Monday 26 November 2012

Zen of teaching

Some of my friends, knowing my background in martial arts, on hearing that I was going into teaching in inner city schools joked that I'd probably need my skills in the new job. In saying this they showed that they didn't know much about either martial arts, or about modern education. But now, three months or so into my training I am realizing that they might just have had a point. 

I am not talking about physical confrontations - because in a school that can only be a lose / lose situation - but in a sense they would never have imagined. 

Being constantly under the microscope and given feedback, constructive or otherwise, and a growing obsessive sense that whatever you do there will always be something else you could have done better - all of these aspects of being a student teacher have a parallel in martial arts training.

So does the ability to accept this criticism whilst maintaining your composure and carrying on with the task in front of you... Then lying awake at four in the morning whilst the criticism gnaws away at your brain. And most of all, getting up the next day with a compulsive optimism that today you will  be better.

Monday 19 November 2012

Surgical strikes in Gazza

William Tecumseh Sherman said 'war is hell'. The US general is credited with having invented the concept of total war - war taken to the heart of an enemy's civilian population. This is nonsense of course. I immediately think of the Romans waging bio-warfare against Cathage - having levelled the city they then plowed salt into the fields so no crops would grew and the population would starve.  

Of course, the fact that it has always been so doesn't make it any more palatable. But  I find it particularly nauseating when I hear suggestions that there is some sort of other warfare perpetrated by those who can take a high-ground - that their sort of warfare is intrinsically different and more ethical. 

It's a suggestion that is a luxury only to 'top nations' equipped with a sense of moral superiority and better technology. In the nineteenth century the British empire spread civilization with the Maxim gun, and in the twentieth the US imposed American values of democracy with napalm.  And now  Israel talks of 'surgical strikes' with drone missiles against Gazza that will eliminate only the bad guys. 

Like many others I am witnessing the attacks in Gazza in horror - and I have no ready solutions. 

But instinctively I reject the sanctimony of Israeli army spokesmen who talk about the special nature of the IDF and their unique mission to protect civilian life and values of decency. It's the pious hypocrisy that only the bully and  imperialist can afford.

Monday 12 November 2012

McAlpine v the BBC

I am not minded to spare too much sympathy for the out-going BBC Director General George Entwistle. A pay-out of a full year's salary of £450,000  for a job that he has held for a couple of months sticks in the throats of the thousands of us who have faced genuine redundancy in the past few years. But I also can't help having a couple of pauses for thought:

Firstly - If it had been an ordinary person rather than a Tory grandee who had been falsely accused of paedophilia - would justice have been quite so summary ? I am thinking of the twenty years that it took 96 ordinary football fans to clear their names after having been slandered. And a slander not arising from a bungling incompetence but from a malicious conspiracy between police and press - for which there are still quite a few heads waiting to roll. I guess scouse football fans just don't have quite the same leverage as Lord McAlpine.

Secondly - Entwistle went, quite  correctly, because he was the boss of an editor who fucked up having sub-contracted an investigation to an outside firm. Sloppy journalism and sloppy management. But then that's what happens when the media rushes to placate  pitch fork-wielding vigilantes demanding that 'something must be done' in response to the Jimmy Saville affair. Exactly the same mob who are now baying for the blood of Entwistle.

Most importantly none of this does anything for getting justice for the victims of what is undoubtedly a far-reaching paedophilia conspiracy .

Sunday 4 November 2012

The new McCarthy-ism in education

Absorbing though my new life as a born-again student-teacher I have restrained myself from blogging excessively about it. Partly because I seem to have a lot less downtime generally these days - but also because I am conscious that what is fascinating for me may just be a bit less so for others. But I had to share this:

Whilst real teachers were enjoying their half term break, we students had to go in to university in our week away from our schools. Highlight of the week was a debate about part two of the new teaching standards. Now, I'm aware that this might sound pretty obscure - but it is actually of enormous significance. At a time when there is an ever-growing number of academies - who can opt out of the national curriculum and whose teachers do not have to have qualified teacher status - it is only the only part of the teaching standards which are going to be  universally applicable to everyone in the profession. In comparison to the wordy corporate speak that makes up the much longer part one of the standards - which do refer to the actual business of teaching - part two is  much shorter, much vaguer -  and altogether much more sinister:

'Teachers uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by ....not undermining fundamental British values*'
Fundamental British values is taken from the definition of extremism as articulated in the new Prevent Strategy, which was launched in June 2011. It includes ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’.

Defenders of this bit of nonsense will no doubt  argue that only members of Al-Quaida or the BNP need fear this, but as a history teacher I have a horrible sense of  deja-vu with a new notion of 'un-Britishness' taking the place of un-Americanism. If that sounds alarmist then just remember that without a disregard for 'the rule of law' we would have no right to vote and no trade unions

But most of all, this new definition of British values serves up a recipe to sack  teachers who are also activists  taking part -  in arenas that usually have  nothing to do with their work - in protests and actions such as demonstrations and picket lines. All of which in these illiberal days are increasingly on  the margins of legality.