People who need feelings

8th September 2000 at 01:00
FOR TEACHERS living in Edinburgh, the trauma of a new session is magnified by the peculiar timing of the Festival, and I'm still confused by the Festival director's recent claim that its starting date was calculated to enable more schoolchildren to be involved.

Thankfully, in my middle age, I'm well past the frantic four-in-a- night pursuit of the more extreme Fringe presentations, but I do still try to keep a professional interest in the Book Festival.

This year, I managed to catch Willy Russell's visit to Charlotte Square. I've always felt an affinity with Russell; we speak with similar accents and, like him, I've been accused of sentimentality in my views on education.

Readers will know that from Our Day Out, through Educating Rita to Shirley Valentine and even in the highly successful stage musical, Blood Brothers, Russell has pursued the line that many ordinary folk fail to achieve their potential because society, in various ways, robs them of the opportunity to make the most of their talents.

Frequently, Russell identifies effective and accessible education as the crucial ingredient that will allow people to flourish. His reading from his forthcoming novel suggested the theme remains the same.

Coincidentally, I am also currently reading Daniel oleman's book Emotional Intelligence. This is a fairly trendy source in educational circles at present, but, in much the same way as Das Kapital, it's a work that many quote but few have actually read.

From its opening quotation from Aristotle, to the effect that it's easy to be angry but the trick is getting the timing, the manner and the target of the anger correct, it seems to me to have a lot of relevance to the way we teach.

Goleman suggests that the "logical" side of our brain will work things out in much the same manner as a computer: it will lead to "right" decisions, logically, but not necessarily the "correct" decisions for the situation in which we find ourselves. To make "good" decisions in context, we need the "emotional" input, which will temper logical outcomes with the memory of former experiences and consequences.

Clearly this has a major resonance for the way in which our pupils learn, and the manner in which we should approach our teaching.

I'm delighted to find psychology appears to support my gut instinct that feelings are vital in the classroom. However, I believe the rallying sign on my office wall, from Educating Rita, puts it a little more snappily. Whether teaching or learning: "We should all be singing better songs!"

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