Gradgrind’s Bucket

gradgrind's bucket

As someone who has for years in the job and lately on this blog been consistently argumentative about those things in education that I distrust and detest, I hadn’t realised until yesterday just how naïve I have been.

The recent revelations about the Great Yarmouth Charter Academy and its rigid rulebook [and it isn’t opinion to call ‘rigid’ an understatement] has opened up a can of worm-ridden references to further examples of this quite common trajectory in our free-market education system, in the UK as a relatively modern phenomena and further afield where it is more common and established.

I can’t possibly summarise this: I haven’t the time nor the investigative information. As mentioned in a previous post, I do recommend the insights and information provided here @warwickmansell, and The Guardian [OK, obviously] has provided a consistent commentary from a ‘liberal’ perspective on those ‘extreme’ examples of where education is and has been heading for some years now.

I am a liberal. I was a liberal teacher. By that I mean I did not believe and never practised the kinds of draconian discipline exemplified in the GY Charter Academy Induction Programme booklet where – to take the obvious example currently being circulated by those opposed to it: if students claim they feel sick in class they are given a bucket in which to vomit.

Interestingly, the kind of ‘liberal’ teacher I was did embrace many of the general observations – or half observations – contained in the GYCA booklet. Here’s just one: At Charter teachers [sic – this document is no slave to the accurate use of an apostrophe] and pupils are on the same team / and all the pupils know they must do exactly what the team captain says [my forward slash]. And this is the gist of the rulebook: an aphorism that sounds liberal and correct about an equal partnership – what I would want to call ‘mutual respect’ – and yet its greater weighted second part emphasises the total inequality in that relationship. When that following of the team captain [the teacher, naturally] includes forced smiling, forced handshakes, forced ways to sit/look/act in a classroom, forced ways to walk in a corridor, forced ways to look when walking in a corridor and much more ludicrously similar, we see the truth behind its claims about countering Teachers and Pupils [as] two opposing teams. In the Charter Academy [Inspiration Trust] gospel, they are one team led by an absolute ruler.

My liberal teacher ideology accepted entirely how there needed to be classroom control, and that low-level misbehaviour and worse from any students was detrimental to all students and therefore unacceptable. This is common sense. That the Charter Academy ideology takes this simple reality of classroom management and makes a prison rulebook out of it is where the scary danger of it all takes its actual shape.

I could but don’t need to delineate the trajectory of the 22 pages of the ‘original’ GYCA booklet any further on this [see later]. What I meant earlier about feeling naïve about all of this is how unaware I have been regarding the prevalence of such ideologies and practices in UK [and International] schools already. A posting today from @warwickmansell on ‘No Excuses’ Charter Schools in the USA makes a frightening [to me] comparison with the GYCA and what it preaches and enacts. Recent revelations about St Olave’s in London and the dismissal of ‘underperforming’ students gained its most worrying significance when it became clear how prevalent this practice was – and across all sectors of education.

I have my doubts about ReseachEd because of previous pontifications from those involved in it and, for example, the things invited guests at its just finished September conference like Gibb and Spielman have said. In recently undertaking more research, I recognise that it does have some broad support as well as its critics. That ‘broad’ support, however, seems to come from ‘leaders’ [looking at Twitter profiles] rather than teachers and this is a cause for concern. I think my naivety here is how I have tended to blame political interference as one of the most detrimental impacts on education, but this seems to be coming more from ‘within’ these days. I have written satirically here about one of the contemporary founders of much/many of these educational movements, Doug Lemov. But this is the tip of the proverbial and thus my confession of both an increasing anxiety about it all but also a personal inability to grasp the whole in the way many others do.

So I fall back on my own experiences as a teacher. Before closing on a summation of that, I will just inject one seemingly odd proclivity of mine in the classroom that would on the surface find a neat slot in rule no 2132 of any Carter Academy rule book: no leaning back in chairs. I hated this and did not allow it. And my students knew this. And they responded to my simple hand gesture to stop it! School chairs simply snapped out of their sockets if this was allowed.

Oh the tyrant in me. The point is this was done with considerable good humour. There were no threats, no punitive consequences, no insults, and no recriminations. It seems silly to have to even mention like this, but in a sense the good silliness of one good rule has to be placed against the truly bad to highlight that badness. And it’s easier than dismantling every bad rule in the GYCA booklet – even in its revised format published today [edited to 14 pages and not ending on the rhetorical rousing of the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley]!

I’m trying to be human about all of this, though I don’t in truth think there are two sides to most of the doctrines and their specific manifestations in the kinds of draconian schools and ideologies I am questioning. The rigidity of the strictures in a GYCA rule book is unacceptable. The robotic behaviours it promotes is all about control and not about student development, both as learners and as people.

More importantly, I did as a teacher and now as an observer remain humane about my attitude to teaching and learning. I cannot imagine motivating and supporting and teaching students without that regard. And this would seem to be anathema to the Charter Academy and similar ideologies. And I do not understand it.

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One thought on “Gradgrind’s Bucket

  1. I do not understand it either-and yes, it is an ‘ideology’ which is invading schools at an alarming rate. I too hope I continue to be as humane as possible with all my classes-it seems to have worked so far and I will not continue in teaching if the day comes when my current methods are not ‘permitted’ by the ‘system’.

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