There seems to be a lot about behaviour at the moment and I thought I’d add my oar, and boat, to the ocean of arguments.
I think we have a problem with three things in education: pride; shame; and respect. Western culture, and British culture, loves an underdog. In fact, that is the motto written in invisible ink on the Education Bill: Melior est canis dominum. Why is the education system based on this principle? The amount of money, funding and care given to education and especially education in some parts of Britain is criminal. We like people to achieve things despite the odds. Despite the fact that the classroom has a leaking roof. Despite the fact that there isn’t enough money to fund textbooks for everyone. Despite the fact the child rarely has a cooked meal at home.
Western culture is full of this idea of turning something good out of nothing. For a start, we have the ‘American Dream’. The idea that no matter who you are or where you are from will not be a barrier to success. We even have some guy turning water into wine. Everybody is at it. We have loads of celebrities. J.K. Rowling. Richard Branson. Alan Sugar. We love them. Look at these people; they had nothing, but look at them now: they are so successful. They are seen as a measuring stick in our culture. That too could be you. They were the underdog. Look at television and you’ll see that we are inundated with people who are quickly transforming their lives. We do it for normal people. X-Factor. We do it for celebrities. I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. We do it for all kinds of people.
Everybody in society is now an underdog. Everything is a fight. Everything is about challenging the master. The dogs are fighting back. Look at our political situation at home and abroad. The underdog has won. Why has this happened? Well, in part, I think it has happened for the same reasons we have a problem in education. People have been undervalued. They haven’t had a voice or discussion in the political debate. The problem with the ‘underdog’ idea is that everybody then is the victim of something and there is always a tyrannical master to beat. Some Americans felt they weren’t heard and so viewed themselves as victims and turned on their ‘tyrannical’ master.
Our education system tends to echo and embody this ‘underdog’ idea. Treat teachers and students as dogs so therefore only a few will succeed. Treat everyone like a master and you give everyone a chance to succeed. Look at how education has been funded. The best funded areas are doing really well and they are seen as the masters. The underdogs, like my county, are the worst funded regions in the whole of the UK and in comparison they are doing badly. Look at the way grammar schools are being suggested as a new model for teaching. That builds in, officially, a transparent system of master and dogs. It is openly making our education system fit this ‘limited success’ model. Some will succeed. You’re not telling me that the introduction of a grammar school in a town or city will not absorb the best students and the best teachers in the region. What does that leave behind?
Now, we are always compared to other countries and other education systems. It is interesting to see that we have attempted to inherit some aspects of school from other countries. But, the one things we miss is the mind set underwritten behind culture. It is one based on pride and shame. In some cultures, it is incredibly shameful for a child to fail. Alternatively, it is an immense sense of pride for the child, parents and family if they succeed and achieve. They never see themselves as the victim. They see themselves as an important part of their family and culture. Their work is part of their life. What they do in the classroom has ripples in their life? They know those ripples. Their parents know the ripples. The value of education is so important in other countries. Parents know and feel this. Children know and feel this. It isn’t grit and it isn’t resilience; it is a sense of duty, pride.
The problem we have in society is that people don’t see the relevance and importance of education. We have students who walk into a classroom and feel they are owed something. They feel they are automatically in the right. They feel they are the victim of something. They have an emotional detachment to education. The teacher is the master and the student is the ‘underdog’ to defeat the master. The teacher isn’t a person, in their eyes.
Let’s take this principle: your behaviour / work in school will give either shame or pride to your parents and family name. In a way, we need parents to accept the behaviour of their child. I think parents need to express and articulate shame or pride. I think parents and children need to talk about the shame or pride associated with the behaviour of the child. Instead, we have this terrible situation where some parents are on the attack all the time. They attack at every moment. In honesty, they are saving face. They see themselves as the victim, the underdog, against the big nasty masters, teachers.
We are members of the Facebook generation. We are quick to boast and even quicker to attack and criticise something or someone. That sadly has meant that we have very poor self-awareness. Added to this is a lack of connection to the real events. We have created distance rather than connections.
My daughters know that to be sent to the head teacher’s office for their behaviour is the most shameful thing. They know the shame it will bring them. They also know the pride I have about one of them being close to getting a pen licence. They know their behaviour and work in school has an emotional impact and ripples on me, and the family. Could one of the reasons private schools are so success be the fact that students and parents have a clear idea of what is at stake in their education? The children know how much has been spent on their schooling so they know the connection between parent and school.
We need to stop people, students and parents seeing themselves as the victim. We should be a team, working together to enable success. We should discuss the shameful things and build up a student's sense of pride. Pride cannot exist in isolation. You need an awareness of shame to have some sense of pride. This all starts at home.
I am working class and proud; I don’t watch football, smoke or own a flat cap, but I have a working class ethic and attitude. I am never a victim. I am not the underdog; I am a person with a strong sense of pride and a healthy fear of shame. Between those two things, I’d like to think I have created respect. One thing for sure is I never thought that ‘respect’ was a god given right for me. I have always worked hard to earn people’s respect.
Thank you for reading,
P.S. I apologise if the Latin is wrong. I’m working class – you should applaud the fact that I know it is Latin.