Sunday, September 17, 2006

It Is That Bad

Few things seem less compelling than the diary of a British school teacher. After all, here’s a profession where, whatever subject they supposedly teach, everyone’s a drama queen. Fortunately, Frank Chalk is perhaps the only teacher in Britain who doesn’t think he’s Jesus on the Cross. Even more staggeringly, not only is he remorseless in his depiction of the ‘kids’, he doesn’t spare some of his colleagues either.

The obvious analogue to Frank Chalk’s style is David Copperfield – so obvious in fact that not only are their books published by the same firm, their blogs include links to each other’s book. Come to think of it, given a few years either way, they’re probably dealing with the same demographic.

As may be expected, the book is mainly a series of expanded blog posts. Obviously, that means both a degree of frustration as interesting areas are never really explored, and some repetition (how many ways are there to say some kid swore at you) ? Indeed, at some points the book just appears to be a continuous series of educational atrocity stories. This seems to reflect a deliberate decision by FC to concentrate on a worm’s eye view of the educational chaos in British schools – after all, the definitive work on the loony strategies dominating British education has already been written. IYTYW serves as a perfect compliment to Melanie Phillips’ book. MP told us why the education system had collapsed, while FC tells us just how bad it’s become. Or to put it another way, expect all those Libs who claimed MP’s book was worthless as she had no experience of teaching, to dismiss FC’s book as purely anecdotal.

Actually, it is true that the book works best as pure reportage. FC provides confirmation of everything we’ve ever suspected about our education system. Even a cynic like me was shocked at the mayhem recorded therein. As I’ve said, FC doesn’t spare his ‘fellow professionals’ either. Equally, FC is unsparing in his assault on the dependency culture. In fact, he makes an important point: schools now are not only not preparing pupils for adult life, in so far as they are rewarding bad behaviour, they’re positively harmful. Ditto, FC reminds us that even in the worst schools, there is genuine potential in some pupils. That’s another important point. If we have to listen to Libs wax lyrical about the cruelty and wasted potential inherent in the 11+, then it’s worth remembering those kids doomed right now never to reach their full potential.

One thing remains though: to return to a question I’ve raised before, just why do they do it ? FC himself gives us a clue when in the third sentence of the book he claims was once ‘a nice, liberal bloke who believed in the British education system.’ Hey, what’s nice about Liberalism ? This is where we are in the culture wars: Liberals regularly compare Conservatives to Nazis, crooks or the retarded, meanwhile Conservatives act as though the meltdown in our public services is the result of a series of unfortunate coincidences. Just how seriously can we take the Conservative Party’s claims to support educational reform, when they won’t even tell the truth about what’s wrong in the first place ? If nothing else, this book shows just how high the stakes are.

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