“This debate doesn’t happen in schools”

Ah, the good old debate around traditional and progressive philosophies of education. An important debate for some and one that such people tell us has given them enlightenment and understanding about what they do in the classroom.

Except we all know it isn’t important, no matter what they tell us, don’t we? And you know why we know it isn’t important? We know it’s not important because it isn’t a debate that happens in schools. It all plays out on the internet. And of course, things said on the internet aren’t really real. Those aren’t real people telling us this is important to them. They are just floating avatars spewing out the same rubbish day after day. Probably Russian bots or something. We should ignore them. If the trad/prog debate is something we don’t talk about in schools, it’s obviously not important at all.

Okay, that may be an extreme characterisation, but it is the crux of a particular argument: the trad/prog debate isn’t something that happens in schools so it is not important. The fact it isn’t spoken about in schools is largely true. Walk around any school and you’ll rarely see people having this debate. (The lack of the debate will be even more starkly obvious if you don’t actually work in a school: if you’re a consultant and you visit lots of schools, you will be able to report with confidence that in absolutely none of the schools you visit people have had this debate.*)

I think we’re all agreed then. If we aren’t discussing it in schools, it’s irrelevant. It’s unimportant. And if we aren’t discussing it in schools there’s really no validity in discussing it anywhere.

So let’s all agree that the trad/prog debate is an irrelevancy and let’s disregard it.

But if we disregard on this basis, then in the interests of fairness we should all agree that anything we don’t really talk about in schools is also irrelevant and should be disregarded.

So out goes the trad/prog debate. See ya!

But we’ll also need to say goodbye to the mental health of teachers. That can go too. According to this TES article, “The one place you won’t hear much talk of teacher mental health is in schools.” Well, as we all know, not talking about it in schools makes it irrelevant and unimportant, of course. Bye bye teacher mental health!

Another unimportant issue we should disregard is violence against teachers. Again, in the TES: “I think this issue of violence against teachers is actually a taboo in our occupation. We don’t talk about it.” Well if we don’t talk about it in schools, it means it’s not important. Duh.

And our feelings too. We don’t talk about the emotional labour of teaching and the impact this can have, according to the Washington Post.  Who cares? If we don’t talk about it, it’s obviously of no import.

There’s a whole host of other things teachers and commentators tell us “we need to talk about” more in schools : the joy of learning, financial education, the dangers of pornography and sexting, healthy eating… all of these things are unimportant precisely because we don’t have enough conversations about them, right?

It’s a kind of cognitive dissonance that uses “we don’t talk about it in schools” as an argument to disregard some things and suggest they are utterly irrelevant, and yet sees the same “we don’t talk about it in schools” statement as a valid way to highlight that some things are unfairly undervalued.

Of course, I don’t think that any of the things above – mental health, violence, healthy eating, etc. – are unimportant. I think we should be talking about all of them. And I think the same about debates in education – no matter how unfamiliar the debate is to your daily experience, it is still a debate that people are having and to tell them it’s unimportant because it doesn’t happen in other arenas is ridiculous. The first reason/excuse people will give for any of the topics above not being talked about enough in schools is lack of time. Where do we find the time to discuss mental health of teachers, etc? We are so busy, that we just don’t find the time. Well, the same goes for the trad/prog debate. Where in a busy teacher’s day do they have the time to have deep discussions about philosophies of education? Somewhere between getting a cup of tea and going to the toilet before heading back to the classroom to set up their next lesson? Schools aren’t really the place for many topics that need unpicking at length. So what do teachers do if they want to discuss anything they don’t get to delve into in the school day? They use social media. And when they do, they get told: if you aren’t having this discussion in schools, then it’s an invalid discussion here too.

The whole this-debate-doesn’t-happen-in-schools response is an extension of the “you aren’t living in the real world” argument: teachers who debate and discuss the philosophies of education (a debate that has been going on for more than a century, by the way) on Twitter aren’t living in the real world of schools where, as we’ve established, nobody talks about this.

Jeffrey Israel, a lecturer in religion and political philosophy, argues that, amongst other things, the accusation that someone’s opinions aren’t from the real world is narcissistic. He defines narcissistic here as being “characterized by an inability to perceive the lives of others as anything other than examples of one’s own idiosyncratic preconceptions.” In this way, we might see those suggesting that the debate around education philosophies is insignificant (“because it doesn’t happen in real life”) as lacking the ability to attach value to anything that is beyond their own worldview. The debate may not be happening in schools, but it is happening on social media and in blogs and articles and thus it is real and it is significant to the people involved in it and to many reading about it. It might be seen as narcissistic to disregard it on the grounds that it isn’t happening “in real life”.

In fact, there really is no distinction to be made between beliefs held in different domains. Believe it or not, people discussing something on Twitter are real people. As Israel succinctly tells us:

“Everyone who is living is living in the real world.”

And whilst they aren’t having lengthy debates about philosophy in the real world of schools, they are having debates with real people in the shared world of social media.

There are plenty of examples of people who have developed or had their thinking shaped as a result of the debate online. Indeed, I wrote about my own experience last year.

 

Here’s a couple of tweets from real people telling us that the debate changed their minds:

 

Is the debate invalid because these people are choosing to discuss it on social media rather than the staffroom? Are they not living in the real world?

It matters not where the debate is happening. If it is happening, it is real. I am happy to listen to any arguments against the debate, but the argument that it isn’t valid because it doesn’t happen in schools is a very, very poor one that simply doesn’t stand up.

 

(*If you are a consultant and you think that visiting lots of schools and never experiencing something means it doesn’t exist, you are sadly mistaken. You are the least likely to actually experience it as your relationships with the people you come across every day, whilst I’m sure are useful and beneficial to the school and you, are largely of a fleeting nature. The context in which you would be a more able judge of whether something exists in a school is to work at that school. I should also add that you also aren’t privy to the conversations about consultants that undoubtedly happen after you’ve left. They do exist even though you don’t witness them. And they’re always entirely complimentary, of course.)

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An art history of back to school

Ever since I published ‘An art history of school inspections’ a few years ago, studying the way that art has portrayed schools has been somewhat of a hobby of mine. In this post, I’ll take you through the ways that artists throughout time have interpreted that key moment in a teacher’s year: going back to school.

To begin with, one of my favourites is this classic from the Dutch Golden Age by Jan Steen, which depicts teachers in the midst of the summer holidays.

‘Teachers on Summer Holiday‘ (c.1655-65) by Jan Steen

In Steen’s painting, entitled ‘Teachers on Summer Holiday’ (c.1655-65), you can see the teachers really throwing themselves into relaxing. The teachers featured in this painting were very keen to explain that the artist captured them at the moment they were “taking a short break between reading some books, eating healthily and working out at the gym”.

Another painting depicting the leisurely mood of teachers during the holidays is Lucian Freud’s ‘I Might Even Get Dressed At Some Point Today’ (1950-1), shown below. You can tell from the way that the light falls that the moment captured is around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

‘I Might Even Get Dressed at Some Point Today’ (1950-1) by Lucian Freud

The pastel shades and relaxed mood of Freud’s painting is often contrasted, by critics, with the dark ominous colours of Isaac Israels’ ‘One Week In, The First “Back to School” Shop Window Display’ (1894).

‘One Week In, The First “Back to School” Shop Window Display’ (1894) by Isaac Israels

Israels’ somewhat sombre painting shows the portentous moment when the idyll is shattered and the thought of having to go back to work at some point comes crashing down on the teachers stood at the window, as they stare at the display.

Moving on to the painting below, we are introduced to one of the key themes of back-to-school art: school nightmares.

‘The Back to School Nightmares Begin’ (1886-7) by Théodore Roussel

This classic of the genre is Théodore Roussel’s ‘The Back to School Nightmares Begin’ (1886-7). Here, the painter portrays the dream of a teacher in the days just before the autumn term begins. The teacher dreams that she is in the staffroom looking through the staff handbook. He captures the dream in the moment just before she realises that she has forgotten to put any clothes on and will wake up in a state of sheer panic. This particular genre has been the source of many works by a range of artists, notably Bosch’s ‘I Dreamt My Voice Wasn’t Working and None of The Children Were Listening to Me’, and Vermeer’s ‘I Think I Just Said **** In Assembly’.

‘Sorting the Classroom and Putting Up Displays’ (1964) by Richard Hamilton

The above piece of artwork, by British pop artist Richard Hamilton, is entitled ‘Sorting the Classroom and Putting Up Displays’ (1964). A famous piece of contemporary art, it shows the teacher in her classroom in the days before the pupils start back at school. The teacher has spent hours making the classroom look nice and freshening up the wall displays, and here she takes a moment to look around her and absorb the room, disheartened by the knowledge that it will never look quite as nice as this again for the entire year.

As the day of return grows ever closer, such preparations truly begin in earnest, as we can see below.

‘The First Week’s Lunches’ (c.1620-5) Sir Nathaniel Bacon

Sir Nathaniel Bacon’s ‘The First Week’s Lunches’ shows a well-meaning teacher preparing her daily lunches for her return to work. She has optimistically bought lots of vegetables and fruit for various healthy meals, the sheer volume of which suggesting that her intentions are to continue in this vein. Yet the real genius of this painting is in the detail: note how the artist cleverly depicts a look of uncertainty on the teacher’s face, showing us that even she knows she’ll be eating chips from the school canteen by the second week.

There are many paintings that depict the reality of the first day back, but none are more well-loved than George Elgar Hicks’ ‘You Have to Go In, Dear, You’re the Headteacher’ (1863), below.

Woman’s Mission: Companion of Manhood 1863 by George Elgar Hicks

In the painting, the headteacher tries to pretend that it is still night-time by covering his eyes and making it dark. His wife is deploring him to pull himself together and get into work as she is sick of coming home from her tough, high-flying job in the city only to find that he’s been lounging around watching Netflix all day and hasn’t done any of the jobs around the house that he’d promised to do.

‘These Are the New Guys’ 1766 by Benjamin West

The first day back has finally arrived in Benjamin West’s ‘These Are the New Guys’ (1776), which depicts the moment when the school’s new staff members are introduced in the first staff meeting, and the entire faculty stare back at them. The new staff members hang their heads and blush as every current member of staff looks at them, some with a sense of envy at their youth, and some with a sense of pity at what these new guys have let themselves in for.

‘Memories of Empty Roads’ (1998-9) by Julian Opie

Contemporary British artist Julian Opie turns his attention to the daily commute. Opie highlights the misery of sitting in traffic every day by presenting it in relief: ‘Memories of Empty Roads’ (1998-9) cleverly shows us not the gloomy traffic but the clear open roads enjoyed by everyone during the previous six weeks, starkly reminding us all of happier, carefree times.

‘End of the First Week Back’ (1856) Henry Wallis

Perhaps the most famous image in the whole of the back-to-school genre is Henry Wallis’ ‘End of the First Week Back’ (1856). Here, the clothed teacher is bathed in early morning light, showing that he has fallen asleep in his clothes, such was his fatigue. The peaceful look on the teacher’s face is in contrast to the ripped-up paper on the floor, which is the result of various shredded worksheets that he has printed and then subsequently realised are riddled with spelling and content errors, due to his sheer tiredness. One should note that the exhausted teacher shown here is actually positively vibrant when compared to how he will look some eight weeks later.

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of my favourite pieces of back to school art – I’m sure you’ll agree that the genre has inspired some great works throughout the centuries.

 

A Timeline of Literature (with GCSE texts)

The links below will take you to an easy to print version of a timeline of English Literature. Alongside other important moments in English Literature and the English language, it includes the dates of the monarchs of England and Great Britain, key literary and artistic movements, stages of the English language, as well as the dates of production/publication of MacbethStrange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, An Inspector Calls, and the poems from the ‘Power and Conflict’ cluster of the AQA Anthology. Obviously, you can edit these texts to fit with those that your pupils are studying.

The dates of the movements are up for debate, of course, as different commentators will put different dates on these periods. You can change them as you see fit.

You can also add any more key moments to the timeline. I kept it to these as I didn’t want it to get too ‘busy’.

This is for a display of landscape A4 sheets measuring 7 x 4 (28 sheets in total).

This resource takes ideas from displays shared with me over the years by colleagues, so I don’t claim originality.

I’ve included links to an uneditable PDF version, as well as an editable Powerpoint version. If you want to use the editable version, the fonts in use are Gill Sans for most of the text, and Mexcellent (regular) for the literary movements.

PPTX: Timeline of Literature

PDF: Timeline of Literature

If you notice any errors, aside from arguments over dates, please do let me know in the comments below. I’m looking at you, History teachers.

NB. As with any of the resources I share, I stipulate that I don’t give this freely to anyone who chooses to sell resources anywhere online. If you are such a person, I ask you kindly not to download this. Obviously, you can ignore this request as I have no way of monitoring this. But if you do, shame on you for ignoring my request. As for anyone else, thanks for keeping the sharing of resources completely free. You are wonderful people.