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated bits of information…” and that: “with widespread internet access, the labour market no longer rewards workers primarily for what they know but for what they can do with what they know…” They, cheekily, add the idea that schools should not be ‘exam factories’. No, they should be Exam open-plan offices, all clean and computer based, glass fronted everything, and suits not overalls, wraps not sandwiches, prosecco and not beer. You see them all at Canary Wharf, the brave new workers all curious and open-minded… or not, as the case may be, but what lives do these people have when they go home from the glass covered office to their glass covered home in their glass encrusted village? This uncertain world that the Director’s worry about, this volatile employment market… as though these things are out of their control. This ‘real world’ where the business you’re working for wants you to spend all your school years being turned into a clone to satisfy their needs will drop you as quick as a flash if you’re no longer profitable. At least the old factories tried to give you a job for life… And Richard and George Cadbury built a village  for the workers to live in, ah patrician capitalists valued their workers… (sometimes… I remember the industrial strife… okay it wasn’t great but…) but our ‘volatile’ world should not be entirely shaped by the needs of capital, that is what makes it volatile.

Perhaps the Institute of Directors should do less pontificating, schools should not be about churning out workers, they should be about enriching their pupils’ lives. Humanity at heart – people before profits…

Perhaps these directors could start seeing their workers as human beings and start seeing education as something you can’t just conjure up on a screen or that ‘provides’ intelligence. Maybe, it’s more important than that, if they want to do good, they could use some of their acumen to invest philanthropically in their community schools, build theatres, science labs, provide sports fields in their dynamic fusion villages and in other older villages and towns.

Don’t throw away the ‘factory model’ of schools and replace them with the ‘office model’ of schools, instead educate for humanity’s sake, and children will grow to know, to think, connect and communicate beautifully, and instead of employing ‘workers’ employ human beings and shape businesses more to their human needs.