Rebels lose their causes

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
It happened to punk rock, alternative comedy and even to cricket connoisseur Sir Mick Jagger. Society has a habit of eventually institutionalising its radical and rebellious fringes - and I suspect we teachers play a key, if unwitting, role in that process.

In trying so hard to "connect" with our young people's irrational and unkempt cultural hinterlands we surely do more than most to drain away the very edge, energy and madcap spontaneity that we seek to embrace. We borrow their language, don the clothes and occasionally pierce the requisite body-parts but all it does is to drive youngsters into anxiously seeking out something else.

The "vagaries of fashion" is a nonsense notion. Fashion follows one golden rule: if teachers have started wearing, saying or singing it, it's time to move on. In fairness, our role here is not entirely futile. We are inadvertently keeping the fashion and music industries rocking and rolling all the way to the bank. And by unintentionally protecting the social and political fabric from any seriously sustained revolution, we are probably saving ourselves from countless new educational initiatives courtesy of some new hoodiehip hop coalition government.

Sadly the instinct to institutionalise has now got completely out of control down our way. Staff are now even institutionalising themselves.

Consider this typical tale. A teacher here began last year to mail a small number of teachers every Thursday. The note challenged them to undertake the same discreet, stupid and inexplicable activity throughout the following day. It was called "the Friday challenge" and for many months our end of week had a wonderfully weird dimension. Challenges included "never being seen more than a metre from a wall", "relevantly having a go at Denmark in each lesson", "wearing a colleague's clothes for the day".

Nothing too obvious, mind - important to retain some dignity and gravitas in front of a dodgy class.

Then a familiar thing happened. Increasing numbers joined in and so now this once secret, quietly subversive movement is virtually part of the school's development plan. The staffroom committee have taken it over and effectively turned challenge into directive. The weekly staff newsletter now contains boldly-typed instructions such as "next Friday is orange".

Managers with four responsibility points have been mailed for new, zany suggestions - which says it all of course. So the Friday challenge, needless to say, is now dying. It's no one's fault. We just cannot help ourselves.

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