Saturday, 5 February 2011

The bell is a message for me, not for you.

I quite enjoyed school, mainly because I derive a great deal of enjoyment from learning stuff. It makes me smile. Even as an adult, being shown things I had no comprehension of and being shown how to do or use it can still induce a fit of excited giggles. I really like learning stuff.

But, you may also be surprised to know that I could be a right pain in the arse at school as well. I have a habit of asking inconvenient questions like 'why do you say that?', 'why is it not done this way?', what difference does it make if I wear a tie or not, will it have any influence over the speed or depth of my learning?' I was annoyed by stupid rules which made no sense, or imposed inconveniences which seem to benefit nobody. When I was in the 5th year (is that year ten in new money?) I grew a beard, a beard you could lose a badger in. It didn't say I couldn't in the rules, so I did it, it annoyed quite a few people.

When in the sixth form I went to visit some family friends in Washington state during term time. The head of sixth form tried to carpet me for going out of school in term time without permission. I pointed out that I was in the sixth form because I chose to be, not because the law required me to be in education so where was the beef?

I turned 18 in the sixth form, and was subject to an attempted bollocking for pissing off home at lunchtime once a week because I had no lessons in the afternoon (this was a school, not a college), I pointed out that had I been in a college it wouldn't have been an issue. It was, I was told, for my own protection, that the school had a duty of care for my welfare. Which expired when I ceased to be 17, I explained.

I was an intransigent, obstinate, yet polite, annoyance. I think they were quite pleased when I pissed off to university. I steadfastly refused to do what I was told unless I could be provided with a reasonable explanation as to why certain rules were in place. 'Just because', or 'Because we say so' was never going to cut the ice.

Even now when I read stories like this about the imposition of ridiculous rules in schools it makes me bristle:

Dozens of pupils were sent home from a city secondary school this week - for wearing the wrong kind of shoes.

Around 100 pupils at Cardinal Newman Catholic School were sent home on Monday with a letter for parents explaining boots, trainers and pumps were banned.

Disgruntled parents claimed as many as 400 pupils had fallen foul of the footwear crackdown, but the school insisted the figure was nearer 100.

Why? What bloody difference does it make what sort of footwear someone wears?

I've heard the arguments over uniform for years, and I've never been convinced about them. There's the preparation argument; wearing an acceptable mode of clothing will give the child an understanding of what will be expected when they enter the world of work. And yet, the shcools will send kids out who are functionally illiterate and innumerate. How is that useful perparation? They can tell you when Eid is, quote chapter and verse on global warming, or tell you what it was like to be an Aboriginal child in the horror of the stolen generations, but they can't write a letter, construct an argument or balance a cheque book. But hey, they'll be able to pick out a nice pair of shoes (imitation leather, to avoid offence to others, naturally).

Then there's the argument about fairness and bullying; if you don't have a uniform then the poorer kids will be subjected to bullying because they don't have the latest or coolest kit. Well, bollocks. Firstly, there may well be kids who can afford it, but just couldn't care about the shallow materialism. Secondly, and this is a point illustrating an awful lot about what is wrong with this country today, how about actually dealing with the problem of bullying? Merely removing one focal point of bullying will just move the gaze of the bullies from one subject to another or one item to another. Any headteacher who tells you bullying isn't a problem in their school is either a fool or a liar. Don't remove the opportunity to bully, remove the bully him or herself. Teach a worthwhile lesson. That lesson is not 'Conform!', that lesson is 'your actions have consequences, you acted in such a fashion, here is the consequence'. Schools all over Europe and north America seem to survive quite happily without a uniform policy, why should the UK be any different?

My mind goes back to my term-time trip to Seattle. I was given the impression that those lessons were gone, irreplacable. I'd taken the trouble to speak to the teachers beforehand, to see what I would be missing out on and how to catch up. I think one of the problems was that I'd done it off my own back, rather than asking for permission and having some plan drawn up for me. Going away in term time, to see a foreign country, and to spend a good deal of time kicking around on the University of Washington campus with the daughter of the family friend who studied there was an education in itself, but I was made to feel it was an act of heresy. And yet, schools will send kids home, missing these vital, never to be repeated lessons, because they're wearing the wrong shoes? Really? I'm calling bullshit, it means either the lessons aren't all that important, or the school feels its arbitrary rules are more important than the education the teachers are paid to dish out. Which is it?

Not only is it dress code which gets educationalists juices flowing, there are other ways to get the authoritarian beating stick out, another method of teaching the kids that the most important lesson they can learn is to simply do as they are told, all throughout their lives.

New search powers being given to schools over mobile phones are more suitable for terror inquiries, human rights pressure group Liberty says.

England's head teachers will be allowed to search for phones without consent in a bid to combat cyber-bullying.

The Education Bill, to be debated in the Commons next week, also allows heads to delete data from the phones.

The government says heads asked for the powers and will be expected to use them sensibly.

What. The. Hell?
Search without consent? Just wait for the kiddie fiddling claims.

Delete data from the phones? Uh-uh. Not even the police can do that. If my kid is being cyber-bullied, I want the data retained, because I'm going after the little shit.

Heads asked for the powers? Did they know? Is there anything else they asked for? Will you give that to them? In my experience headteachers are used to being kings of their castles, I used to have regular contact with teachers, outside of schools but on school business, and they love to stamp their feet and make demands of everyone, expecting to be obeyed by all. They quite upset when it doesn't happen, and are not used to hearing the word no, not unlike many of their charges, really. Will they use the powers sensibly? Some won't. Once again, go after the bullies, not the tools of the bully.

I don't like this. The problem with giving people authoritarian tools of control is that they will use them. And then seek to expand them.

Finally, when we do get someone who absolutely tries to do the best for the kids, she gets pilloried, insulted, smeared and sacked. Anna Raccoon has the latest quest she is on. Please do pop over and read about it.


Call me Infidel said...

The issue of school uniforms reducing bullying doesn't hold water either. At my school we had one unfortunate lad who earned the epithet "slasher" on account of his pissing himself on the first day. This poor bastard came from a family with very little money and his second hand, worn out blazer indicated this only too clearly. The more well to do lads and lasses could afford to be kitted out in better quality uniform. Better shoes etc. So the uniform preventing bullying argument has never impressed me.

SadButMadLad said...

Also pop over to Anna Raccoon to donate a few squids towards a fund for Carol Hill to pay for the money she was denied in he compensation.