Grace Revisited: It’s time to protect our teaching friends from media misrepresentation

'This looks newsworthy. I must be sure that the reader gets the nuance.'
‘This looks newsworthy. I must be sure that the reader gets the nuance.’

Late in 2014, I read about Mike Stuchbery’s Banter-gate, and wrote a blog in his defence. I was appalled that one teacher’s initiative (to foreground the practice of reframing bullying as banter) could be set in an entirely different light and portrayed as indicative of a wider ‘politically-correct’ conspiracy of word (and by extension, thought) policing.

Mike was doing his job. The tabloid journalists were doing theirs. The fallout for Mike was real.

Now we come to March 2015, and the recent Daily Mail splash about ‘the 300 detentions school’. Tom Sherrington, the Head of Highbury Grove School, is portrayed as a ‘hard man’, courageously cutting the crap and dishing out simple punishment where a more mealy-mouthed administrator might have swept misdemeanour under the carpet.

Only, as we know from his writing, that’s not Tom. The story, as ever, is not so simple. And, to make matters worse, the misrepresentation of Tom has had an impact on him. From now on, he might be a little less forthcoming in talking about what goes on in his school. At best, he will now write and speak with a tiny DM editor on his shoulder, mindful of how this imp might twist his words.

Tom is doing his job. The DM journalist is only doing his job too. The fallout for Tom is real.

I’ve previously called for grace in relation to teaching (from politicians, administrators, and teachers). But graceful journalists? How on earth, in an age of the monetised shock that is tabloid journalism, do we seek to imbue such institutions with qualities such as forgiveness, long-sightedness and adeptness? (Please be assured that I’m not tarring all journalists with this brush – only those that wilfully misrepresent to create ‘heat’.)

A strong counter-voice from the forthcoming College of Teaching will help, but not nearly enough against such an overpowering, perpetual media maelstrom. Rallying around peers such as Mike and Tom will help. If we know that when the hyenas circle, we will be protected by our friends, we’ll be a little more fortified in speaking truth to power.

Sometimes though, if you give a name to something, its power to demean is diminished: hack journalism, sensationalism, paparazzi; such terms exist in order to shine a light on poor practice. Words are magical. With just the right twist of connotation, an idea that was powerfully restrictive can lose its hold – almost evaporate. I’m certainly not naïve enough to think that a single word or phrase could destroy malpractice in journalism; but we could at least soothe ourselves with the thought that we recognised the social crime and took our step towards dealing with it.

So, with that in mind, a graceless journalist who knowingly twists, exaggerates and misrepresents one of our beloved teaching peers is this:

A liar.

Postscript:

If you find evidence of grace in journalism related to education and teachers, name it. Tag it #grace and share it. Let’s celebrate good journalism and protect our teaching friends.

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