Teaching In Post-Reality

I never thought I’d hear myself type this, but I don’t really have an objection to our schools having intolerant and inward-looking teachers in the classroom. I just don’t think they would last very long, either as teachers or as intolerant and inward-looking.

One of the great joys of teaching is that it progressively brings one out of oneself and more deeply into the world. You’d have to have adamantine blinkers not to warm to the children around you, regardless of their origins. Spend a couple of weeks in an ethnically-diverse school and you’d soon find yourself in new love with difference.

If, as Suzanne Evans has called for, more ‘good ‘kippers’ found their way into our schools, I don’t think that very much would change. The extent to which a teacher actively seeks to force their politics upon their students is, I suspect, almost negligible in its occurrence and, most likely, against the letter and spirit of teaching standards. For a politician to call for a more politically-representative teaching population is obviously based upon stereotype: how on Earth, in a secretly-balloted democracy, would she know beyond assumption that there aren’t already proportionately sufficient ‘kippers in our schools?!

That said, if your politics is based on fear and a retreat into an imaginary nostalgia of pre-globalisation, I don’t see how you could grow as a teacher. If your role – your central role – is to cultivate young minds, to teach children to read, to write, to ask questions or solve problems, you can’t really do that if there are certain inconvenient truths that you don’t want your students to encounter.

But then, of course, you wouldn’t be a teacher, would you? Oh yes, you’d be called a teacher, hold (if we are lucky) the qualifications required to be a teacher; but really you’d be working within the strict confines of a version of the truth compatible with your vision. You wouldn’t be teaching; you’d simply be telling.

And this is the clear and present danger of our age: not that we are at risk of allowing teachers with a range of perhaps less than savoury political views into rooms with our children; but that we risk reducing the role of teacher to a service-orientation within strictly-defined limits: limits that, most worryingly, may prevent the teaching of debate as a central function in the formation of shared truth.

Our faith in truth as more than a relative abstract is what is at stake. Glyn Davies’s lack of faith in academic expertise exemplifies this. Somehow, lived experience ‘on the streets’ has greater validity than meticulous, peer-reviewed truth-seeking. As a teacher, I have formed anecdotal views on what I feel to be effective in my classroom, but that does not give me a license to barge into the offices of the Education Endowment Foundation and tell them that their meta-analyses of meta-analyses are a pile of poorly-folded and ill-fitting ivory pants!

What divides us is our separation. I am not a relativist and I do have faith in truth as the bedrock of shared reality. However, if our institutions are being challenged on the basis that they are unrepresentative or somehow divorced from reality, we have a duty to take that perception very seriously indeed. If our institutions are having their democratic ideals eroded through successive attempts to narrow the definition of education, we have a duty to take that erosion very seriously indeed. Unless we want to see a myriad of separate and incompatible Monopolies of Truth, we must cherish criticality in the form of debate in our schools.

Let the good ‘kippers, the Trumpists, the Corbynistas and the Bernie Brigade in – on the condition that they teach our children (and theirs) to think, read and write – and come to their own conclusions.

Someone on Facebook shared a meme with me yesterday: something about the abrasion of difference smoothing us like pebbles, allowing us to shine.

I’m not one for such things, but on this occasion, I think I’ll let that truth through.


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