Why don't you get back into bed?
Why don't you get back into bed?
Why don't you get back into bed?
Reasons to be cheerful, part 3
1, 2, 3
Ian Dury’s tune has been gathering some impetus in my brain recently, not because the song is particularly meaningful, but because the overarching sentiment has been in need of rehearsal. I needed cheering up. It’s been a week of flu; not man flu, the real thing, with excessive hot and cold flushes and feeling washed out for whole days. Perhaps I was really thinking reasons to feel sorry for myself…
I didn’t feel up to getting involved in several developing Twitter spats, polarised and unproductive as they have appeared to become. I’ve read a few blogs from people who have articulated the impact of current and imminent budgetary changes, which threaten to destabilise further an already fragile system. In many ways, it has felt as if education has had to become extremely inward looking, to a point where navels are all that it is safe to be aware of. I reached this metaphor after leaving the bedside of a 91 year old relation whose world has become her bed and those items that can be reached with minimal effort. It’s very easy to become so preoccupied with such minutiae that the rest of the world can happily pass by, even visitors.
Education, at it’s best is outward looking, humane, treating everyone concerned with at least professional respect. All three of these things have been the subject of social media attack this week. The search for the holy, or unholy grail of “the best way” underpins many of the more persistent disputes. An attack on one way of doing things is met with resistance, from groups that are gathered through “tagging and sub-tweeting”; both words having to be explained to many of us not in the know. If education loses it’s humanity, descending into the unprofessional, then everyone might as well go home…
That I can write this, at least for the moment, is a reason to be cheerful. That I am able to publish my thoughts independently of censure is another.
We live, for the time being in a part of the free world, although politics is also at a strange point. Post-truth politics can be seen invading reality and we will need to remain vigilant and hope that those who can exercise some control on the hotter heads can continue to do so. Political leadership is fragile. A few loud voices appear to dominate the discourse and, they believe, whatever they utter should be taken as the gospel truth, as if politics, in itself, is a new religion. The danger is of this becoming cultish is not worth pursuing, unless you grew up on Orwell and Huxley, when 1984, Animal Farm and Brave New World can appear to be playing out on our TV screens. Clear the swamp? Nature abhors a vacuum.
That I am able to read and engage with the writings of a significantly thoughtful group of educationalists has been a significant pleasure over the past few years. The quality and quantity of their writing is an amazing contribution to collective thinking. It’s strange, sometimes, to see themes that were rehearsed when I started training to teach recurring as if they are novelties.
I don’t want to think of getting older as a major reason to be cheerful. Perhaps, in the nearer future, my productive work life will slow or cease, but, as I have several grandchildren, I have an active interest in their development and futures, which will maintain long after I am gone.
They were all born, just like their parents, and, strangely, for 21st century children, don’t come out fully formed, with university graduate brains ready filled with the collective knowledge of previous generations; or coal dust and the sea in the case of my ancestors. They learn according to the experiences provide by their parents in the first years, learning to walk, talk, play and argue with siblings, to play games, more or less fairly, to experience the world to which they are introduced by their parents. This varies from locally available experiences in a Southern city, to easy access to international quality culture in London. Two families, same country, very different experiences. All are articulate, but some have more to frame discussion than others. Playstation is ubiquitous. External environment exposure is significantly more limited than when I, or their parents, were their age.
Schools offer very different opportunities and challenges, based on local availability and costs. It’s a long way from Portsmouth to London for a day trip, costs for coaches are high and the available study time, on arrival can be as little as a few hours, for a trip that leaves at 8.00am and gets back at 6.00pm. No wonder that sleeping on the coach and lunch can be seen as highlights. Spending just a few minutes in front of a pieces of art or a Grecian urn, as there’s a need to fit in as much as possible, leads to much frustration from teachers and children.
Inequality is a sad fact of life. We’re each born into the world with a variety of spoons in our mouths.
Education is an opportunity to counteract some of the difference, but, within ever tightening budgets, the ability of schools to offer opportunities will be curtailed. The teachers may well be able to offer similar in-lesson learning, but, if the school budget doesn’t run to texts and materials this will be curtailed. Some school environments can counter some of this with community fund-raising. The richer the better. A few thousand pounds will always be well received, but £50 from a cake sale will only buy half a dozen books.
Recently we’ve seen the impact of inequality on the developing political scene. Have-nots suddenly being aware that some have much more. We are told that the newly proposed funding arrangements will bring greater equity. At a time when multiple pressures are already impacting on school budgets, this is another unknown scenario to be enacted.
Maybe I am old enough to have lived from post war rationing coming to an end, through free education to teacher qualification to modest comfort, I am now seeing opportunity for new generations closing down more rapidly than I can ever remember. A small house that I was able to buy at 4 times a starter teacher income and a small deposit, would now require 10 times the starter salary and a large deposit. With recently graduated children and step-children, all with hefty student loans, how can they plan for/dream of security and their own future family lives?
In a supposedly relatively rich developed country, how can we be getting so much wrong? Maybe it’s career politicians not having a clue how to make things work, supported by a posse of the brightest and best young civil servants, who haven’t made anything either. Is politics a collective group think project that feeds on the next bright idea on which to splash cash, in the name of “improvement”? They don’t run businesses, but they are supposed to make everything operate so that everyone else can get on with their jobs, or at least distribute properly the money collected in taxes in order to pay for everything to run. They are too often distracted by vanity projects first. Perhaps all politics is vanity?
My first wife died nearly twelve years ago. If ever the words “Life’s too short” reverberated, that was the time. I had to take stock and stop being a head, after 16 years, to be able to reorganise my time to be at home for a teenage son.
Life can be too short, and as I get older, I am grateful for each day. But it is also too short to waste on useless spats. Being human is what we each do. We make errors from time to time, and given some time to think, often can rectify these. That’s called learning. Life’s lessons can sometimes be hard, individually or collectively, there’s no need to make things even harder.
Shall I go back to bed, or keep supporting an education profession that’s been good to me, inspires others to follow in my footsteps and should be as good as possible for my grandchildren? The reason to be cheerful is that the vast majority of professional colleagues are positive, in the face of difficulty, creating a vast army of collegiate professionals wishing to do the best for each and every child, each and every day.