Stop blaming teachers

It’s my own fault that I’m sat here typing this, I know I shouldn’t ever read anything by Amanda Platell because she’s just a typically simplistic Daily Mail writer to whom everything is easily explained away with a few right-wing cliches. She starts with Jamie Oliver’s Dream School and explains that all of the kids behaved badly because they are the ‘the victims of the liberal educationalists whose obsession with ‘child-centred -learning’ has destroyed their futures’.

Like most right-wing journalists she considers this to be an absolute truth and therefore feels no need to provide any evidence or indeed explanation as to how exactly this is the case. It never seems to occur to people like Platell that child-centred-learning was created to tackle ongoing attainment problems in schools, not to create them. The education system has always failed a certain amount of children – the only real debate has been whom to blame, the school or the parents. Teaching methods have evolved (for the better in my opinion) but better teaching is only half of the problem: you cannot teach when the class does not want to learn and makes teaching impossible.

Platell kind of addresses this point, but only in a typically tabloid-shallow way:

they respect no one and nothing.

They know no boundaries, because no teacher or parent has ever tried to impose them.

I get incredibly frustrated when teachers are accused – as a homogeneous group – as never having tried to impose discipline in the classroom. Not all teachers have great classroom management skills (it is something that is difficult to learn during teacher training), some teachers are not great at setting boundaries and sticking to them and some teachers are overly aggressive which creates just as many problems as being overly lenient. Managing a classroom is a balancing act, especially when you have 30 students of differing abilities, attitudes and backgrounds all vying for different kinds of attention. Remember, you might have started teaching because you had a passion for your subject that you wanted to impart to others, not because you wanted to win constant battles with varied groups of students. However, all schools have clear rules which are enforced as much as realistically possible, but given that you cannot use force to make children comply there will always be occasions when it is impossible to control a child who does not want to behave. The accusation that no teachers have ever tried to impose boundaries is not just utterly wrong, but insulting.

From a sociological point of view it is the role of parents to instill basic social skills into children. Functionalism suggests that every human being is a mere resource that is raised to perform a certain function in society. The school is the institution which divides the children into different sets based on ability which directs them into different job roles in adult life, it is also the place where children learn to obey those in authority without question – it is the first situation in which children learn that the many should always obey the few in power. However, the schools cannot perform this function unless the child has already learnt basic socialisation skills from its family and immediate peers. It is these role models that teach (or fail to teach) manners, respect and basic obedience – it is the parent’s role in a functionalist society. If a child is not taught these behaviours then they immediately encounter problems entering and functioning in a more social environment – and teachers for example have trouble controlling them – after all, if a child has no respect for their own parents / family, then what chance does a teacher responsible for 30 children in a classroom stand of instilling such behaviours in the child?

Behaviours are something we learn, they are not something we are born with. A child cannot be blamed for being raised in a family that fails to instill socially acceptable behaviours, anymore than a child can be blamed for being born into a family of extreme privilege. It is time to stop blaming the education system and realising that society as a whole needs to come to terms with an underclass of families who are trapped in vicious circles of bad parenting. You don’t give a chef a pile of rotting vegetables and expect them to make a Michelin star dish, but for some reason the right-wing press expects schools to take any given child and achieve the same positive outcomes. It’s impossible.

Anyway, I had never even meant to talk about that aspect of her drivel, I had wanted to talk about her little aside on multiculturalism. There is nothing more depressing than someone in the right-wing media repeating the lie that BNP support is driven by ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and the pressures this supposedly places on social services and employment. I’ve covered this before, so, having written the above I won’t repeat it here, so if you want a rebuttal of this, you can read it here.

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