Wednesday, October 28, 2009
rotten from top to bottom
Today’s Guardian has a good piece on the experience of 2 teachers who were recently charged with assault for manhandling in class an aggressive and persistently disruptive child. The whole force of the system was arrayed against them – one was cleared (after a year of suspension), the other found guilty and has lost his job. Amazingly there were already (06.00 UK time) more than 140 comments on the whole issue of school behaviour. The article had appeared last night – and people had been scribbling furiously throughout the night! As I scrolled through the comments, I was appalled at how emotional and polarised they were. Guardian readers, after all, are supposed to be reasonable people! Was this, I wondered, the evening wine and whisky talking? One contributor put it well – “just because you were abused at school (by a bullying teacher) doesn’t mean that teachers deserve anything that comes to them!”
The usual culprits were called into action – lack of discipline; the emphasis on rights; end of streaming; social workers; teaching methods; the culture of selfishness; television etc. Only 2 contributors mentioned that other European countries did not seem to experiencing this scale of problem. I then realised that the shallow and emotional tenor of the “discussion” was not just an annoying triviality – but was the clue to the problem under discussion and a pointer to the real answer.
For the first time, I was moved to draft a contribution of my own – here it is (number 147)
Interesting that the more thoughtful comments should come from those with experience of other countries eg France, Germany and Sweden. This is a very serious issue – which goes far beyond the issue of school behaviour – and does deserve more than cabby-driver rants. Britain does have a different culture of power from other countries. Those at the very top have never been held properly accountable; and the power has become more and more centralised. Our politics are conducted in more and more of an adversarial (and childish) manner – and the rhetoric of consumer-friendliness conceals the fact that our organisations are run in autocratic style. We do not talk to one another in a civilised manner because there is no civilised or thoughtful discourse at the highest level – only the exercise (and abuse) of power.
Other European countries have constitutions, legal (and sometimes even company) structures which have forced those at the top to justify and often to negotiate their actions. That, too, has been the Japanese way.
I’m afraid that, until we sort out that fundamental issue, our schools will continue to be the political football they are.
Things can change – the new Scottish parliament was given an electoral base which gave those supporting small parties a voice and required coalitions. And the Parliament gave itself a more inclusive and accountable structure – and has tried to reach out and involve the population.
There are no easy answers or quick fixes – the school issue is a classic example of the need for the stakeholder approach which requires, at all levels, responsibilities and rights to be properly recognised and balanced (and that very much includes the parents).
When people feel powerless and angry – they look for victims – and I’m not talking here about pupils. The country is angry because they have no voice – and those in power have been exposed (yet again) for the abusive and greedy people which the structures they inhabit allow and encourage them to be.
My reference to “abuse” is not a reference to political expenses (see my other blog for a couple of comments on that subject) - but to the much wider and longer abuse which is described so eloquently in Harold Perkins’ The Third Revolution – professional elites in the modern world
Kenneth Roy has described the latest twist of the larceny of the professionals in