Rage against the machine before it's too late

19th March 2010 at 00:00

It was legal to be different in 1976. Making teachers into automated clones was something only Dr Who writers would dream up. Then.

That's why Mr Jackson, my English teacher, all corduroy and leather elbow patches, had no qualms about clambering on to a chair, then a desk, to act out Shakespeare. For a whole week, he performed Romeo and Juliet as we gazed up, fascinated, at this passionate, dramatic man. Naughty Mr Jackson, inspiring kids' imaginations like that.

He did, I should add, teach more traditional lessons sometimes. But, nowadays, intuitive teaching such as Jacko's would get you a job in Lidl quicker than you could say: "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou not abridged for the less able?"

Currently, the pressure to keep the pedagogic and safety-conscious plate spinning squeezes individuality out. Planning plus assessment plus inclusion plus ICT plus HS equals little time for creativity.

You can start off with grand ideas about becoming the new MrMiss Chips but will quickly find out that the sooner you knuckle down, keep to the national curriculum's narrow path and forget all that innovation rubbish, the better. Don't think revolutionary, think robotic.

You may as well, because before long we could all be replaced with robots, if the Government takes its lead from the South Koreans. A dearth of teachers means the Koreans are developing robots to teach the English language. It's early days yet, as one teacher commented on the BBC's World Service: "The robots really sounded like robots, so I wouldn't like my students or anybody to learn that kind of accent or intonation." You can see her point.

But with some fine tuning, it's a real goer, particularly if Labour gets back in. After all, Gordon's new campaign slogan is "a future fair for all", and what better way to achieve fairness and entitlement for each child than to design robot teachers, pre-programmed with starters and plenaries to die for? And, when Mr Chips burns out, and the chips are down, just replace his old chip with a new chip.

Also, robots don't complain. Robots don't ask for more money. Robots could cover much more often. What's more, going back to Dr Who, surely robots were just born to IN-VIG-I-LATE, IN-VIG-I-LATE, IN-VIG-I-LATE.

It will be such a relief to the powers-that-be. Look how exhausting it's been for the poor education ministers, spending their energy pretending that they weren't trying to make us all the same. No wonder they haven't lasted long. This way, they could just be really, really honest (training will be provided).

Last week, in Mr Jacko's honour, I made my sixth-form students stand on chairs to deliver persuasive speeches. They protested, as one: "But, Miss! Health and Safety!"

But they did it. It took courage for some. But it went down a storm, ratcheting up the rhetorical tension a good few notches and making a great point about the power of language.

Thirty years on, it won't be my perfect plenaries they'll remember, that's for sure.

Fran Hill, English teacher, independent girls' school, Warwickshire.

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