It’s enough to make you despair when you come across pieces of crap in The Guardian like the one its ex-editor Peter Preston had published in the Opinion pages on Monday this week. Thank goodness so many readers took the trouble to lambast him for it in Comment Is Free - the good old Guardian’s brilliant facility for allowing readers to post an instant response on its website. Modern digital technology can be truly wonderful when it’s used imaginatively - in this case creating a community of interactive writers and readers-who-also-write. Oxzen also posted a response.
It’s not the first time Preston has written appalling reactionary nonsense in the Guardian - not by any means. It was this exact week last year, almost to the day, that he wrote a piece called A Molehill of Mange, taking to task the authors of a report into children’s unhappiness with schools and teachers. Preston ludicrously claimed that these poor little ‘blank slates’ had been grafitti-ed and scribbled on by their unscrupulous teachers and thereby made to believe that modern force-feeding teaching methods aimed solely at raising SATs and GCSE scores were making their lives in school tremendously dull, tedious, boring and frustrating. As if millions of kids up and down the country needed to be told that. As if they were actually enjoying school but preferred to claim the opposite. As if they’d been brainwashed by their lazy leftie teachers into believing something that was clearly untrue.
This sad old ignoramus is literally beyond help. I remember last year emailing him some gentle admonishment which patiently and politely explained the errors in his beliefs. Did I get even a brief courteous acknowledgement for my trouble? No. Did he bother to read what I wrote and allow alternative thoughts to enter his closed and fetid mind? It seems highly unlikely. Oh well - no doubt he’s an extremely busy man in his retirement. Wikipedia seems to suggest as much.
Though I have an image in my head of the kind of retired country-dwelling reactionary who hangs out every day in his local saloon bar with a copy of the Mail or the Telegraph open on his table, sounding off his trite, ignorant opinions to anyone within earshot, people who in any case already think the same way as he does because they’ve already read the same sort of nonsense in the same newspapers.
There’s a whole gang of media whores like Preston who think the same way as he does because they have broadly similar backgrounds - grammar or public/private schools followed by Oxford or Cambridge. We’re talking here about people like the lovely Mel P (Melanie Phillips), David Blunkett and Andrew Adonis. All of them journalist/politician/self-publicists. Big mouths in the media. Big egos. Presumably they have their own club somewhere. I’d guess they all wine and dine together regularly, in and out of one another’s lives and homes. Chris Woodhead is one of them, and though I’m not sure he actually made it to Oxbridge as an undergraduate he did lecture at Oxford for a while. Tony Blair is their patron saint - public school and Oxbridge background, naturally.
What they have in common is a penchant for claiming they’re on the side of the masses in their wish to have every working class kid in the country raised above their station in life by cramming them for academic tests and exams, regardless of their aptitudes or preferences (because PP and his ilk know best), enabling them all to gain straight A Stars at A level, and giving them entry to the university of their choice, preferably Oxford or Cambridge, but maybe Imperial College if they have a working class bent for using spanners and welding equipment. After all, the country needs its inventors and scientists.
I have the feeling that Preston’s column this week was written mainly as a response and an admonishment to Jenni Russell, who’s written so many brilliant columns on education in the Guardian and last week was at it again - celebrating the fact that the government has quietly abandoned its apparent determination to keep SATs at KS3.
What Preston and co also hate is the thought that by pandering to (i.e. providing an appropriate and creative education for) the less academically able (i.e. less crammable) kids, our schools might be paying less attention to and actually holding back the vast bulk of middle class kids who naturally want and need to go to university in order to follow the life pattern wished upon them by their affluenza-infected parents, who, of course, will always be mortified if their little darlings score less than three or four A stars.
And this is the system we inflict upon our kids - academic success at any price, even if it makes them extremely unhappy and uptight in its process, and even if it turns them into raving egomaniacs with a snobbish distain for the benighted masses. That’s assuming they do ‘well’ out of the system. Pity the poor fucks who don’t make it, in spite of all the cramming. But as good old Dave Bluntit always says, there’s no excuse for failure, and the failures had better not excuse themselves either. If The Blunk can make it, then anybody can. Provided they have their special needs properly provided for, of course.
Preston’s current article makes a very foolish attempt to draw parallels between the worlds of finance and education. His very simple and very stupid thought (and he really only has one) is that if Guardian readers, including teachers, believe that it’s necessary to have our failing financial system much more tightly regulated then they shouldn’t be rejoicing that the government has decided to get rid of KS3 SATs in our supposedly failing education system.
He bangs on about hundreds of thousands of illiterate kids passing out of our schools as if it was a fact, as if he knows what he’s talking about. He rails on about the fact that so many kids fail to achieve five A - C grades at GCSE as if this so-called benchmark has any real meaning, and as if it’s in any case all the fault of the bloody teachers, as if those kids are now doomed to a life of failure and misery.
Because Pete and his mates can’t conceive of anyone being happy or fulfilled unless they’ve been to Oxbridge, or at least have an honours degree from somewhere. Because the only possible way for working class people to have a decent life is to get a degree and thereby get a highly paid job and a career that will enable them to escape from their appalling inner city and council estate ‘communities’. Isn’t that right, Pete? Mel? Anyone?
And here’s another thought for you Peter, old pal. Maybe - just maybe - those so-called illiterate kids would have left school as avid readers and far more capable writers and learners if their teachers had been allowed and encouraged to foster in them a love of literature and an ability to express themselves in writing, in their own ‘voice’, instead of wasting hours, days, weeks and years cramming them for academic tests and exams using the methodology of the so-called National Literacy Strategy.
The real irony is that it’s far more likely that this generation of kids would have achieved higher scores at GCSE if they had been properly taught by methodology that fosters a love of literature and writing, and a love of learning for its own sake, instead of being force-fed on the methodology of those who maintain a Victorian belief that children are empty vessels ready and waiting to be filled with Imperial gallons of facts, or those like Peter Preston who maintain a belief that children are merely blank slates just waiting to be written on by their teachers.
At heart, of course, these neo-conservatives are just fascists and elitists, and they can’t conceive of any system that isn’t top-down and imposed on the rest of us by the Special Ones like themselves who’ve been to Oxbridge or some other university and therefore have proven superiority of mind and spirit. Some of them may pay lip service to the concept of equality of opportunity, but that’s as far as it goes. There’s no way that common people could actually be their equal.
Some further reading for Peter and friends might be a little known Ofsted publication - ‘Schools Where Boys Write Well’ - little known because it goes against the grain of the disastrous National Literacy Strategy mentality and methodology. It’s even rooted in actual classroom practice, and some might say common sense, which is more than you can say for the untested, untrialled NLS. This booklet actually makes sense, which is more than you can say for Peter and his pals, who get their opinions from ‘data’ and from fellow ignoramuses, since they have no experience of the reality of life in ‘normal’ communities and ‘normal’ schools.
News headlines this morning - why are so many more Primary pupils refusing to attend school regularly? Now let’s see . . .
Presumably they’ve been brainwashed by their teachers into believing they really, really dislike school.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/oct/22/comment.comment1 Molehill of Mange. The original classic.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/16/sats-schools Jenni Russell
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/22/sats-schools From today’s paper - an article by Dr Mary Bousted in response to Peter Preston’s piece.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7039966.stm The original report that inspired Preston’s Molehill of Mange
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/29/homework.ban Article on homework
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1563753/Boring-lessons-blamed-for-rise-in-truancy.html Telegraph article from last year.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7681666.stm Yesterday’s BBC report on a big increase in the numbers of Primary pupils absent from school. Either more kids are falling sick in some way, in which case we need to ask why they’re less physically and mentally healthy, or they’re more disaffected by school, in which case we definitely need to know why. Either way I blame central Government, local government, the DCFS, Ofsted and their media cheerleaders, as well as the people in schools who sold their souls in order to carry out the orders of their overlords.
PS Oxzen holds no brief at all for all the teachers and senior managers in schools who actually are crap, and there are indeed quite a few of them. However, the majority of these schmucks have been badly trained, brainwashed and bullied for so long it’s hardly fair to blame them entirely for their own inadequacies, or to demand their instant dismissal. Hopefully there will, sooner or later, be a more enlightened regime which can offer retraining of a very high quality, that will enable these people to see the errors of their ways and enable them to become high-functioning, ethically-driven and enlightened professionals who don’t abuse children’s rights to a real education (amongst other things) in the name of raising ‘standards’.
http://www.unicef.org/crc/files/Rights_overview.pdf See Articles 29, 31 and 36 in particular.