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Category archive: Discipline

Thursday July 17 2008

One of the commenters on this particularly impressive posting by Miss Snuffy, about Ray Lewis, links to this blog.  Looks good.  To the blogroll.

It’s about time I had a picture here, so this is the picture at the top of that blog:


Teaching as warfare.  That’s a very common meme, I find.  Here made absolutely explicit in the name of the blog: “Scenes from the Battleground”.

With that picture at the top, of WW2 US General Patton, as enacted by George C Scott in the movie of that name, you’d think that the blog would be about America, wouldn’t you?  But it’s not.  Subtitle: “A Blog About Teaching in Tough Schools in the UK”.

Wednesday July 02 2008

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year, and everyone at Kings Cross Supplementary seemed to be in a bit of a mood, certainly me.  Small Boy’s disposition was particularly negative, it having been severely aggravated by the fact that his little Nintendo games machine was doing something “mysterious”.  He used this word over and over again.  I am impressed that at his age he knows such a word, and its precise meaning, but I couldn’t solve the problem, which was making the games machine work as Small Boy thought it should.  Also he was coughing a bit, and I have yet to learn the medical diagnostic skills that are evidently part of the skill set of a Real Teacher.  Was Small Boy actually ill, or just reluctant to have yet more Education done to him, after a day spent having it done to him at his regular school?

We looked at maps of the world in a map book I had brought with me, and he pointed out different countries.  I persuaded him to allow me to pronounce country names that he didn’t know.  Namibia.  Zimbabwe.  Libya.  He pronounced ones he did know.  Morrocco.  Egypt.  Then he wrote, very badly, a list of countries, one of which was “United”.  But I guess that names of countries are often rather confusing.  How was he to know that United was part of United Kingdom when the Kingdom bit was quite a lot below the United bit? 

Small Boy used interesting arguments to explain that he needed no more Education.  I can already read, he said.  He came dangerously close to saying: “I already know everything”, which is obviously blasphemy if you are being Educated, and I subjected him to a big speech about he obviously had More To Learn because Everyone Has More To Learn.  (It never ends.  It’s a permanent treadmill.  You are Educated and Educated and Educated.  Then you die.  Welcome to the twenty first century, kid.  One of the more depressing things about being a teacher is the things you hear yourself saying.)

Smart Boy and Smart Girl both prefer talking with me to having Education done to them, but Miss Head Teacher was adamant.  They must do sums in the class.

The most memorable moment of the evening for me was when Mr Maths also made a speech.  “Smart Girl, why are you wandering around?  Sit down in your place.  If everyone wandered around, there would be Anarchy instead of Order.” It was like in a movie, where the script writer has completely abandoned realism in order to explain the Underlying Point Being Made In This Scene, except that Mr Maths really said that.  I’m afraid I was not much help to him, probably because I am an anarchist.  But eventually I was able to contribute to the imposition of Order with the necessary mixture of prison guarding and maths tuition.  So I guess that means I’m not an Anarchist any more.

Seriously though, one interesting educational issue did crop up, which concerns the methods used to teach things like long division and “long multiplication”.  (I’d never heard of that one before.) Every teacher and every school seems to use a different method for these things.  There’s the “grid” method, and various others I can’t remember the names of.  Do different methods confuse, for doing something like multiplying 57 by 34?  Or do different methods throw light on the underlying things that are really going on, the way that speaking several different languages is supposed to make children cleverer by giving them an instinctive philosophical grasp of what language is (and is not) that other children are denied?  I suspect that the clever kids – and all the kids at Kings Cross Supplementary seem pretty smart to me - do actually gain a bit from having sums that they find easy taught to them in an unfamiliar way.

Just after writing all that, I went in to the Civitas Office to find out how I was doing, in their opinion.  They were nice, but the message was unmistakeable.  Less Anarchy, please.  More Order.

Sunday May 04 2008
Monday April 28 2008

Friend and Telegraph blogger Alex Singleton has a piece up about teaching good manners in schools:

Today’s Daily Telegraph reports on a new survey showing that Britain is becoming less polite, with 73.8 per cent believing manners should be part of the school curriculum. Being an optimist, I’m not normally one of those people who think the world is in terminal decline (millions of people worldwide will be lifted out of poverty this year, after all).

Nevertheless, there is something severely wrong with the ethos of Britain’s schools today.  Far from being places where people learn responsibility and civility, schools are too often anarchic. The old world of distant, overly-strict teachers and corporal punishment is thankfully long gone. But an overly-liberal teaching establishment has led to the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.

I wonder.  I don’t wonder about whether manners are getting worse.  I am sixty, and of course they getting worse!  But I do wonder how exactly schools are supposed to improve matters.  I agree with Alex that schools being allowed to expel would help.  But is that enough?

I am, I suspect, with various commenters on this blog who say things like: “My ideas about what to do about this problem are far too radical to fit into a comment”, having previously hinted that they find whatever rather bossy opinion I have just expressed to be rather bossy.

In Brian World, school attendance is voluntary, and there are plenty of other things that a young person might do instead, the basic one being: work and earn money!  I favour the reintroduction of child labour, of the economic exploitation of children.  Certainly of adolescents, which is where I would start, were I a politician with any chance of making such notions stick.  During or after stints of paid work - because the work was really good, or really bad - children might then see a clearer path forward into productive adulthood, and decide for themselves what sort of educational stuff might help with that.  In short, when attending a school, or anything like a school, they would be there for a reason, and hence anxious to fit in and play by the rules, in order to get what they came for.  If they don’t and can’t get what they came for, they leave.

All of which, I suggest, would be much more polite than the etiquettically deteriorating world of compulsory school that Alex Singleton describes, even the leaving bit.  Rudeness has its origins in compulsion.  Politeness has its origins in reciprocity.  If a teacher is teaching you something you want to learn and you don’t want her to stop, you will put up with her foibles and demands, her occasional spells of irrational bossiness.  If an employer is paying you wages that you appreciate and want to keep on getting, ditto.  You will sympathise that he perhaps has a lot on his plate, several employees to worry about (to say nothing of suppliers and customers).  She has many pupils to teach.  Good manners are, in essence, seeing things from the other person’s point of view, and trying not to hurt their feelings, even if they are being rather rude to you.

Another way of putting the above is to say that schools should be more like universities are now.  For all their faults, universities are an order of magnitude more polite than schools, because everyone there decided to be there, and can bugger off if they remain too childish (interesting word that) in their behaviour.

I recall once, several decades ago, helping out at a local youth club near where I lived.  Well, trying to help out.  In truth very little good was being achieved by anyone at this enterprise.  Anyway, while getting to know these boys, I started to notice how very much more polite and sensible they would suddenly - suddenly - become, once they had stopped being mere boys with no particular reason to be polite to anyone, and had become wage-earners, with every reason to be polite or the wages might stop.  I repeat, suddenlyThe Rules changed overnight, and so did their demeanour.

They had always known what good manners are.  The difference was that now they had a reason to practice them, whereas before they had had no reason to be bothering with them.  If Britain is becoming less polite, I think that’s because a significant minority of people in our society now seem to have no need or opportunity to work, ever, at all.

Rather ill-thought through, I realise.  But blogging is often more like thinking aloud than presenting the well-ordered results of such thinking.

Friday April 25 2008

Here’s a piece by a long-time favourite of mine, P. J. O’Rourke, about his trip to the giant US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.  I hope that there will be very varied responses from the readers of this blog to the political tone of this article, reflecting what I hope are the varying political attitudes of my readers.  But in among his political ruminations, O’Rourke makes an interesting and uncontroversial point about the age of many of the people who work on this huge and intricately functioning vessel, by quoting something said to him by the chief petty officer:

These are supremely dangerous jobs. And most of the flight deck crew members are only 19 or 20. Indeed the whole ship is run by youngsters. The average age, officers and all, is about 24. “These are the same kids,” a chief petty officer said, “who, back on land, have their hats bumped to one side and their pants around their knees, hanging out on corners. And here they’re in charge of $35 million airplanes.”

I didn’t study sociology for nothing.  Okay, it was a Mickey Mouse subject compared to something like physics, but the central fact of the subject was (is) indeed a fact.  There most definitely is such a thing as society – societies plural to be exact – and it is (they are) a hell of a force.  The same people, depending on the circumstances they find themselves in, have it in them to behave in radically different ways, as different as the two kinds of young people described in the above paragraph.  You absolutely do not have to be in favour of enormous aircraft carriers to accept the truth of all that.

Which is all a different way of saying what I earlier said in this posting.  That was merely about how the same teachers get different results in different schools, with different rules.  But the principle is exactly the same.


That is all for today.  At ease.

Friday April 11 2008

I’ve been out all day and I’m about to go out again, but luckily for me Snuffy has been at a wedding, and picked up some interesting news about Canada:

The bride was educated at Oxford and is now a teacher. The wedding was filled with similar sorts. One British woman I met was teaching in Canada with her husband who was completing a PhD at the University of Toronto, with plans to return here to do a PGCE and join the rest of us in the profession. As she had taught in both countries, I asked her to compare the education systems. A look of horror appeared across her face. Out tumbled story after story about Canadian teachers she has known who have tried to teach in England and have not survived. She and her husband are secretly terrified about returning. The pupils in Canada are not rude. They aren’t badly behaved. They are cheeky at times, naughty in some cases. They are, as one would expect children to be. As she cradles her cute baby, she leans over to me and whispers that truthfully they would like to stay in Canada. But it’s too late. They are bracing themselves for the return.

Someone should give this woman a book deal.

Thursday April 10 2008

James Forsyth, at the Coffee House, talking about what the Conservatives have in mind for schools:

Once Gove’s supply-side reforms have been enacted, parents will be able to pick schools for their children rather than having the schools pick the pupils. Any school that isn’t up to scratch is simply going to see parents sending their children elsewhere.

In the short run, at least, I believe I see problems.

One of the most vital features of every good school I have ever attended, observed or heard of, is that (a) it has the right to refuse entry to pupils, and (b) it has the right to expel pupils who, despite repeated warnings, do not behave as the school wishes.

If a popular school does not have the right to refuse entry, does that mean that it has the obligation to educate as many children as want to go there, regardless of how crowded it gets, or of how much it is obliged to expand (even if it would prefer not to expand, thank you very much)?  Ludicrous.  Places at any particular school must be rationed.  To demand anything else would be insane.  The right to reject has to be there, if only to reject those towards the back of the queue, regardless of any judgments made of individual pupils in that queue.  (Not that there is anything wrong with doing that, either.)

What of the right to expel?  If schools do not have the right to expel, a lot of good parents, of (at least potentially) well-behaved children, are going to be disappointed, because discipline in the schools they choose will surely be as bad as ever.  Good schools do not use the expulsion threat wantonly or routinely, but it has to be there.  You cannot alter unacceptable behaviour if, actually, you are obliged to accept it.

In the very short run, supply will be what it is now, and I do agree that this may change.  But how soon?  Are the Conservatives ready for the toughing-it-out period that they will surely face, while new schools laboriously lumber towards the new market, finding somewhere to operate, getting local permission to operate, having been reassured that the rules have changed.  Again, will they so lumber?  Will they be so reassured?  They could lose a lot of money and waste a lot of effort if they are promised rights that they end up not having.  Remember, getting politics out of something is itself a political process.

And what of the parents of children who do get expelled?  They are now being promised “the school of your choice”.  Not only will they not get the school of their choice - see above - but they are liable not to get any school at all, if the right to reject and to expel is taken seriously.

I favour schools having the right to reject and expel.  But part of the reason I favour this is that I favour certain “customers” being handed the unwelcome news that no teacher of the usual sort wants anything to do with their children until they behave at least somewhat better than they are behaving now.

So, will the government simply take charge of all these miscreants?  If it doesn’t, the voters will get very agitated.  If it does, it will need many more juvenile miscreant hutches than it now has.

Here to, even in the most low-end part of the market, I believe that the market will, eventually, if allowed to, supply far better answers than the state does now, in the form of more sports oriented, more militaristic, more open air and shouty schools such as more vigorously feral juveniles might improve in and become civilised in.  A sort of free market answer to all that talk about bringing back national service.  But, will the politicians be willing to wait for such things to happen?

I’m no politician, so I naturally favour honesty about these things, rather than politics.  At present, the way it seems to me is that for many, if the Conservatives attempt what they say they will attempt, things will get worse before they start getting better.  So will mere politics be good enough?  It will probably be good enough to help the Conservatives win their next election.  But will it be good enough to win the winning, so to speak, and actually make education in Britain get any better?  My questions are not rhetorical.  I’m genuinely asking, and am open to the idea that I have missed all kinds of answers that will sooth my fears.  As so often, much of the point of this posting is to remind me of the state of my thinking just now.  And as for those reading over my shoulder, so to speak, I won’t be able to say: I said that!  But, I may be able to say: I did wonder about that.

Friday April 04 2008

Snuffy, in a comment on this, re something or other said by somebody or other:

Notice how you blame the teacher (when there are in fact 3 teachers involved here) for the disruption and say she should learn to control her classes. It is this type of mentality that is the root cause of the problem in the first place. Change it. Or you will be part of the problem.

Which would be Snuffy’s answer to this guy, I bet you.

Read the posting too.  It’s a classic case, yet again, of perverse incentives, this time in the form of clever but disobedient boys, ruining things for a less clever but more obedient and motivated girl, but the boys are kept in the class instead of slung out because they just might come up with some good exam results.  And make the teacher look better than if she merely got on with teaching something to a less clever kid, who merely wanted to learn something.

Badly behaved white boys, by the way.  I don’t agree with Snuffy about everything, but there is no better teacher blogger out there that I personally know of, if you want to understand what happens in state schools in disadvantageous places, and what it feels like to work in such a place.

Snuffy says don’t blame the teachers
Professor Thomas does not tolerate texting
A bottom line moment at Kings Cross Supplementary
Me teaching very young children and me teaching slightly older children
Police academy
He said he didn’t want to sit down!
Belts not connected to anything
“I’d just tell him to stop and he would …”
A new strategy in the school war
How exclusion helps potential excludees
Dave MacLeod loves climbing but hated school
Human whisperers wanted
Total surveillance of the classroom?
Can you still get a hundred lines for misbehaving?
Clarkson on school discipline