Disease of affluence

7th July 1995 at 01:00
A Summer Plague: Polio and its Survivors. By Tony Gould. Yale University Press #163;19.95. - 0 300 06292 3.

It was in the summer of 1916 that Infantile Paralysis first struck America. Panic, much like the moral panic which accompanied outbreaks of tuberculosis and Aids in different eras, broke out as well.

In the long decades before the gastro-intestinal route of infection was established, polio seemed to strike at random. Worse, it struck at clearly middle and upper-middle class children and young adults: the very ones whose parents strove to create a protective environment.

Now we know that poorer, dirtier children had developed more immunity; then, it seemed almost as if polio was sent to try those very qualities of patient endurance and striving for achievement which survivors of polio came to embody.

Tony Gould has written a painstaking, wide-ranging survey of the onset of polio in the western world, the hunt for the competing vaccines developed by Jonas Salk (the most famous) and Albert Sabin (whose vaccines are now mostly used), and the lives of the survivors.

Ironically, once the vaccines were in wide use and the disease ceased to strike at the pride and joy of the middle-classes, those who had been severely affected dropped out of public affection. They no longer represented anything to be afraid of. Even the famous March of Dimes launched by Franklin Roosevelt's lieutenant, Basil O'Connor, no longer raised money for polio victims and FDR's resort of Warm Springs closed down. Yet there are many polio survivors still around, of whom Tony Gould is himself one.

Their stories, which form the second half of the book, make fascinating reading, from the articulate likes of Ian Dury to the moving tales of respiratory sufferers, who have spent a whole lifetime unable to move a muscle. They also raise a scary spectre, that of post-polio syndrome. Something, no one knows what, seems to attack people who had polio 20, 30 or 40 years later. And just when they felt they had really sorted something out.

Polio still attacks a million people a year, 10 per cent of whom will likely die. But they are in India or China, so we do not know about them. For us, the Crippler, whose shadow loomed over so many water parties of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, is banished. The only cases reported in Britain in the last decade have been (very few) from reactions to the (Sabin) vaccine or from immigrants from the Indian sub-continent.

Before we breathe too deep a sigh of relief, Tony Gould's compassionate account is well worth reading to remind ourselves how important those few drops on a sugarlump are. For every FDR whose strength and humanity were the more from the suffering and powerlessness he endured from the disease, how many young husky players were struck down or condemned to live in an iron lung?

Even with the support groups, the drive to succeed and the strong family networks of many survivors, the comments of Paul Bates, who contracted the disease as a young serviceman in Malaysia, still ring out: "To have polio is to do nothing for yourself; to have polio is to fight with a disease which would, if it could, rob you of your ability to do anything, presenting you with each 24 hours as a barren waste with no choice but to endure them ..."

John Tomlinson on the impact a goddess has on teaching today. Issues in Mentoring. Edited by Trevor Kerry and Ann Shelton Mayes. Routledge and Open University #163;12.99. 0 415 11681 3.

Mentor and mentoring have become the education buzz words of the 1990s. Everyone is either doing it or having it done to them - and often both. Here is a profession which politicians have tried to control and cripple, fighting back, creating and sharing professionalism in action and critique.We may all, for a time, play the goddess Athene, in her disguise as the Ithacan nobleman Mentor, and counsel the young Telemachus.

The idea that there is a professionalism of teaching which can be analysed, conveyed and developed in action and discourse is at the heart of the notion that mentoring is possible and beneficial. As a relationship or process it may therefore be applied to the student teacher, the newly qualified, the long-experienced or the new or experienced headteacher.

The practice of mentoring has thus arisen in many settings and the varied practitioners are now reaching out towards one another. From being a commonplace for generations in the training of Her Majesty's Inspectors, mentoring is now applied to the whole life-period of professional development.

It is thus predicated upon propositions that can helpfully be formulated and developed and processes that can be exposed while avoiding routines. Analysis may remain at the level of lists of (asserted and unargued) competences or rise to refined discussion of theory-in-action and action-in-theory, of ways in which we may grow in craft wisdom and remember that teaching is a value-laden activity.

Issues in Mentoring attempts to pull together the whole of this agenda. In the usual style of the Open University Readers, the editors have selected writing already in print, placed it in conceptual framework and, valuably, linked their sections with commentary. Three essays on the theme Concepts of Mentoring are followed by eight on Mentoring in Initial Teacher Training, four on Mentoring in Induction Training and seven on Mentoring and Assessment.

Two useful essays that did not quite fit anywhere else are put in a section called Mentoring: Professional Development and Institutional Aspects. In fact it is possible that this aspect, how to make mentoring an embedded whole-school activity, is now the most important of all, and the one least understood and practised.

The feelings one is left with having taken in this selection of essays are mixed but optimistic. Policies that were criticised at their introduction (and no doubt contain other malign features) have directly or indirectly required teachers in school to think about the nature of teaching and observe and assess other teachers. Licensed and articled teacher schemes, the emphasis on school-based pre-service training, the removal of the probationary period, teacher appraisal and schemes to train heads and deputies have all had this effect.

In consequence a period of unprecedented top-down regulation through national curriculum, pupil assessment, local financial management, Office for Standards in Education inspections and league tables has also contained a thread of the profession qua profession thinking and doing something central to professionalism. Mentoring in its various settings has been the vehicle for this. Its value has been attested: an Oxfordshire head said about teachers in his school who had mentored pre-service students : "In terms of professional development it's the very best thing that has happened to them"; and I recently heard the head of a secondary school in Coventry say something equally forceful to the head of the Teacher Training Agency.

So there is an opening here to help individual teachers and schools to get on the move. It may prove even more potent for the movements for curriculum development, school effectiveness, school improvement, organisational development and many others, simply because it bears on the individual teacher in a way that is visible, requiring open and recorded relationships with others. If it is so important, we should try to get it right, and not the least value of this collection of essays is the way in which problems of both theory and process are faced. Perhaps the major discomfort in the role of mentor and the relationship of mentor to mentee is the issue of assessment.

Some indeed argue that one cannot be supporter, counsellor and friend while also judging. But that is now a minority view, if maintained at all. The profession has realised that their relationships with other adults as mentees are in the same category as those with pupils or students, where the element of assessment is essential because, done properly, it is formative. But that raises questions of the criteria for assessment and how notions of competence can be made to contain or have placed alongside them notions of value.

Here an essay by one of the editors and Bob Moon which describes the approach of the Open University on integrating values into the assessment of teachers in initial education and training is especially good. We are grateful for education and training. It allows the argument to move from the Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education list of competences which a British Education Research Association paper of 1992 condemned as "a conceptual mess" to something much richer and which reflects the span of thinking among the practitioners of initial teacher education rather than the crabbed conceptions and prejudices of some of those given fleeting authority over it.

The collection is also honest in revealing that much progress still needs to be made in generalising good practice in training and organisation for mentoring. It is a stressful and time-consuming activity and yet the tangential nature of its development has often left it under-resourced and "bolted-on" rather than embedded. The ideas and reports in this collection will prove enormously valuable to those in schools, local education authorities and universities who are working at making things better. Because we have read it all before, there is no new wisdom; but it is a splendid account of what for the moment is our received wisdom.

John Tomlinson is director of the Institute of Education, University of Warwick.

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