When opposites repel

About a year ago I started to draft my last post. After writing and rewriting several times, I realised I was finding it hard to say anything positive and, for me, that is a dark place to be. As I am only an occasional blogger and not one who commands myriads of followers, I felt a break would be a good idea and would allow me to focus on planning my thesis and getting approval for the research. This is what I have been doing, in case you wondered!

My school has had a great set of results this year. We managed, for once, to avoid being the school that gets well and truly stitched up by statistically managed outcomes. It felt good. However, my enjoyment of “success” was tempered by the knowledge that elsewhere, colleagues were having the gut dropping sensation of unexpected disappointment. Happy as I was, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I complain about disparity in the system and that doesn’t change just because we aren’t the ones suffering from it.

This experience, combined with a slight research hitch, gave me pause for thought. I need, for my thesis, to pin down exactly what is meant by school standards. I read, reviewed and researched until my stylus was worn down. I even posted a question in the Twitterverse (which was favourited by someone from The Sted, but not answered!). Could I get a simple and clear definition? Take a guess. Standards can be used to describe exam outcomes, inspection judgements, quality of teaching, behaviour, financial management, etc, etc. It is a “one word covers all” policy tool.

This isn’t a big deal for me, indeed it is more for me to focus my research on, but it is important because so much change is predicated on the glib assertion that ‘standards’ are declining, that ‘standards’ need to improve, that ‘standards’ elsewhere are better. How is any of this possible if we can’t actually pin down or agree on exactly what these so called ‘standards’ are?

For me the answer is possibly in the existence of doubt, the lack of clarity itself. If something isn’t clearly and measurably defined, its truth can be hidden, or worse, falsified. Deliberately maintaining the status quo of standards as ‘discourse without definition’ allows all sorts of claims to be made and changes proposed without anyone actually being able to prove it right or wrong. It is the perfect political point-scorer.

Of course, all political parties play this game, which is what led to my aforementioned crisis of confidence and temporary hiatus from the blogosphere, but we should not be surprised. The fundamental values of many of those currently in power are so opposed to the values held by, I would argue, the majority of public servants and, certainly, teachers.

This perception can be exemplified by tonight’s viewing. The Boy and his mum are fans of The Apprentice. I am not. For an hour I sat alone contemplating philosophy as a function of human cognitive development. Well, I watched the food channel for an hour, which is almost the same. The reason being that even the 3 second promo clips are enough to start me reaching for the squeezy stress ball (from some HR company that I snuck out school!)

I can not stand the arrogance, the sheer mind blowing lack of normal human compassion or empathy, that the candidates show. Of course, it is a show and significantly edited but, caricature though it is, I can’t help feeling this is how our political leaders and their powerful chums actually are. This is why they simply can’t understand us or what makes for a genuinely and naturally talented teacher and, also, why we can’t understand them and their innate belief in the power of data over people. This is why so many are leaving the profession early, before we have even seen them blossom as practitioners. There is such a fundamental ‘dissonance’ of ideology, it takes very thick skin to ignore the constant discomfort.

Teaching demands optimism, positivity, energy just like business, but above all it needs compassionate, empathetic, positive and productive relationships with unpredictable, ever changing, still fresh from the oven psyches and egos. Children are not products, they can be damaged badly by treating them as such. We need a fresh breeze through education of ideas which treat children as precious and fragile but with massive potential, rather than the intellectually impoverished view of them as expendable data points ripe for exploitation through zero hour contracts. Our world, our view has to win out, otherwise…..what’s the point?

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