In different areas of the world, both wider and more parochially, dispute seems to be a very common feature, from presidents posturing, to social media spats that escalate rapidly, as others wade in on either side. The trouble with posturing is that when your bluff is called, there’s a need to escalate, in order to appear to have the upper hand. It’s very hard, at times, to step back, take stock and seek to find common ground.
Sadly, at the moment, there are both real threats and some that can appear to be manufactured for personal or social group gain. That the world is living with real and enacted terror threats, is, sadly, a regular feature of the rolling news. This can appear to be the result of gang, or cult behaviour, where normal behaviour is subverted by a range of means, to enable members to take retribution, even of the most distasteful kind, on those who are not part of the group.
At a school level, I am reminded of a child in my class from around 1977, let’s call him S. Now S was already displaying some odd behaviour before he came into my class, but he was and excellent artist, especially in graphic forms. He could summon up any kind of character from any of the current comics or magazines, but he also had the ability to go beyond copying into real caricature, where he could be somewhat cutting. The problem was twofold, in that, in dealing with a child of eight, discussion was slightly limited by his own linguistic abilities, so he couldn’t understand irony, or even the potential for causing hurt towards others. The second issue was that his peers thoroughly enjoyed his endeavours and would encourage him to greater feats of design and exaggeration.
As a staff, we were in a bit of a catch 22 situation. In what form should we intervene? He wasn’t exactly doing something “wrong”, especially in the eyes of his peers, and his graphic abilities were a significant part of his being. These were the days before SENCos existed as an entity and, as for counselling in any form…
In the end, I had to spend time, after one particular incident, following through with him, to explore the feelings of the receivers of his “humours”, not just his own, on the basis of cause and effect, or choices and consequences. For S, it was the first time that anyone had taken the time to talk through the issues in any form, or in any depth, but it couldn’t be ignored, as individuals were beginning to move from amusement to being hurt.
The bigger problems come when those in positions of power adopt a singularity of approach to achieve outcomes that are likely to cause hurt to others. Political decisions, taken, ostensibly, to save money for the Government /country, but in reality to be used for a different purpose, appear inevitably to hurt those at the bottom of the decision-making pile. In the ten years since the financial crash, the rich still appear to be holding onto, or increasing, their wealth. Current political decisions can appear to be of the “I want/we want variety”, and “it’s for your own good”. I keep wondering who is making money out of these decisions? I can put my hand up and say “Not me”.
Politicians also seem to have to argue negatively, identifying groups of people who are deemed to be “taking advantage of us and our “generosity”; usually groups who have no right to response. The lack of common understandings in dialogue further alienates those whose voices are not heard. It is, of course, the seeming impotence, by ignoring, of counter-argument, that is bringing groups onto the streets to demonstrate. It is also an opportunity not to feel alone in frustration. People gather as a symbol of support.
Countering oppression by political actions also has a long history. Reading Ed Sturton’s book, The Cruel Crossing, about the heroes and heroines of the Chemin de la Liberte, supported by the actions of the Maquis or Resistance during WW2, shows the bravery of organised individuals. I’d like to think that I’d have the courage to have been among them, but I’m not quite sure.
In the past couple of days, the prog/trad debate was enlivened by the posting of a poster with the image of a bomb and a comment from Orwell’s 1984. The “debate” was really started in the 1960s, by the Black Papers Group; self-referencing, pamphleteer traditionalists including Rhodes Boyson. It’s seemed to reappear more recently in similar form, but through blogging and social media. It can sometimes appear to be a small, self-referencing group. It appears to take a great deal of time on both sides, to create narratives, many of which are fanciful in the extreme; in the 46 years since I walked into training college, I’ve yet to encounter a “play/discovery based” Primary classroom. All my experience has been of ordered and organised challenges for children. That one school, William Tyndale” in the 70s, took an ideology to an extreme, with accompanying censure, should not damn every other school that doesn’t follow a purely traditional approach.
The past few years of blogging and Twitter, as my social media links, have brought me into virtual or direct contact with committed, discursive groups of dedicated professionals, willing to put ideas on-line and to engage in subsequent discussion. I like to say that I’m still learning. It’s often by reading or hearing others’ viewpoints that we question our own thinking and adjust accordingly. Being bullied into a particular point of view, though, is somewhat distasteful. I can share why I think how I do and others can do likewise. Blogging is a very useful form of communication between geographically distant colleagues, sometimes creating a world-wide learning network. If any become afraid to speak, worried about censure, then we are behaving less than professionally. Education, after all, is a team game and the “college” of colleagues is far stronger than the individuals concerned.
No teacher plan, like a plan in war, exists beyond the initial engagement. The interactions and the changing circumstance ensures that a good teacher adapts to the evident needs of the class, so moving between supposedly polarised approaches enables direct teaching and individual/group engagement to learner needs.
Education should not be a war zone…
When I was an early career classteacher, mentoring an ITE trainee, she bought me the book Wordscapes, by Barry Maybury, a collection of themed short stories, extracts and poetry. This book has served well, in many circumstances, but the following poem could be useful in dealing with arguments between individuals or groups. I share it as an afterthought.
Gareth Owen, The Fight
The kick-off is, I don’t like him; nothing about him.
He’s fat and soft, like a jellybaby, he is.
Now, he’s never done nothing, not to me, he wouldn’t dare;
Nothing at all of anything like that.
I just can’t stand him, so I’ll fight him, and I’ll beat him.
I could beat him any day.
The kick-off is, it’s his knees; they knock together, they sock together.
And they’re fat, with veins that run into his socks, too high.
Like a girl, he is, and his shorts too long, they look all wrong,
Like a mummy’s boy.
Then he simpers and dimples, like a big lass he is;
So I’ll fight him. Everyone beats him.
I could beat him any day.
For another thing, it’s his hair, all smarmed and oily fair,
All silk and parted flat; his mum does it like that,
With her flat hand and water,
All licked and spittled into place,
With the quiff all down his face.
And his satchel’s new, with his name in blue, chalked on it.
So I chalked on it, “Trevor is a cissy”, on it.
So he’s going to fight me; but I’ll beat him,
I could beat him any day.
There’s a crowd behind the sheds,
When we come, they turn their heads, shouting and laughing,
Wanting blood and a bashing.
Take off my coat, rush him, smash him,
Bash him, lash him, crash him,
In the head, in the bread basket.
Crack, thwack, he’s hit me back.
Shout and scream, “Gerroff me back, geroff, gerroff!
You wait, I could beat you any day.”
Swing punch, bit his hand, blood on teeth,
Blood on sand.
Buttons tear, shouts and sighs, running nose,
Tears in eyes.
I’ll get him yet; smack him yet.
Smash his smile, teacher’s pet.
Brow grazed by knuckle, knees begin to buckle.
“Gerroff me arms, you’re hurtin’ me!”
“Give in?” “No.”
“Give in”? “No. Gerroff me arms!”
“GIVE IN?” “Never.”
“GIVE IN?” “Ooh, gerrof, gerroff.”
“GIVE IN?” “I…give…in…yeah.”
Don’t cry, don’t cry, wipe tears from your eye.
Walk home all alone, in the gutters,
I wasn’t really trying; I could beat him any day…