Military methods and making connections

13th January 2012 at 00:00

Announcing you want the army to sort out school kids is a reliably popular tactic for politicians. It plays well with the press, evoking images of sergeant majors screaming at troublemaking teens, then forcing them to drop and do press-ups.

Parents also seem to approve of greater army influence in schools. A National College poll found that parents believed military officers were better suited to becoming headteachers than doctors, lawyers and even school governors.

The notion that pupils would benefit from more military discipline is certainly not a new one. For example, on several occasions in the last century politicians have suggested that combined cadet forces would fix behaviour problems in schools - a proposal TES wearily dismissed in 1916 as "unsound on many besides educational grounds".

However, schools can still learn a great deal from the military. Not only have the armed forces found ways to train some of the most challenging and disaffected teenagers, they have also produced some fantastic teachers.

You can see this if you shadow one of the SkillForce teams of ex-military personnel working in British schools. They provide practical, hands-on lessons, instead of marching pupils back and forth across the car park.

You can also see this in the work of former US Marine LouAnne Johnson, whose book, My Posse Don't Do Homework, was turned into Dangerous Minds. In the film, Michelle Pfeiffer was shown inspiring pupils with Bob Dylan lyrics - but this utterly missed the point. In reality, Ms Johnson had won pupils round by teaching lessons based on rap, exploring the lyrics of groups such as Public Enemy.

So, the skill that impressive ex-military teachers have is not one that is unique to the armed forces. It's one all great teachers develop. And it's not the ability to impose martial law or bang troublemakers' heads together - it's empathy.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw

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