Summer relaxation with the opiate of the masses

4th July 2014 at 01:00

. and breathe. It's been a tough and at times overwhelming year for teachers in Scotland. As if workload weren't already an issue, the introduction of Nationals ratcheted things up several more notches. Now the new Highers are looming and local authorities are storing up yet more bad news for the next time they set their budgets.

Education is superficially seen as being about remembering stuff: pupils cramming for exams; teachers recalling hundreds of children's names and thousands of their little foibles; headteachers' bulging craniums storing away the 1,001 things that must be done for the school to run smoothly. Teachers, however, know the importance of forgetting: the psychic rebooting that the summer holidays - at least in theory - can allow.

And so, in a highly inelegant segue, to the Fifa World Cup, which is wielding an iron grip over television screens and any plans to get all those odd jobs done. George Orwell disdained spectator sport as a distraction from more important things, and plenty of contemporary commentators deride it as an opiate of the masses for secular times.

Well, as long as the mental fug of a sports binge is a temporary condition, I'm all for it. The World Cup can occasionally seem sour, with its blunderbuss branding and the craven gamesmanship of the modern game, but it remains a sporting event without parallel in emotional reach. The Olympics are close in scale and drama, but athletics, rowing and dressage are not generally woven into national psyches like football is.

Football is a global lingua franca. I once drank shots in Budapest with a pot-bellied barfly whose non-existent English was a match for my Hungarian. We sustained conversation for 10 minutes through enthusiastic gesticulation and four words: Kenny, Dalglish, Ferenc and Pusks.

Costa Rica and Algeria are nations whose football teams have made waves at this World Cup in a way that their tourist boards and diplomats never could. Beleaguered French president Franois Hollande attempted to demonstrate his common touch by circulating images of him punching the air when the national team scored a crucial goal. The unscripted drama of football, for better or worse, can consume a nation like little else.

And why should any of this matter in educational terms? Plenty of teachers will have piggybacked on the World Cup to fire up reluctant readers, drive a citizenship project or just to spark a bit of end-of-term fun. But perhaps the point is that there isn't a point.

This summer, some teachers will choose a page-turner on the beach, others a trek in the mountains or a simple potter in the garden. And some will embed their posterior into the settee and drink in the football. The new term will come around soon enough. However you do it, enjoy forgetting while you can.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk

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