Stephen Petty: “History teachers have the facilitator’s swagger. We economists are second class now.”

8th August 2013 at 18:32

Stephen Petty, head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire, writes:

Another great divide has appeared in education, this time within our own humanities faculty. A once warm and friendly family has been split into two by another peculiar force beyond our control.  
The historians and geographers within our team have got wind of the fact that they alone in the faculty now teach what in England are now officially known as “facilitating” subjects. They are the only teachers in our team deemed to be delivering something with enough substance for serious consideration by the self-proclaimed Russell Group of “top” universities.
While the historians and geographers offer students the prime beef, the rest of us are evidently flogging the dodgy burgers and sausages. They are the royal baby to our royal ***, the “triple A” credit rating to our sub-prime. 
And with the forthcoming A-level league tables now suitably adjusted to allow for this division, we must assume that the traditional front-page photo shoot featuring successful, attractive students will look rather different this year. Any student involved in one of the lesser subjects will presumably be told to smile slightly less and to leave the exuberant leaping to their more facilitated friends.
Given their newfound supremacy, I expect you can imagine how our colleagues in history and geography now deport themselves. With their fine words and flowing gowns, the faculty’s new facilitators rarely even acknowledge our presence in the team room any more, let alone pass the time of day with us.
We all used to do a pub quiz together. We shared pizzas after parents’ evenings. Not any more. For Them, it’s now all about tea with dons and High Table dinners.    
Some of our most vicious facilitators even took to making unkind gestures last term whenever they sauntered past our classroom window. This stuck in the craw even more when the abuse came from a geographer. Do they not remember a time – not so very long ago – when the “colouring-in subject” was the butt of many an idle staffroom joke?
But hardest hit of all have been those in the faculty who happen to teach on both sides of the new divide. In a single school day, they now move repeatedly from facilitating to facile subject and back. This must do their heads in – all that mental stimulation in one lesson and then complete intellectual banality in the next, never quite knowing whose side they are on, the useful or the useless. Some of them will plainly need counselling.
Regardless of their grades, I naturally apologised to all of my economics A-level students on results day for taking them down such a worthless, non-facilitating path these past two years. There was plainly no real depth or challenge in such a course. Compared with funky and facilitating Latin or Greek, it plainly had no relevance. It’s only the economy, stupid.  
I just hope that teachers of other low-grade humanities subjects will make shame-faced apologies. “Business studies”? What use will that be in the real world of, er, business? As for “media studies”! What’s been the point of learning about that in a society increasingly driven by the, er, ever-expanding media industry? Similarly, sociology, politics and religious studies – trifling subjects for a world in need of a better understanding of, er, people, ideologies and beliefs. And the mere fact that I believe all humanities subjects to be “facilitating” presumably just proves my non-facilitating ignorance.


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