What's in a name?

20th October 2000 at 01:00
Give your class a learning experience, not a label?

Thank you, Lennon, for a wonderful assembly. Now, I would like Bacharach to leave first, please, followed by Fitzgerald and Gershwin. In the meantime, will Prokofiev and Abba show me how nicely they can sit still?" No, this is not a game in which you choose your favourite musicians from any period and culture, but the headteacher of an Islington primary school trying to organise an exodus from the school hall. This year, the classes are named after musicians. Last year it was children's authors; the year before, endangered species.

With all due respect 0 to John Lennon, the names can't all belong to Dead White Males, so as usual the selection is studiously multicultural and feminist.

It embraces Bob Marley as well as the 16th century composer Thomas Morley (confusing for the mother who has a child in each); the African singer Miriam Makeba and Leonard Bernstein. Interestingly, though perhaps not significantly, only two of the 15 musicians are English. Six are American.

Overwhelmingly, they represent popular culture rather than anything stuffy or traditional. Thse points have been noted, with varying degrees of approval, by some of the parents. This being media-conscious Islington, the words "dumbing down" have even been used.

Well, snigger if you will. There is, after all, nothing wrong with the convention of naming infant classes after colours, and giving junior classes the teacher's initials - 3S for Mrs Smith's class, and so on.

It's less work for teachers, less confusing for everyone, and arguably less unsettling for the children than having to learn a new set of unfamiliar labels every year.

However, if you can only come to terms with the thought of standing up in front of 300 children and saying: "Will the Tamarinds PLEASE stop fidgeting," there is some value in the practice of giving classes unusual names.

They expand children's horizons. They transform strange and possibly alienating names into familiar terms that are used every day. And they give children a sense of ownership in the lives and work of people they might never otherwise have noticed.

For the teacher, the labels become pegs on which all sorts of learning can be hung.

"A Rose"

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