Sunday, December 07, 2008

Further tales from the trenches

Apologies for light posting. Been busy with various shit - not least earning a crust touring some of Glasgow's educational establishments. I was looking at a list of Glasgow's secondary schools and realised that out of twenty-nine, I've taught in seventeen of them. Now, while it is a very strong field in which to compete, I reckon I've stumbled across the most bat-shit crazy institution this city has to offer. If you can read this, presumably you went to school - with desks, pupils, teachers, shit like that. Let me assure you that here the similarity with the institution you attended and this one ends.

Consider the following facts:

1) It has a role of around three-hundred and fifty. This would be a function of the information plus voting with feet phenomenon. Those with the information vote with their feet. The rest are too drunk to notice what's going on.

2) The school has completely given up the pretence of offering a full curriculum and now only insists on English and Maths as core subjects. The rest of the timetable is taken up with what they like to call 'Future skills'. It includes subjects like hairdressing. I wouldn't know but one would presume that this involves giving the students access to scissors. I have to say, from what I've seen of the behaviour in this 'school', this strikes me as a somewhat reckless policy.

One wonders what sort of fucked-up future the managers of this school have imagined the skills they are learning here would be useful for. If they have in mind a sort of post-nuclear junior Mad Max situation where the world is ruled by gangs of feral youths, then I'd agree the skills they are learning here would stand them in good stead. If, however, they have in mind technical skills that might help them in any imaginable future labour market, I'd say that any child that attends this school is comprehensively fucked.

Think dystopian science-fiction - but dispense with the obvious Orwell and Huxley. Both of them, in very different ways, imagined highly ordered societies. How wrong they both were. Think instead of the Lord of the Flies on crack and then maybe you'll catch a flavour of what's going on in the second city of the Empire.

All of this got me to thinking about a couple of educational myths that do the rounds in what you read from what journalists and especially bloggers have to say about education:

One has to do with the ludicrous idea that the success or otherwise of an educational institution has to do with the quality of the teaching staff. This is an idea proposed by the majority who have absolutely no idea how bad bad can get in our nation's schools. I'll draw this analogy: George Harrison once commented at the height of Beetlemania how he didn't even bother to tune his guitar because the hysteria that greeted their shows meant that it couldn't be heard anyway. Teaching skills are a bit like this. Doesn't matter how much you prepare your lessons or 'hone' your skills - if you work in an environment like this, they'll never get used.

The other has to do with the strength of teaching unions. There are some - even those within our profession - who claim they are too strong. This is simply a function of ignorance - it comes from those who think they've taught in rough schools but really have no experience of the Joseph Conrad territory within which it is possible to travel in this profession. That said unions haven't insisted that their members down tools and walk out over the educational catastrophe that is going on in our inner-cities is a mark of their quintessential weakness. Anyone who argues otherwise simply doesn't know what they're talking about.

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