Al taught English at home and overseas all his working life. He is saddened by the results-based education system of today.
Days Of Yore
Fifty years ago, if you didn't follow the rules at school, you received corporal punishment. Teachers were figures of authority. They expected the best behaviour from you. Doing your best was important. Failure to do so meant you had let yourself down, which was unforgivable. Every day there was an assembly where you were exhorted to be strong, take part in school activities, respect the school, and respect the teachers. You had to wear a uniform—no exceptions. If you protested, you would be sent home and not allowed to return until you wore the prescribed clothes.
In class, you stood when a teacher or a visitor came into your class. You put your hand up if you wanted to say something. Walking along the corridor to your next class was to be done in near silence. At the end of the day, you either walked to your house or got the school bus, which was supervised by a prefect. Anyone who misbehaved on the bus would have to justify their behaviour to a school administrator the next day.
When it was time to send reports home, teachers told the truth. If you hadn’t measured up, they would say so and explain how to put things right.
Local Education Authorities, as they were called then, visited schools to see what was going on but usually left with a feeling that everything was under control and learning was taking place.
Parents would rarely come to school. If they did, it was because something serious had happened. They seldom caused trouble and tried to let the teachers do their job if they treated the children properly.
At home, it was possible that you could get smacked for being disrespectful or not following “house rules.” You could be grounded for not applying yourself at school. A similar fate could befall you if you stayed out late, annoyed the neighbours or just acted up. Responsibility was important. Children were told what their responsibilities were. Letting someone down was serious.
Children were free to play outside if there was daylight and they stayed in earshot of mum who would call your name when it was time to be indoors.
Policeman were huge authority figures in the past. If you saw an officer when you were a child, it was not unusual to stop what you were doing, take a deep breath and wait till, usually he, passed by
Parents loved their kids as teachers did. But it was a different kind of love. It was supportive, encouraging and deep. Maybe not so deep when it came to teachers but even the toughest of all had a soft spot for all members of their class.
I am glad that some of those things no longer take place in school or, overall, at home. Corporal punishment has no place in our society. There are far more effective ways of disciplining children than beating them.
Our society has become far less conservative. Teachers are not distant figures anymore. They are much closer to children. Emphasis is put on the causes of bad behaviour rather than just managing it.
Police are much more approachable than they used to be. Their stern authoritarianism has now been diluted. They can be friendly at times but take no nonsense if people are determined to be anti-social.
We are less in awe of authority figures than we used to be. People seem more likely to speak up for themselves. If something is wrong, we seem to be knowledgeable about our rights and how to make things better. TV programmes set out how we can complain. Websites tell us how we can apply for free legal representation.
But where has this more liberal approach left us?
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The greatest effect of the more liberal society that we live in now has been in the teaching profession. Once proud of its independence and respect in the community it now must make way for the complaints of parents, the interfering press and bewildering government interventions at local and ministerial level.
An Education Authority in north west, England carried out a survey of the learning styles of its students, concluding that they were kinaesthetic learners. In a short period, the secondary schools in the area were pulled down and replaced with large, warehouse-like buildings that had no formal, separate areas, just partitions. The layout of the constructions left music rooms next to the DT area. There weren’t enough chairs or desks.
Representations were made but action was taken slowly. Children were sent to more formal establishments outside the borough. School rolls dropped to such an extent that A levels, the most common qualification studied for in Years 12 to 13 in the UK, were dropped by the local authority because it was no longer economically viable to offer them.
Schools have suffered at the hands of the Health and Safety Act of 1974, which introduced stringent rules about safety at work and public places. Feeling vulnerable to attack, educational institutions throughout the UK have had to ensure that they were following the letter of the law. Consequently, some bizarre stories have surfaced. The playing of tick, sometimes known as tag, essentially a chasing and catching game has been banned in some schools as being too dangerous. Leapfrog was, in some schools, also seen as liable to cause injury and banned.
Another institution was worried about kids playing football at break times. To ease administrators’ minds, children had to sign a pledge that, among other things, they would pass the ball, not gloat when scoring a goal, take turns to go in goal and not hit the ball too hard.
Parents have decided that it is their job to shield their children from any distress that may take place when their children are at school. Over time, it has been a teachers’ duty to avoid offending the feelings of their pupils. School Reports must reflect what a child can do and never what he/she cannot do. Criticism is not allowed, only encouragement.
Compare these two excerpts from reports.
“Arthur is trying to live up to the challenges of school life. He is attempting to be consistent in his preparation of homework. His co-operation level during lessons is beginning to improve”.
“Arthur has trouble behaving in school. He seldom completes homework and rarely co-operates in class”.
The second one is fake. No administrator would pass it.
In the past, it was rare to see a parent at a school. Now, you can count on the fingers of one hand, the days when a parent has not come to school for some reason. Obviously, they are not coming to say thank you. They come to complain about the way their children are being treated. They think their child has been disciplined unfairly. A Scottish Education Department settled out of court with a parent who complained when her daughter put in detention because it made the child suffer from separation anxiety. In a different area, but still, in Scotland, a Headteacher has banned her staff from talking to parents in the playground because of the abuse they suffered.
Other parents may complain about the way the school play is cast and how their child is a much better actor than the one who got the main part or that their child is an excellent soccer player and should never be substituted.
Then there are the infamous “helicopter parents” who try to control their child’s education to obtain free rein over grades, discipline, interactions with other students and the teaching style adopted by staff.
At home, these “helicopter parents” are likely to have supervised play dates, in which their children cannot be with friends and just hang out. The parents may take an active part in the “play” ensuring safety but also directing it as they see fit. Their children may be entered in sports competitions or other recreational activities in which winning is paramount. They may even get into verbal or physical altercations with “rival” parents when their child is perceived as being devalued by the team coach or challenged too strongly by opposition players.
We are nurturing a generation who have been wrapped in cotton wool. Put off by the fear of offending them, we try to make their journey through life as painless as possible. Schools, unable to set the bar high in academic excellence, have had to lower their standards. In G.C.S.E English Literature exams, books that were once studied in year 7, are now set texts.
Parents living in dread of their offspring getting low marks for a homework, send their child to bed and then spend half the night trying to complete the assignment.
Children cannot go outside and be children. The risk of getting a scraped knee is too much to bear for some parents and schools. It is better to “protect” kids and, in doing so, stave off any criticism of themselves as being irresponsible parents or educators.
These days, being a parent is as competitive as the “X-Factor”. How can you turn up at the local Junior Hockey match without your child having the most expensive equipment and kit? You show your love and devotion for your child by cheering or jeering your child - whichever is your disposition- only after the game to drag the offspring off to the next exhibition of excellence at dance class.
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Where will all this take us?
Children will be dependent on their parents for much longer. In 2013, 3.3 million people between the ages of 20 and 34 were still living with their parents or parent. In the USA, almost 20% of males between the same ages were still residing at the parental home.
Grown up children have become entitled. Having been kept under the wing of school, parents and government too long, they find it hard to fend for themselves and look to others to help them.
Even taking economic figures into account, the future seems to be falling into the hands of a generation who lack confidence and self-reliance. They may be unable to cope in situations where they are left without protection. It seems likely that the Government will extend its helping hand well into middle age to a group who were lauded merely for taking part; locked inside in case they suffered a cut to a knee; never told how to improve because they had no faults.
What of their parents? I see a reality TV show. The Parent Factor. Contestants must show their talent in auditions and knockout rounds until the grand final on BBC on a Saturday night in February. Criteria for success would be “protectiveness”, “outrageousness” and “spar-quality”.
By that time teachers will have been consigned to the ranks of the unemployed for being unable to shield their students from the outside world with a completeness that would satisfy parents or the government. Instead, schools would be run by robots who will meet students at the main entrance to the school and shepherd them inside where they will be given their slippers and dressing gown and taken to their classrooms while being played a soothing pop song of the time. In the classroom, there will be a series of couches where the children recline while being given lessons via the TV screen located in the robot’s stomach. There will be no need to write anything as verbal answers will suffice. Even essays can be dictated to the robot. A hard drive records all the work done by the child. Nobody fails because it might lead to a child having “success anxiety”.
There is no need to risk injury during breaks or PE lessons as all children are sedated for one hour at midday and played relaxing music that is punctuated with life-affirming pronouncements like, “Mummy loves you”. “You are always a winner”.
“Children”, released from school at the age of 22, are assigned jobs based solely on the recordings of their work on their robot’s hard drive. All work is computer-based and requires no travel outside of the parental home.
Joking apart, the trend of indulgent parenting must be reversed. Kids need to be able to find out about the world without being pursued by their feckless parents every step of the way. Schools need to be empowered. They must feel confident that they are not there to only teach subjects like maths and physics but to encourage children to be healthy, inquisitive and have a strong sense of self-reliance. Governments should hold back on legislation that rather than protecting children, results in their experience of the world being diminished.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.