In Tes the historian David Wootton reminds us what an English adult held as a set of beliefs back in 1600, before the impending scientific revolution took grip:
“He believes witches can summon up storms that sink ships at sea. He believes in werewolves: although there happen not to be any in England, he knows they are to be found in Belgium. He believes Circe really did turn Odysseus’s crew into pigs. He believes mice are spontaneously generated in piles of straw. He has seen a unicorn’s horn, but not a unicorn.” David Wootton, The Invention of Science, cited in Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress)
How quaint and quirky the past sometimes looks. How old-fashioned. How passé.
But it gets you wondering what we in education might look back on one day, thinking “why on earth did we ever think that?’
How did we let it happen?
So as we head into a welcome half-term break – a time for emotional recharging and professional reflection – here are some questions we might ask ourselves about what we once believed:
- Why did we ever believe that watching a teacher teaching was telling us much about whether a learner was learning? Why do we have an obsession with lesson observation as anything other than a method for developing better teaching?
- Why did we ever think it a good idea to link a child’s results in examinations to the performance of the teacher, headteacher and school, with the consequence of a “failing” head being dismissed and a “failing” school being taken over? Where was the evidence that this would improve educational standards rather than just inject turmoil into an over-anxious system?
- Why did we allow the mantra that “education receives more funding than it ever has” to be anything other than a fatuous soundbite? Why didn’t we more forcibly respond that parents expect more from schools and colleges than they ever have, that children deserve more personalised support, and that schools continue to try to offer this full service despite the swingeing cuts in other services that we used to rely on?
There are, of course, many other questions we might ask ourselves. But as I head into half-term, I sense a change of collective mood, a feeling that a period of convulsive experimentation with structures and systems in the English education system hasn’t led to the liberation teachers and leaders were promised, nor the accelerated rise in standards society may have expected.
If my instincts are correct, then perhaps soon we’ll move from questions about our recent past to bolder solutions for young people’s futures. I hope so. They deserve it.
Read more questions you might be asking yourselves ‘Teachers, it’s time for us to reclaim education’
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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