Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Troops to Teachers?

I wonder how long it will be before putting soldiers in every classroom turns into: “everyone should do a little character-building military service to iron out these discipline problems.  Hey, I know!  Why don’t we bring back conscription?”

This morning, shadow schools secretary, Michael Gove, announced that, under a Tory government – alongside a stealth privatization plan to end the “state monopoly” of schools and turn more and more “failing” schools into privately sponsored “academies” – a new emphasis on student discipline will see Army professionals entering the classroom in a “troops to teachers” programme designed to use military-style regulation to keep our children in line.

On top of a renewed emphasis on school uniform – blazers and ties (straightjackets and leashes) – this comes, of course, alongside an earlier announcement to reintroduce learning by rote, and assorted other 1950s educational methods, into contemporary schooling if the Tories get elected to power in 2010.

Do we really want a generation of robot children – regurgitating whatever they are told, without question, under the watchful eye of intimidating soldiers?  Do we really want a “state monopoly” of schools to be replaced with a curriculum designed by private enterprise, looking only to create the next generation of workers instead of well-rounded human beings? 

I will admit, there are countless problems with the education as it is, and has been, under Labour – but lack of discipline is not the problem; it is a symptom.

School kids misbehave and act unruly only when they are not engaged; when the lessons they are being taught seem pointless and removed from anything useful or interesting in their lives.

I say this from experience – I am a fairly bright and inquisitive person who got straight As at A-Level, a first class BA, a Masters degree (with distinction) and a Ph.D., yet I absolutely hated school. 

Whilst I got As in the subjects that I enjoyed at GCSE level, in subjects where the teachers were dull, the content was mind-numbing, and the purpose was unclear, I couldn’t give a damn. 

I messed around; I chatted; I played up.

I had the capability to be a fantastic student at school, but even someone like me became undisciplined under the yawn-fest that was British secondary schooling between 1993 and 1998 (the majority of which was under a Tory government, by the way).

As soon as I became engaged in my education, however, by an exceptional foursome of Sixth Form College teachers (Dermott O’Keeffe, Elaine Varty, Mike Wright, and Sandra Phillips from Solihull Sixth Form College, if you must know) I was unstoppable.  I worked my ass off, above and beyond the call of duty, and I never looked back.

Getting kids to pay attention in school doesn’t come from military drills, smarter uniforms or the repetition of dry facts until they are memorized by rote…it comes from engaging pupils with a substantive and meaningful education that is intrinsically valuable in itself, and not merely a stepping stone to future jobs and qualifications.

With so much talk these days about the “value” of GCSEs, A-Levels and University Degrees on the job market, is it any wonder that our children don’t see their schooling as anything other than an instrumental means to this other – apparently more important –end; working so that they can get the piece of paper that will impress a future employer, not so that they can amass their knowledge of the world and engage their natural curiosities.

As a result, schoolwork is seen merely as an obstacle – a stultifying journey to a dull but necessary destination: qualifications, and thus employment. 

Students mess around in class and don’t respect their teachers because they have been taught by society that nothing they do in the classroom is as important as what they will have to do once they leave it. 

No Troops to Teachers programme is going to change that. 

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