Monday, 18 June 2018

DONOVAN'S REDWING RESIDENCY - WHAT'S WRONG WITH SCHOOLS

Last Saturday, two days ago on June 16, I gave my fifth Redwing talk to another handful of people who all shared my conviction that our system of schooling ill-serves the children in our society. We had a fruitful discussion afterwards. And in my Messenger webmail yesterday there was a note of apology for missing the talk from a now-retired teacher who shared a personal story that was both uplifting and angry-making.

Uplifting because this teacher shared and had practised the educational philosophy that I hold dear: teachers' expectations shape student performance and all children deserve respect.
Her words; her story:
'I got rid of the 'remedial' class … I took them into classes and integrated them. I made work they could do … It was hugely successful. Unfortunately, it was expensive. In my department I had teachers … yes, teachers, not teaching assistants, supporting children in classrooms.'

Angry-making because excellent practice was scrapped:
'What happened eventually and inevitably was cost. I battled but it was a losing game. I gave up and resigned.'

My form (registration group)  - 1X1 -  London comprehensive school - 1978. I remained their form tutor for their five years of compulsory attendance/education

This now-retired teacher had read my 10,000 word piece written in 1985 that I published on my website thirty months ago - see my link here - and wrote:
'I was a teacher in the 80s and get everything you write about. Oh the corridors! Did that remind me



of my past?'

I shared some of the Corridor stories on Saturday - but not all.

Extra-curricular meaning - me, the local archivist and a couple of the members of the Local History group we founded - on a field trip after school - circa 1982

My talk began with applauding Peter Fox - the Redwing co-director - for producing a copy of Ivan Illich's 'Deschooling Society' that was published in 1971 by Penguin at the same time as the lead book in my presentation: 'Teaching as a Subversive Activity' by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner. Heady days, back in the 1970s! I remember attending a public lecture that Illich gave in Manchester in 1976 and asking him a question.

My initial focus in Saturday's talk was on Chapter 1, entitled: 'Crap Detecting'. Postman and Weingartner point out that although in theory our education system should help us to develop an 'ever-renewing society', the practice is very different:
'In our society … we find that there are influential men at the head of important institutions who cannot afford to be found wrong, who find change inconvenient, perhaps intolerable, and who have financial or political interests they must conserve at all costs. Such men are therefore threatened …'

So 'We have in mind a new education that would set out to cultivate … experts at 'crap detecting'.

'We would like to see the schools go into the anti-entropy business. Now that is subversive … But the purpose is to subvert attitudes, beliefs and assumptions that foster chaos and uselessness.'

Divali preparation - open evening for parents - a Suffolk comprehensive in the 1990s - yes, good things do happen but it all could be so much better!

I then shared some of my stories, reflections and analysis from 'What's Wrong with Schools'. You can find the key ideas and conclusions on the introductory page on my website by pressing this link here:

From 1985 I fast forwarded nearly a quarter of a century to 2009 when I made my exit from the classroom having served through to full pensionable age, still thrilled that I hadn't lost my love affair with teaching despite my feelings about the school system. Louise and I would have home-educated if we had been blessed with children - Roselyne Williams, co-director of Redwing, did home-educate hers. The piece I wrote then after leaving the classroom for the final time I called 'The Death of Difference'. Here is the link. This will take you through to the introductory page on the website and then through another link to this short four page piece. For those who want an even shorter route, here are my closing lines:

To paraphrase, dear Oscar Wilde, that extraordinary word-merchant: 'Conformity is the last refuge of the unimaginative'. 


'But much of what now passes as sound and useful will not survive academic scrutiny and many, many professionals know that they are living through dire times when it does not pay to question authority. Judgements are made about how to survive in a system that values conformity above all and in practice is afraid of creativity. 'Erewhon' breeds a virus of fear that leads to mediocrity and the death of difference. It ill-serves half-a-million teachers and millions of children.'    

'Erewhon' is the title of a work by Samuel Butler, published in 1872 - a satire on Victorian society. 'Erewhon' is an anagram for 'nowhere'.