I thought I would just respond to a recent twitter debate about “dominant ideology denialism”. The idea being that progressive ideologies have dominated education for the last thirty years. Some, including myself, are sceptical. It was suggested by Sue Cowley that perhaps age was a factor. I thought I would explore what has shaped my view and see if it has resonance with others.
Michael Wilshaw often couches this argument as a problem created in the 1960’s and 1970’s .
The lingering effects of failed education policies of the 1960s and 1970s still undermine England’s comprehensive schools, the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said on Friday as he called on teachers and parents to “exorcise the ghosts of the past”.
The reality is somewhat different. Teachers who are too young to have been in the education system in the 1970’s will probably not believe the truth that teachers regularly assaulted students in their care. The system was far from progressive. Sadly it seems the tables have turned turned teachers are now routinely the victim of violence. I do not intend for this to trivialise that problem although no doubt some will think that it does.
One of my most vivid memories of secondary school was being hit by a metre rule on the hand. It was a tough school in an area that has since become notorious for race riots in the 1990’s. It has long since been re-badged and replaced. On the particular day, a Geography teacher, raised the ruler above his head and brought it crashing down onto my out-stretched hand leaving a nasty red welt. In all honesty I am as ambivalent about it now as I was then, after all, it didn’t scar me. I share the memory with others with some amusement. Perhaps I should take it more seriously but the practice is long gone Those who engaged in it will no doubt justify their actions in one way or another.
The violence was common place. I was hit with slippers, sticks, rulers, dustboards etc. from the age of eight onwards. This particular incident sticks in the memory because of the circumstances that culminated into what can only be described as legitimised institutional assault. It began as a confrontation between one boy, I shall call him Holland, and the teacher, Mr Wilde.
The dispute centred on the fact that the Mr Wilde enjoyed facts. His homework was often of the nature; collect two hundred facts on India or whatever it happened to be. The particular homework that caused the problem was collect two hundred facts on the “River Nile”.
No doubt there are millions of facts about the River Nile but as a twelve year old the task was daunting but made considerably easier by the fact that it had become clear My Wilde did not mark properly. He skim read homework. We quickly realised that the facts could be; the River Nile is wet or fish pee in the Rive Nile etc. He didn’t seem to notice or care which was, in hindsight, the only way he could continue to teach in such a way.
The recalcitrant student in question, Holland, had a temperament that could be difficult. He simply couldn’t tolerate this kind of homework. Ironically he liked facts but his view was that facts should be treated properly. As a consequence he had become locked into a confrontation with the similarly intractable Mr Wilde. Holland was simply not going to write two hundred facts on the River Nile. He would write “proper facts”.
After every homework the conversation was the same:
Mr Wilde: Smith how many facts have you got for me?
Smith: 227 Sir
Mr Wilde: Splendid boy. Johnson?
Johnson: 167 Sir
Mr Wilde: Simply won’t do Johnson. 200 was asked for and two hundred is what I want. Holland?
Holland: Twenty Sir
( Room erupts into nervous guffawing)
Mr Wilde: (turning a pretty shade of crimson) twelve Holland twelve? Do you take me for a fool. See me after class
In the particular class, in question, there was an air of nervous expectation It had become known that Holland had only collected two facts. As the time came for Holland to announce the sum total of his collective efforts on the River Nile there was a palpable sense of nervous excitement in the classroom.
The moment came:
Mr Wilde: And you Holland how many?
Holland: Two Sir
The classroom erupted with unbridled hilarity at such impertinence. Not since Oliver Twist asked for more has a boy demonstrated such defiance in the face of authority
Mr Wilde’s face drained of colour as he embarked on what could only be described as an episode of apoplectic rage. His face then turned a shade of crimson and finally a bright red.
Eventually he spit out, between clenched teeth:
Mr Wilde: Holland never in my time in the classroom have I met such a difficult child. It is time for action this won’t do (or words that effect)
Unfortunately Mr Wilde was not the kind of teacher to discern himself with the actual culprit of his ire. He had four students sat at the front of his class specifically for the purpose of hitting them with a metre rule whenever he felt that the class, or someone in it, deserved a beating. Unfortunately I was one of the four. Not a bad student by any means but annoying I have no doubt.
We duly lined up to be assaulted and sat back down. The whole episode took up the session and much entertainment was had by all. Mr Wilde enjoyed the ritualistic cathartic assaults or, at least, I hope he did otherwise there was little point to it. Those like myself enjoyed hero like status in the playground and Holland, well, who knows.
I suspect this mini drama was played out in schools across the country at the time. It explains a great deal about the kind of progressivism that came into being in the 80’s and 90’s. It was needed at the time. The question of what aspects of it worked (if anything), what needed improving and what didn’t work is now somewhat irrelevant. Michael Gove having decided that he knows best and has, or is, sweeping away much of whatever progress was made.
I guess you had to be there. If I hadn’t been there I wouldn’t believe it myself. I suppose the moral of the tale is that when you experience “what was” it can change your view on “what is”. Not always but sometimes.
In state-run schools corporal punishment was not outlawed by Parliament until 1987. In private schools, it was banned in 1999 (England and Wales), 2000 (Scotland) and 2003 (Northern Ireland).