Cities - why I love 'em

24th March 2000 at 00:00
Ted Wragg pines for the fumes and fumes at the critics

I love cities. I know it's fashionable to hate them and that London, like New York, will be fine when its finished, but I was born in a city and I like the bustle.

The countryside is fine on a Sunday afternoon. But after five hours of pure air, I get withdrawal symptoms. My lungs start to pine for the diesel fumes.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I am fed up with the constant attacks on city children, city teachers and city schools. Of course urban children can be a handful. That is why, apart from the odd psycho, they are fun to teach.

The city is also a rich environment. Anyone who has ever assembled an "urban trail" will know what I mean. Drawing up a mystery tour for a class of children past neglected pigeon-spattered statues (its only a Boer war hero), churches, historical taverns, clock towers, old factories, docks, landmarks, museums, art galleries, theatres, halls belonging to this group or that, allows us to see what has been under our noses for years.

Sadly some cities have pulled down their best bits; but what about the industrial estate, often full of little businesses alongside the branches of national giants? There's acres of work in a large supermarket or DIY store alone: labels (language), goods, organisation, foods (calories, nutritin, diet), other goods, layout and display, maths, English, urban geography (location).It is wise to get permission to tramp round with a class first, otherwise the manager thinks you have organised a mass shoplifting operation and calls the police.

The constant rubbishing of inner-city heads and teachers is a scandal. There are indeed some underperforming schools, but many heads and teachers have done brilliantly against all the odds, working in peeling slums, surrounded by decay. It is gratifying that the new OFSTED report on city schools recognises this.

In one of our research projects at Exeter University we interviewed a head who had planted bulbs and bushes that were regularly stolen, and often came to school to find yet another break-in. In the school yard lay a dead rat and children speculated whether it had been shot, or simply keeled over in the foul air.

Yet each day he and most of his colleagues returned to face the challenge. Teachers in tough city schools should have national hero and heroine status, and not be seen as scapegoats for decades of neglect.

Anyone who thinks teaching in these schools is simple should try it, there are plenty of vacancies. Bring your own body armour, riot shield and kalashnikov? No, patience, imagination and a hefty degree of commitment will stand you in much better stead.

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