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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Top Teachers Don’t Teach

There is no more pernicious idea in education than the idea that teachers should not teach.

Of course, it is never stated as explicitly as this, and there will be those who will reject outright that this is where their ideas and methods lead, convinced that their own particular variant of this noxious ideology is not actually all that noxious nor really an ideology.

Most commonly, we hear it expressed in the benign sounding context of empowerment, a romantic liberation of the constricted child from the chains of the didact – no mere brick in the wall shall they be – free to spread their wings and work out for themselves the intricacies of the Trinity, or the photosynthetic process; teacher talk is bad, oppressive, a cruelty inflicted on blossoming flowers not created for the passivity necessary in the act of listening to someone else speak for a bit; it is student-led learning, the independent and the free, that is Good.

When phrased in such way, and with such moral certitude, the possibility that these ideas might be rejected on philosophical grounds, because they are bad ideas, or on pragmatic grounds, because they are not really very effective strategies, is alien. Better by far to assume the recalcitrant lacks confidence, or capability, or a soul.

Well, if you wish to play like that, let us turn the tables: if you genuinely cannot comprehend that people might oppose student-led learning on firmer grounds than their own character flaws, then you yourself are intellectually stunted. And the responsibility for addressing that is more yours than it is mine.

Truth be told, this whole student-led gig is nothing but the desire to diminish the role of the teacher. It might be delivered in pious power ballads, evoking tear-jerking personal testimony of how Bob in Year 9 once explained the intricacies of quantum mechanics more effectively than I, the teacher, ever could have managed, as if this is a cause for celebration rather than concern. But at root it says nothing more than this: we don’t really need an expert sat at the front of the class. Or anywhere else, really.

No, in reality we are just dispensible task-setters, useful only up until that point at which someone else comes along and delivers tasks with more and better whizz-bangery, or fills in admin records more efficiently, or is willing to do longer hours and more break duties.

Maybe this is the result of weary necessity: the de-skilling of the profession and the institutional morale hit that has come with it. Maybe it is that lingering ‘progressive’ ideology that always was uncomfortable with traditional hierarchies of power. Maybe it is just lethargy, a profession seeking to take the line of least resistance against an OFSTED that, for want of anything insightful to write, reaches for the ‘too much teacher talk’ when struggling to fill in the blank space on their lesson observation forms. Maybe it is a wilful misunderstanding of the nature of teacher talk – truly a piece of theatre when done well – or maybe it is the perceived kudos that comes from appearing to be in control by, well, giving away control, avoiding the responsibility conferred by authority by reconfiguring the demands of that responsibility and the nature of that authority. After all, student-led learning is all fluffy and nice, and one must be terribly self-assured to do that kind of thing, no?

That it might not be all that effective? Pah. You’re missing the point. And who asked you anyway?

I dish out my fair share of stick to the NewTraddie herd for blithely indulging in their own sloganeering and tilting at their own windmills, but one response that cannot really be denied is this: that beyond the realms of the digital NewTraddie Wonderland, the Blob reigns supreme.

And it’s still telling teachers they shouldn’t teach. And I’m not really sure what our kids have got to gain from that. 

Our Island (Cock and Bull) Story

One thing has to be said for post-Reformation propaganda – it has serious longevity. As I outlined a few weeks back in an article on anti-Catholic history, the myths and propaganda of the anti-Catholic narrative have become such common currency that, even after hundreds of years and patient refutation, they continue to be peddled as fact by those who might otherwise pride themselves on their erudition and intelligence.

Well, as a handy example we have here Rev Pete Hobson, involved in organising the burial of Richard III, responding to the suggestion that integrity would demand that Richard III be given a Catholic ceremony;

‘There’s been widespread misunderstanding on this point, which might be summed up in the way people use the word ‘Catholic’ when what they really mean is ‘Roman Catholic’. Richard lived before the Reformation when the very term Roman Catholic wasn’t in use – and all English Christians were Catholic, that is they all saw themselves as part of the one, world-wide church. But what is clear is that since the English Reformation, the Church of England is, in law, the true Catholic church of the land, in full continuity with the earlier generations. Moreover the churches Richard worshipped in are, where they still stand, the churches that now belong to the Church of England – and St Martins Cathedral is a case in point. It was there in King Richard’s time, and it’s still there now.

So of course our service will be catholic – how could it not be? But it won’t be Roman Catholic as such – a later innovation! [yep, he did just say that]. 

As far as historical and theological reasoning goes, that requires some serious mental gymnastics.

Yet it’s not altogether new. Whilst fables can give succour, they will continue to be employed – let history, truth, be damned.

Which bring us to Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, who is credited as having delivered such a rousing speech at his martyrdom as to have affected the conversion of several bystanders, including Margaret Clitherow, who would later become another of Queen Elizabeth’s victims (and, the legend goes, her unborn child too), martyred for her faith. Percy was offered his life for recanting, which he refused, and his speech proved something of an embarrassment for those seeking a propaganda coup from his recantation. The following comes from the Historical Papers of Blessed Thomas Percy, Vol. V:

“On this the Earl, turning towards the people, said : I should have been content to meet my death in silence, were it not that I see it is the custom for those who undergo this kind of punishment to address some words to the bystanders as to the cause of their  being put to death. Know, therefore, that, from my  earliest years down to this present day, I have held the Faith of that Church which, throughout the whole Christian world, is knit and bound together ; and that in this same Faith I am about to end this unhappy life. But, as for this new Church of England, I do not acknowledge it.

Here Palmer [the protestant minister], interrupting him, cried out in a loud voice: “I see that you are dying an obstinate Papist ; a member, not of the Catholic, but of the Roman Church.” 

To this the Earl replied : That which you call the Roman Church is the Catholic Church, which has been founded on the teaching of the Apostles, Jesus Christ Himself being its corner-stone, strengthened by the blood of Martyrs, honoured by the recognition of the holy Fathers ; and it continues always the same, being the Church against which, as Christ our Saviour said, the gates of Hell shall not prevail.”

Just what he said, Rev Pete.