Henrik Ibsen’s, “An Enemy of the People”, has just started, starring Hugh Bonneville. It was not a story that I knew, but, in true Ibsen fashion, dealt with themes that have resonance today. In fact the programme links the themes to whistleblowing and secretiveness, as well as the ease with which an individual can be “quashed” by coordinated “public opinion” being manipulated by politicians and the press.
The closing ten minutes almost had me so incensed by this manipulation that I could happily have joined in during the mob scene, but on the side of the scapegoat, Doctor Stockmann and his family.
Education is not immune from this either. From 2010, a certain proportion of the so-called “education establishment” was vilified by the Secretary of State, as “the Blob”, seeking to make them into the “Enemies of Promise”. It was a deliberate act to seek to neuter any opposition, as any alternative views from those then being proclaimed could be more easily countered. I think I fell into this group, as a former headteacher, now consultant and ITE tutor, almost a "full house".
It continues today, with any negativity being met with a positive Department of Education response. The “We’re all doing very well” line can ring very hollow with headteachers and teachers on the ground seeking to make sense of what can appear to be daily and weekly alterations to expectations. No sooner has one initiative been announced, but another replaces it before the first has been partially explored and embedded.
A weekend blog by Brian Walton, aka Twitter @theoldprimaryhead, had many people almost in tears, as he outlined his week with redundancies to create, as a result of changes to funding formulae and state contributions.
Another blogger, Michael Tidd, aka @MichaelT1979 has compared the Government rhetoric with the advice that was given by their “expert group” working on the revision to the National Curriculum. To say that much was ignored is an understatement. “Expertise”, except for that of a select few, who agree with the direction of progress, does not seem to be a desirable quality at the moment, at last as far as the Government is concerned. Nor is reportage of developing experience, as any negative headlines are met with “We’ve given the money to… for…”
We are all flattered to be asked for our views. Dr Stockmann, in the play, was suitably flattered to be asked, by the local paper, to allow them to print his report of bacteria in the local spa baths water and saw himself as a local hero. The mayor, his brother, would have been significantly hurt by this, so used pressure on the press to change the story, I doing so turning the population into a mob, baying for the doctor’s blood. It can be an easy thing to achieve with a well planted story, especially if there are links to the media.
On the blog home page, I have put a statement which outlines my thinking. I know that this is not entirely in accordance with the current Government thinking. In fact, given the current “debate” about “traditional or progressive” pedagogy, one side will see me as the opposite. However, that does not make me “An enemy of the people” or “an enemy of promise”. I see promise in creating the best possible spaces and opportunities for children to learn, as much as well as they are able.
To save you flicking to the home page, here’s my statement.
Since my early training I have been convinced
that the greatest service any teacher can do for children
in the earliest stages of education
is to instil a love of learning, to enjoy enquiring and to generate questions
which they can then seek to answer,
by a variety of means, and share with others.
To learn to think, to talk and to question is the birthright of every child.
This simplification of a much broader approach
has been my guiding principle
both as a classroom teacher and as a head teacher,
seeking to harness children’s interests to become dynamic learners
in and out of school, both in school and all other settings.
The development of learning
through making explicit appropriate cross-curricular links,
starting from relevant first-hand experiences,
gives children both thematic overviews and the ability to explore,
discover and place relevant individual items of information within a wider context.
This is often now described as a metacognitive approach, learning about learning,
but I would argue that it is, and always has been, good education practice.
Children need to have a grasp of where their current learning fits
into the wholeness of their knowledge,
to know where and how to store this for future use,
and to have skills of rapid recall,
so that the information or skill can be applied in other contexts.
Children should learn to become solution finders.
Children need to learn to think for themselves, to become independent at an appropriate level for their age; to blow their noses, tie their laces, go to the toilet, and to be able to use and apply what they have learned to enable them to tackle new challenges. It is simple, and straightforward and, I am happy to agree, that there are many ways in which this can be achieved, sometimes simply telling, sometimes supported exploration, sometimes independent; that’s life and learning.
Education is presented in a linear form. Learning happens all the time, in different places. It can be, at times, a very messy process, with some making faster progress and achieving more at a particular stage than others.
Expressing the view that people, including children, are different and have individual abilities and needs, or just holding a different view from you, does not make me into an “Enemy of the People”. Holding more "progressive" views does not make me into an enemy either.