I was Performance Managed yesterday which focuses the mind. I’ve been a Head for 20 years in three different places, and I reckon I’ve got rules of thumb or mental lists to deal with most eventualities. These were, of course, expanded by new stuff we absorbed under lockdown about how to run a school when the children aren’t allowed to come to it, but there’s a new dimension to educating at the moment with which I’m tussling. Remember that as you read, breathlessly, on.
I don’t know how they do things in the independent sector, but I assume they have time to organise a thought, hence the heads’ hutches being called studies, which would explain the number of books old Seldon wrote while he was high heid-yin at Wellington, for example. But I digress. Anyone been to Peppa Pig world? Anyway, the president of the Girls’ Schools Association made a whole load of very good points yesterday, summarised on the Beeb.
She said: parents and teachers should keep up with young people who are genuinely worried about racism, sexism and climate change and want to address them with support from adults. Adults who complain that today's teenagers are judgemental and speak a different language so adults ‘can't say anything without being called out by PC children’ should get with it. Times have changed, and we need to keep up. This nastily-dismissed 'woke' generation are actually young people who are worried about things. We teach them to be kind but when they grow up to be impressively so with an understanding and appreciation for the world around them, we mock them, or dismiss them as unrealistic do-gooders. Nicely put, Ma’am.
Contrast this with the Social Mobility Chair’s end of the forest. She thinks that children need to be very strictly controlled, so they’re habituated into choosing good over evil because they’re all wicked underneath. We can train good behaviour into them, but left their own devices, keep clear, they’re pretty unsavoury. Original Sin.
Ah me. Which side of the fence whereon to plummet? Obviously with young people trying to change the world for the better, but what about the echo of reality hiding in the misogynist retro-theology? Children can be horrible to each other as they explore, or are fearful about, the boundaries of their world. Why is that?
Well, part of the problem is the example adults set, hypocrisy in particular. Why can’t I speak in the corridor at school, no one talks to me at home? Why should I worry about getting a job when the world’s about to end? What’s the point of learning to be fair if I’m judged by the colour of my skin, or kind, if I’m not safe walking home? What exactly have you done, Sir, to make the world a better place?
Some years ago I wrote ten precepts underpinning the curriculum which still have an interesting half-life in the edu-ether. I started from the importance of knowledge and ended with adult authority and the teacher’s skill. But the problem I’m wrestling with now is this: how to be educators at a time when adults are demonstrably the problem? I’m reading about wicked problems, again, and worrying about the shallow simplistic solutions that schools have been forced into for so long that now we’re hooked on the superficial, the tick-boxable, the headline-grabbing, the Emperor’s new clothes.
One of the chaps I wrote that book with has just died. He was a great comprehensive school Head for yonks, twenty years older than me. One of the best things about the writing process was talking to him about leading a school yesterday, as it were, the past being a different country. Now I think I need to revise myself, to include the mortal dangers and injustices we knew were around the corner all along, but that young people won’t ignore any more.
My Year 13 class and I keep company with some very old white male theologians as we head toward liberation theology at the end of the syllabus. We drop in on Karl Barth, whose magnum opus was Church Dogmatics in fourteen volumes over thirty-five years. If I had the headspace I’d start on some School Pragmatics, on the lessons of the sum of all my days since 1983. Guilt will probably feature, but not sin. Look out for the next list.