Madness dressed as method;Last Word

28th May 1999 at 01:00
CERTAIN new ideas in education make you pause for breath. There was once a proposal that children should lie on the floor while fellow pupils drew round their body outline. The resulting drawing was then supposed to be labelled with the explicit names of body parts. For me and the rest of the beetroot-faced generation of teachers the labels would have read "thingy", "whatsit", or "plumbing".

Now there is a suggestion that if boys dressed up as girls in infant schools it would help improve their literacy. No it wouldn't. It would probably give them a lifelong identity crisis.

I can remember some of my own aspirations at the age of five. Donning a dress, hair slide and sensible round-toed sandals with a buckle was definitely not one of them. Learning to read, yes. Catching a stickleback, yes. Scoring a goal past five-year-old Tony Binns, second in prowess only to the England goalkeeper in our eyes, yes. But cross-dressing did not figure.

In fact, even my dad, who was reluctant to appear in our school, but might have rolled up if it had been burning down, would have overcome his bashfulness in front of professional people and gone in to complain about his lad being turned into a Jessie. He would have been joined by a few hundred others.

I know that boys currently lag behind girls in reading, but adopting one superficial feature of a more successful group and trying to transplant it is not the answer. It is like the naive assumption that children in Pacific Rim countries do better in maths because they sit in rows, so we must do the same, which is about as plausible as suggesting that we eat more rice.

The "take a single feature of a stereotype" explanation of events is completely misconceived. I once heard a university history lecturer propose that some of the more bellicose nations went to war so frequently because they slept on hard beds and never ate a proper breakfast, so they were permanently bad tempered.

The thought that shipping them millions of foam rubber mattresses and plates of bacon and egg might have avoided several gory battles was too hilarious to contemplate.

On the other hand, perhaps we should not dismiss this kind of explanation too readily. Have you noticed that virtually all successful and wealthy businessmen wear a tie? If the many talented women working in business and commerce, whose progress has been barred by prejudice, started wearing a sober striped tie, or one with a badge on it, maybe they would do just as well. Maybe not, if the real reason for success in business is having attended a boys' public school.

Nor should we too easily rule out new ideas in education just because they appear dotty at first sight. Really imaginative proposals often seem bizarre, but it is their unusual nature that makes them succeed where others have failed.

So I've been thinking up some really eccentric wheezes. Scoff not. They may just work.

Here are my top 10 creative and offbeat ideas for obtaining success in the classroom, with a bit of cross-dressing thrown in:

* Always wear skis when you teach Latin.

* Tell your class you are really Alan Shearer if you're a woman (remember to wear a number 9 shirt), or one of the Spice Girls if you're a man (try Scary Spice, or "Terminator Spice").

* Insist that pupils refer to the head as "Marmaduke", even if she's female.

* Explain difficult concepts with your eyes crossed.

* Make children stand on their heads when teaching them about Australia.

* Never use a green Biro for marking work, except in April.

* Dress up as a different Star Wars character every day and sign your name as "Jabba the Hutt" on school reports.

* Quietly hum the Marseillaise while correcting spelling errors.

* Take a baby giraffe into your lessons.

* Dress as a member of the opposite sex during school inspections.

Must dash now and get changed. These tights are killing me.

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