John Baldessari - Goya Series, 1997
I have nothing to say on the Secretary of State’s academy announcements, other than that the government must be worried about the EU referendum. I am, literally, speechless.
Readers may be interested to know that sarcasm’s largely died out in schools, along with ranting. We’ve moved on from the idea that reducing a child to tears is a sensible way of expressing authority, and shouting never really accomplished much. That being said, I don’t object to the occasional shout in the right place. Dangerous foolishness, for example, or egregious fannying-about-on-the-yard-when-there’s-a-teacher-waiting-for-you need a quick fix, and a volume shock can expedite perfection.
Rhetoric, however, is alive and well in school in its basest form, the Question Obvious. Teachers love rhetorical questions more than tea or stationery. We question like champs inside our classrooms but like chumps on yard duty or in a corridor. Why are you late? Why are you talking? Where is your homework? Where are the rest of the class? What do you mean by…..? How am I supposed to…..? Am I a mind reader? Do I look like a fool? The only answer a child can reasonably bank on is ‘sorry’, because truths would bring the world down. Because I love my bed. Because I think I love this girl. I really don’t know. I really don’t care. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Search me. I hope not. What does a fool look like?
The best is the existential demand repeated a thousand times a day: where should you be? Let me set the scene. A child is found in an unauthorised place (in our world where authorisation and unauthorisation change according to time).
He may be at a watering hole or moseying along a corridor. She may be lurking outside an office or emerging from the loo. Sensible forensics would require a thorough investigation: where he or she has been, why, how long and on whose say-so. It’s much quicker to invoke the future. Where should you be?
Again, a range of answers: maths, reception, the Library, my Head of Year, art. Those enable a youth to pass on, with just a quickly then, shooing motion or chop chop. Actual dreams are discouraged: somewhere warmer than this, in my bed, on holiday, at the chicken shop, with my luurrve would be rewarded with a personal escort to a destination of the escort’s choice and an unceremonious posting through a classroom door with another question: ‘This one of yours, Miss?’
But where should they be? Somewhere happy, somewhere safe. Somewhere people know them and love them. Somewhere the people are reliable and human. Somewhere you can look out of the window when you’re 11 and watch the 16-year-old gods pass by. Somewhere where they listen, somewhere where they care. Somewhere taxpayer’s money is spent wisely and effectively. Somewhere you can learn how to measure things in the sun with your LSA. Somewhere you can learn things, somewhere you can discover things. Somewhere your geography teacher will show you what’s under the drain cover. Somewhere where they’ll smile at you. Somewhere where they’ll teach you how to live, how to behave, how to create a somewhere that’s better for the next generation. Somewhere they don’t treat you like a fool, or a criminal. Somewhere they won’t judge by externals.
Questioning lasts all day. Sir appears in my room with a flourish and a bright idea about a marquee: what do they cost? He’s joined by another who claims to have solved two problems: is this ok? A third poses a conundrum: am I right? A fourth, however, issues a communique: news of a Pride Drive at OFSTED from a conference in town. Inspectors don’t like lippy children, untidy classrooms, scruffy (tie-less) uniforms. Who does? Children should learn how to be friendly and confident. Classrooms should be physically and emotionally orderly. Uniforms, duh, should be worn as designed. But having a joke with a teacher isn’t lip, having a lot of stuff out at once in a lesson isn’t untidiness and wearing a polo shirt isn’t a personal affront to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector. I spoke at a Policy Exchange gig this week and there was barely a tie in the room. Where’s the research behind these time wasting-personal prejudices?
Education policy is littered with these non sequiturs: a range of rhetorical questions present themselves. Who are they kidding? What are they on? Why don’t they understand? We’d do well to stick to ours: where should you be, child? Somewhere better than this.