LEARNING AND TEACHING.

At present there is a great fuss  in the press and on TV because the Results Are Out! That is the examination results for boys and girls aged 16, they are called O levels after which many young people leave school and look for a job, as I did myself in 1955.  In recent times it is also the schools themselves which are examined. What is the success rate of school A, how does it compare withs schools, B, C, and D ? There is one huge flaw in this argument. Every child is treated as a separate individual, who will live alone, work alone and has no connection with any community whatsoever. It may surprise the examiners and the teachers to discover 99.9% of us live in communities, we work day by day with other people, when we feel ill we want to see a doctor, when a problem crops up we may need a lawyer to sort it out, we all want our children to have good teachers and many of us rely on buses and trains to get from place to place, and so on.

    One thing I know from experience that those few children who learn quickly and easily are frequently the target of bullying behaviour. Many children have some difficulty when it comes to learning to read, or adding up and subtracting or copying letters: these children gradually begin to see themselves as failures. It is made very clear to them that the only praiseworthy thing is putting your hand up because you know the answer, or getting 9 out of 10 for your sums. If Joe is struggling to read the text book or getting more crosses against his sums, then just like an adult Joe looks for someone to blame, someone he can make feel miserable just like Joe himself. That quiet boy who never joins in the football game and has read every book in the class, he won’t fight back.  So Joe starts calling him names, throwing bits of paper at him and encourages his friends to do the same.  The quiet boy, I will call Bill looks miserable and strangely enough not a word is said by the teacher.  So Joe steps up his name calling and pushing and he sees the teacher smiling.  The teacher does not like Bill, he is much too clever, much cleverer than the teacher’s own son I will call John. The aim of caring for every child in the class has become irrelevant, jealousy has become the need which much be satisfied.  Soon Bill ceases to come to school so another victim must be found. “Every child matters”, has been binned.

This story sounds like a ridiculous exaggeration but it is tragically true.  The bullying went on for a number of years before Bill could take no more. The school stood by and did nothing.  Now that there is such emphasis on results, on getting the right marks I am convinced that there are a lot more boys like Joe and some girls too who are sick of being in the bottom half of the class and always being told they could do better. The question never answered is how?

    Yes indeed we are all different; some can run faster, jump higher, put the ball in the back of the net.  These talents most of us accept as rare and special gifts but the ability to read and understand numbers, in this complex 21st century world is essential, our names,addresses and age are written down a thousand times; if we want a driving licence, and most of us do, or to follow the instructions on a new washing machine. Then the ability to understand the printed word is also the way in which this busy, modern world is explained to us,even those modern miracles; the mobile phone, the internet and the television set depend frequently on spoken and  written words even    President  Trump puts his thoughts down on Twitter and many people read them. Myself I would rather look out of the window at the birds, but we all have our own ways of doing nothing very much.

     Teaching is a very intellectually demanding job yet our society regards it as a respectable profession for a literate young person who has no actual experience of the many and varied reasons some children find it difficult to learn. The young teacher finds herself without ongoing support and regular courses on particular problems which she will without doubt encounter very quickly. The medical and legal professions are accepted as intellectually rigorous but if you can speak politely and dress neatly you can be put in front of a class and left to discover how you can engage thirty-five boys and girls to be interested in learning something new. I have only one more thing to say, the best of British luck!

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