Tag Archives: teaching

Leaning Left

There has been some wailing and gnashing of teeth by our leaders on the current state of education. Not the usual stuff: terrible standards, grade inflation etc.

No this time it’s content.

Esther McVey and Gavin Williamson are bewailing the apparent left wing bias in education. Esther McVey stated recently: 

“I am now hearing that people aren’t teaching you what they need to – they’re overly indoctrinating you. It’s gone political, people are saying it has gone to the left, they’re forcing ideas on you.” The Independent

She says these attitudes are putting off “white working class pupils” who find that Miss or Sir’s beliefs are at odds with their family’s beliefs. Conservative MP for Tatton, David Lidington, suggests that “white working class lads” are turned off, because these beliefs are at odds with family views on Brexit – quite what Brexit has to do with it I’m not sure, it’s perfectly possible to be left wing and pro-Brexit.

Gavin Williamson talks about so-called “no platforming” I’m not quite sure what that means either, unless it means the teacher is not supposed to ask students to treat each other with mutual respect, that they are not supposed to stop them name-calling based on race, religion or orientation.

But Esther McVey is insistent that pupils are being “indoctrinated” and that “it has gone to the left”

Has it though? Has it really? Or was it always there?

Let me introduce you to Ignorance and Want – spoiler alert – left wing warning.

“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,”

Do you know which book Ignorance and Want are characters in? That’s good teaching by the way, try to open by questioning rather than telling, not too pedagogic. That being said you probably do know – you were probably taught it at school, you will be taught it at school now, if you do GCSE English Literature, by most exam boards at least, and you will celebrate it every Christmas.

Ignorance and Want are the less famous children in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge. “Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?” 

Ooh snap Scrooge! The Spirit quoted your own Tweet, damn! Mic drop!

Ignorance and Want Public Domain

My point is this that Michael Gove, aided by Dominic “eye test” Cummings, has revamped the exam system. He took A Levels back to a two year course, minimised AS Levels and revamped the syllabus to be more “traditional” but “ay there’s the rub”- the tradition of English literature is, at the very least, social comment, if not socialist.

Dickens’ London, as explored in Oliver, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, or Great Expectations (which is on the syllabus) and of course A Christmas Carol, explore the poverty, injustice and the conditions of London at the time. Dickens’ exposed those conditions then, precisely to inform a society that wanted to ignore the treatment of its children, some of whom genuinely did not know and were appalled by that treatment. Dickens, like David Copperfield worked in a bottle factory, aged twelve while his father was in debtor’s prison, darn it! There I go again being left wing! 

Or there’s this: 

“With her two brothers this fair lady dwelt, Enriched from ancestral merchandise, And for them many a weary hand did swelt In torched mines and noisy factories, And many once proud-quiver’d loins did melt”

and a bit later

“For them the Ceylon diver held his breath, And went all naked to the hungry shark; For them his ears gush’d blood; for them in death                     The seal on the cold ice with piteous bark Lay full of darts;”

and a bit later

“Why in glory’s name were they so proud?”

That’s from Isabella and the Pot of Basil, by that bastion of English poetry John Keats.

The whole story is about a woman who marries someone below her social class, for love, thus threatening the inheritance of her two brothers, who murder her husband. I’ll leave you to discover the relevance of the pot of basil. That poem is on the A Level syllabus, hard to teach without slipping into social justice, class system, feminist issues. Then there is Thomas Hardy who was no fan of war Drummer Hodge is on the A Level syllabus as for modern poetry Maya Angelou, Benjamin Zephaniah, Carol Ann Duffy – all and many have social comments to make.

Death of a Drummer Boy Charles Moreau-Vaulthier Public Domain

There’s modern novels such as Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro’s vision of a totalitarian capitalist dystopia; Animal Farm, Orwell more totalitarian dystopia; To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee, racial and social injustice and to be honest Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte) is not a great advertisement for capitalism, nor Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) for a compassionate society. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) explores the transactional nature of marriage pre feminism, and back to Dickens the prison hulks of Great Expectations, haunt modern day discussions regarding where to house refugees… and don’t get me started on Film Studies… oh go on then.

Attack the Block (dir Joe Cornish) – poverty in Peckham exposed by aliens. Tsotsi (dir. Gavin Hood) (Oscar Best Foreign Film 2005) poverty in South Africa; Winters Bone, (dir. Debra Granik) Oscar nominated, an early Jennifer Lawrence, poverty in America; Slumdog Millionaire, (dir. Danny Boyle) Oscar Best Film – poverty in India; City of God (dir. Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund) – poverty in Rio; Captain Fantastic (dir. Matt Ross) – not poverty actually, but an alternative way of living; Little Miss Sunshine (dir. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris) an attack on the American Dream. Even when you teach Rear Window or Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock), contemporary culture and society are explained and compared. You don’t have to know any of those films to know that they deal with life, with issues, yes Toy Story (dir. John Lasseter) is there and it is a little light on social comment but it is still a discussion of justice, mutual respect and cruelty.

These are all texts approved by the OfQual in the government revamp.

It is not necessary to know the texts I am referring to, to know that to teach them needs context – context is all – as Margaret Atwood says in The Handmaid’s Tale (on the A Level syllabus). Literature, the arts, and cultural studies require exposition of our world and teachers do that with an open mind, precisely to open minds. You cannot hide the poverty in Dickens or the rage in Keats or Hardy. You cannot hide the fact that Percy Shelley was sent down from Oxford for distributing an atheist pamphlet, Mary Shelley was the daughter of a feminist or the fact that Byron joined a revolution and died in its service (well okay not in the fight). Even Tennyson recounts England’s most heroic failure in The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Kipling may honour the Empire, but we still have to talk about the Empire.

Finally I’m still not terribly clear why David Lidington thinks all this is connected with Brexit, Brexit was and is a cross party issue, just because a piece of literature teaches compassion or explores issues of injustice does not mean we cannot have Brexit. The link between Brexit and a lack of compassion is in the ear of the beholder, it comes under of the heading “if the cap fits” it is not in the text or the teacher.

Teachers teach what’s on the page.

A Stroud Short Story

ssstorieseerieThis was a first for me, an opportunity to read a story written by me in front of an audience that had actually paid to be there! Admittedly they had paid to hear a selection of delightfully scary short stories, not just mine, at Stroud Short Stories Eerie Evening. But, just in case you were there and want a repeat or if you weren’t there and would like to read the story, it is blogged below.

 

THE GHOST IN THE CLASSROOM

L204 was not a particularly prepossessing classroom. It was separate from the rest of the IT block, it had been the first wired classroom, an early adopter, but now a smart new block dominated the school, filled with clean and well attached PCs.It was a cold classroom, damp and a little smelly. Paul could not quite define the smell, although he had discovered that the collective smells of Lynx and female hairspray, did not quite cover that nagging hint of decay in L204. He opened cupboards looking for the source of the odd odour. It emanated, he thought, from one particular terminal, the one next to the printer, someone had scratched “Mr Evan is a wanker” into the plastic desktop, now more had been added. The original had been struck through and some wag had written “See me Peters”. Paul chuckled. Mr Evan had been a bit of a tartar. Paul knew little of him, except his tragic end and his penchant for a tidy classroom.

* * *

‘Peters? Oh Peters is dead, hit and run, and good riddance to bad rubbish, I’d have run him over myself given half a chance! After what he did!’ Mr Roberts, doodled on his iPad as they suffered a fruitless training day. Paul had spent some of the day trying to exorcise the smell and remove the ever increasing repetition of the name Peters from various desktops, keyboards, chairs and, for some reason, the floor under his desk.

‘What did he do?’

‘Peters? Nasty little git, he made accusations, did it at parents evening. Started sobbing at the table, in front of everyone, said Evan had fiddled with him during detention. Evan always came in for it from the kids, he was not that great in the classroom

‘And did he?’

‘Did he what…. Oh that God no, he made the mistake of detaining Peters on his own that day, but we have cameras, precisely for that reason, nothing went on, looked like Peters was asleep for most of it. Father believed him though, clambered over the desk that evening and thumped Evan, knocked a tooth out! I s’pose that’s why the poor sod hung himself in his shed. All nice and tidy. He always was tidy, left a note so everyone was clear.’

‘What did it say?’

‘It just said “Don’t teach” can’t argue there – at least in his case.”

* * *

‘Pozlaski, Peters ….. Peters?’ he had a received a reply for every name except Peters, ‘Peters?’

‘He’s not here’ someone said.

The penny dropped for Paul ‘Oh shit!’ he thought he had muttered it, but the class heard and a collective ‘oh’ growled out from them accompanied by banging on desks. ‘All right, enough!’ to his satisfaction they stopped immediately. ‘Still got it’ he thought.

* * *

Email:

Subject: Unmarked Register

There are several missing marks on your register for the week beginning 06.12. Please amend. 

A machine bred reproach, typical! Paul phoned again. ‘Lloyd I am forwarding the email that is telling me I have not done my register for Peters, please can you remove his name.’

‘Well I am looking at the register now and I can’t see it.’

* * *

‘Are you gay sir?’

‘What’s it to you?’

‘Well you might be bit weird sir, like Mr Evan.’ The conversation was designed to distract from the task of entering data into Excel. Paul had some sympathy, it wasn’t quite the IT syllabus he had hoped to teach. ‘Yes I am normal and I am gay’. Silence. ‘As for Mr Evan, he was not weird either, he was maligned, viciously maligned and what happened was tragic.’

‘It’s on Facebook’ someone ventured.

‘What is?’

‘That you’re gay, it’s on all our walls.’

‘Well we’d better find out who put it there, my private life is private, not for Facebook.’

‘You did sir.’

‘What?’

‘It says you did sir, there’s a picture of you look!’ Again, there was sniggering as other pupils produced their phones and held up the picture, a very private picture of himself and Andrew, not pornographic, just a self taken phone picture of them in bed, happy, a private picture. He was very rigorous with his privacy settings, this was not a profile picture.

StroudShortreading

Me reading my story!

* * *

‘Snail mail, Mr Bennett, snail mail, you should try it some time.’ The Head commented after he apologised for the picture and gave up trying to explain how it might have happened.

* * *

He liked the Year 7s they were both easy to scare and easy to please. ‘Settle down, settle down, remember the rules of this room, no one switches on until we are seated and tidied. Bags under the table, phones off and in bags, thank you Georgia, now please! Thank you. Everybody ready? Good, okay start up, but don’t open anything until I say, turn and face the smartboard when you’re ready.’

He was not prepared for, the screaming, the tears, or the terrible, terrible image. On every screen around the room, on the smartboard above, was the grizzled, hanging form of the half decayed Mr Evan, a slideshow of gore for 7E. He panicked. He didn’t know what to do, he forgot how to switch anything off, he was transfixed by the images, appalled and fascinated, unable to move until Sophie Linnet fainted.

* * *

‘The machines are not networked, the internet is switched off, the only way, that could have happened is if someone got in and went round every computer and applied that screensaver.’

‘Or you did it,’ site management was defensive.

‘Well we can review the tapes’ suggested the Head.

‘No we can’t, camera’s broke. I just checked.’

‘Oh you are kidding!’ Paul was exasperated. ‘Doesn’t that tell you anything?’

‘It is suspicious, I agree but you are in the frame Paul, if not in my mind then, in the class of Year 7 and their parents.’

* * *

The smell was oppressive. It covered him as he set up the camera, connected the router, tested it, switched it on, left the classroom spic and span, locked up, took the key and went home to watch telly.

Nothing happened. He poured another glass of wine. He sat down, tore off a piece of pizza and drank some more. The lights went on. ‘Shit I knew it! I bloody knew it! Someone on a campaign, a relative, some kid, some friend of Peters…or the Head?’  He dismissed the idea.. the wine. ’Where are you though? The lights are on but nobody’s home.’ The camera scoured the room but it didn’t cover everywhere. He crept closer looking for hints of movement: papers moving; lights on the computers; screens coming on. He got right up close to the screen, investigating each inch.

Suddenly 42 inches high in his face was a face! Angry! He screamed and leapt back, spilling his drink, scattering his pizza. He looked again, nothing there. ‘Oh that’s just a joke! That’s just one of those stupid internet scarers, oh we can do better than that surely.’ He looked again, this time the figure was evident in the classroom, an adult, not a student, someone wearing a suit. He was switching on the computer, the one by the printer, the one near the smell. He grabbed his coat, the car keys and, unwisely, took one more swig of wine. He raged as he drove. He crashed open the door, the alarm screamed, secrecy and stealth seemed irrelevant, the idiot knew he was watching, surely he would either wait for a confrontation or scarper. He reached the classroom, the lights were off again. He struggled with the keys and as he did so, a slight sense of uneasy recognition entered his soul, that face, the face on the screen, wasn’t that….?. The key turned in the door he hesitated. Was this wise? Probably not. He switched on the lights. Nothing. No one. ‘Bugger!’ The classroom was as it always was, cold, smelly, normal. Never mind, he had the evidence, evidence on the computer. He felt cold and suddenly stupid, he had been duped, he turned to leave but the computer by the printer kicked into life. A remote switch on?. The screen lit up and tempted him closer, it was typing, repeating text. The printer whirred into action, it made him jump. The words grew bigger on the screen, animated like a tag cloud, two words, two words he knew. He peered closer, the words danced, demanding, the printer started to print. That face again! Sudden, filling the screen, angry malevolent as never before. This had gone too far, it wasn’t just a bad joke, it was some form of stalker, a stalker who looked like the decayed vision of… Whatever, time to end it,  time to switch off the computer and report it all to the police.

He reached out to the PC to shut it down…it was live .. it shunted him full of 240 volts, he was gripped by it, contorted into a helpless scream. The printer printed. The paper spat out and floated to the body, still contorted, still twitching

…..and on the paper

… in capitals

….’DON’T TEACH!’

 

 

Copyright © All rights reserved by Judith Gunn 2015