'Make pupils more human'

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
RC schools quote Holocaust survivor to counteract harmful league table obsession. Graeme Paton reports

"I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths".

This is not the sort of introduction most new teachers expect on their first day in the job. But the passage, taken from a statement made by a survivor of the Holocaust, will welcome more than 50 new recruits to schools in a Roman Catholic diocese next week.

Diocesan officials say the warning, which accompanies an introductory letter by Frank McDermott, director of schools at the Hallam diocese, is necessary because schools have become obsessed with league tables at the expense of "nurturing our pupils towards human wholeness".

Mr McDermott said: "We have got to make sure that we are offering education to the heart and spirit - as well as the mind."

The letter will be sent to all new teachers and support staff - irrespective of their faith - joining the 55 primary and secondary schools in the diocese, which covers parts of South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

It says that Roman Catholic schools offer a "genuine alternative to other good schools", because children "experience love, hope and justice on a daily basis within a community rooted in Christ".

The letter goes on to enclose a powerful passage by an unknown Holocaust survivor, quoted in the past by Haim Ginott, the Israeli-born psychologist, at the beginning of his book Teacher and Child (see box right).

Mr McDermott, who said the passage reflected a "very Catholic view of education", said all newly-qualified teachers were also invited on a visit to the Beth Shalom holocaust memorial centre near Newark, Nottinghamshire, at the end of their induction year to reflect on their work.

Headteachers from the diocese are encouraged to take "sacred" sabbaticals visiting, among other things, religious sites.

And the diocese has created a garden in the grounds of Our Lady of the Assumption parish church, Doncaster, where teachers and other school staff can go for a day to share "prayer and stillness, reflection and appreciation of nature". Nine such days were offered by the diocese to staff in the last school year.

Mr McDermott said: "Because of the publication of league tables, schools have moved towards a more narrow focus of education.

"That worries me and I think something like this is needed to remind teachers that education is about making our children more human - not just getting them to the next level of a test."

Ellen Pitman, 25, a newly-qualified teacher and practising Catholic, starts work at St Catherine's primary school in Sheffield next week.

She said: "Schools are about so much more than league tables. A lot of the problems children experience in the home are dealt with by teachers and school staff - I was fully aware of that before I decided to enter the profession.

"I have appreciated the approach of the Hallam diocese in that respect. I feel fully supported and prepared."

Marilyn Mason, education officer for the British Humanist Association, said: "Everyone wants our schools to produce better citizens. I would query if that was a distinctly Catholic take on education."

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk


Dear Teacher,

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness: Gas chambers built by learned engineers.

Children poisoned by educated physicians.

Infants killed by trained nurses.

Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.

So I am suspicious of education.

My request is:

Help your students become more human.

Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.

Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

Source: unknown survivor

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