On obedience: life is unfair but I’m not going to get over it, that’s why I teach

I am taken aback at some of the twitter debate surrounding the word “obedience”. I’m a bit shocked that anyone would even consider using it in an educational context in this day and age, and I am shocked that anyone would write it off as “just a word”.

What exactly do some people think we are teaching here; facts like the capital of Norway or who was the first plantagenot king, or even Queen (I’ve long forgotten) of England, perhaps even Scotland. What kind of an education system does that? No, an ambitious education system aims to give young people the skills and knowledge required to succeed in a modern democracy. It has to offer young people, often with difficult backgrounds, a better way of knowing the world. God knows there is no one else that is going to do it. If we as a profession are not prepared to accept that challenge, then what is the point of us?. Why are we competing with countries that frig their PISA results? Is stupid the new norm? Some seem to advocate a pedagogy, so diminished and puerile, that it has little to offer other than a relationship between a bunch of facts and long term memory.

I ask myself, why do I teach? What do I do when I’m teaching? These are questions that I and no doubt many others think about as we face the many stresses and strains of life in a classroom. Whether you are a primary school teacher worrying about young children turning up to schools ill-nourished and miserable; or a secondary teacher battling with difficult teenagers coping, in some cases, with horrendous home circumstance. Perhaps you are an FE teacher wondering how someone turns up at the age of 16 with a clutch of GCSE’s and still not be able to construct a sentence or a University lecturer faced with an irate student who has paid many thousands of pounds expecting to be given a degree. We all face the complexity of a world, which is unfair and a system that often seems to get it wrong.

The whole system is under strain because education has become synonymous with solving the problem of something or other; the economic crises, the social crisis, the crisis that hasn’t happened yet and so on and so forth. So it’s no wonder that sometimes you sit and wonder what on earth am I doing here. Am I supposed to be teaching knowledge or skills, do I group teach or not, why I am working so hard to teach when colleagues are spoon feeding to exams. Why do I have to explain for the fifteenth million time about lateness, SPAG, neatness of work and that’s before you even consider content. You know, what the hell, why am I doing this?

As professionals we have to have broad shoulders. Those of us who are parents get a double dose. We don’t want our children to be obedient, we want them to go out in the world with excellent social schools, so that they can negotiate a better future for themselves and hopefully for everyone else. Life is not a game for individuals, we cannot exist alone. And the students are challenging; some are defiant. There is little you can do with them but work them slowly, negotiate boundaries. Some are angry often because their home life is a disaster. Some are fly, lippy funny at times but just inappropriate at others. There are boundaries provision should be made for those that cross those boundaries. There is a limit, and often educational leaders are spineless and unsympathetic, but that doesn’t change the fact that the word obedient is not appropriate.

In fact the word obedience doesn’t come into the social context of education. You can only achieve it by a process of explicit selection and let’s be honest self-selection. Parents of difficult children will simply not send their children to a school with entry barriers such as this one. Someone else has to pick up the problems, someone else has to take an unfair share of the burden, someone else will get the poor results, the aggravation and the OFSTED grade 3’s and 4’s.

It’s wrong, we have to take responsibility for all of society, we have no choice, the mess that we leave behind will come back to haunt us. So I know why some schools would use the word obedience, because they want someone else to do the hard work, get the “brick bats”. It’s a game that has been going in education for too long. Life is unfair but I’m not going to get over it, that’s why I teach.


One thought on “On obedience: life is unfair but I’m not going to get over it, that’s why I teach

  1. What do you do when you say the words “Life is unfair, get over it”? You shut the door on progress. You shut the door on making the world a better place. Such a simple concept to understand. I saw those twitter discussions…utter nonsense from people who like nothing more then to go tit for tat without reflecting on the implications of what they are saying. Self-delusion at its finest.

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