Glad to be bald, free and flexible

6th January 2006 at 00:00
I had a friend at university who hated Tom Robinson on account of the song "Glad to be Gay". A liberal well before the rest of us, my pal had no objections to the lyrics. What he resented was the catchiness of the tune.

It was so infectious he found himself unconsciously singing the ditty as he went about his business.

On realising he was doing so, he would fume at what he perceived as yet another barrier, along with a certain portliness and acne, to his ever getting a girlfriend.

I sport what I call a "'Glad to be Bald" haircut. My heid has been buzzed over with a number one clipper, making a defiant "who wants to have hair anyway?" statement. When I do write my protest song, though, it won't be about baldness. It'll be about secondary teaching and the negative view of what happens in the big school.

We teach subjects, not children. We haven't changed our methodology in decades. The things we do in the streets frighten the horses. Our schools are terminally dysfunctional. Only one of these is not based on a genuine quotation.

What bothers me about this view of my colleagues and I is not that it is completely false, which it isn't. It is a generalisation with a core of truth in it. I object to the fact that we are pilloried for doing exactly what the people who make the most noise want us to do.

In a largely top-down education system, secondaries are brilliant at producing people who can go to university to specialise in the subjects they specialised in at school. The fact that many children who do not go on to study literature, French, chemistry or whatever are still engaged and motivated in these classes should be a cause for celebration. Their teachers must be doing something right.

Secondaries are accused of being content-obsessed and of doing little to develop skills. Yet, whenever a survey reveals that 90 per cent of 14-year-olds don't know when the Battle of Auchtermuchty was, headlines scream about falling standards. What if we go the other way and ditch almost all the content? Where's the framework to set the skills in context? Where's the narrative?

So, secondaryphobics, if you don't like what we do, give us something different to aim for. And don't make it a target. I recently came across the quotation that if you give people targets, they will achieve them even if it means destroying the system in the process.

Give us a bit of freedom, a bit of flexibility. Let us hang loose, doing some learning for the hell of it. You don't have to be a secondary teacher to sing this song, but it helps.

Gregor Steele doesn't know when the Battle of Auchtermuchty was, either.

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