Saturday, 8 February 2014

Teach First: Think Later (if at all...)

I have not been watching Tough Young Teachers, despite a a strong interest in the topic, for a number of reasons (like being away a lot, not having a TV, stuff like that).  However, I know that it tracks teachers on the Teach First programme, who are placed in schools after an intensive summer course, and gain their pgce that way, rather than in the more conventional way. 

As they say on their www site: 'We work with primary and secondary schools where more than half of pupils come from the poorest 30% of families in the UK, according to the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI).' Hence the Tough Young Teachers title.  However, what I wish to comment on isn't really related to the fact that this was a Teach First programme, because I think the issues which concern me are more widespread.

As I say, I didn't watch the programme, but I did read Tom (always entertaining and often thought-provoking) Bennett's review of the programme. He wrote, inter alia:
Sex, desire and relationships: one of the most important topics in the human experience. Naturally in schools we make sure it gets taught and discussed in a professional way, with trained specialists and....nahhh, let's just dish it out to whomever's free on the timetable and chuck some worksheets at them. That's bound to be good enough. Poor Nick did something that I have seen so frequently from new teachers that I can only assume they train them to do it in teacher college: he got them to brainstorm all the sweariest words they could. The intention appeared - and always appears - to be to somehow 'get it off their chest' and out of the way. The outcome is, of course, a train crash of [expletives deleted by BT] written on the board as the class literally shake themselves to death with excitement.
 I find this as worrying as Tom does amusing. 

Who could conceivably think that this is a good idea? Even by their own odd notions of education, this is wrong-headed.  What learning objectives does such a filth-fest support? Where is the evidence base that this is a sensible thing to do with a mixed class of adolescents?

The intention, I can only assume, is to signal to the children that we can talk freely about things that are normally embarrassing. Or to put it another way, that we can talk freely about things which modesty and social convention teach us should not be part of normal conversation. Or to put it a third way, to de-sensitise them.

What actually happens, of course, is that the children who know the most risqué and deviant words, and the ones who have been watching pornography, are rewarded. They are the ones who can say the most original things, and (if they are lucky) break through the teacher's assumed nonchalance and provoke a blush or a stammer.

The most depraved kids are thus given the power, permission and platform to corrupt the rest.  The expletives I deleted from Tom Bennett's review included two that I was not familiar with. I really don't need my kids being taught this sort of vocabulary, and still less introduced to the ideas it expresses.

This 'liberal' approach is actually very doctrinaire. Those of us who take seriously our responsibility to preserve our kids' innocence are over-ridden by this ideologically-driven approach. Never mind that we have no TV, teach them custody of the eyes, and so on: at school not only will they be introduced to depravity, but also to the notion that this is all normal and acceptable.

Doubtless, people will argue that we must teach our kids about this; and that I am naive not to realise that most kids are watching porn, and so on.

Yet most is not all, and I do not see why the innocent should be corrupted and the perverse rewarded.

And as I have blogged before (here and going further back in the archives, here) what evidence there is, suggests that even getting them thinking about and discussing sex may increase the likelihood of early sexual experimentation.

My other reflection is how bad this is for the teachers: individually and as a profession. Either they don't want to talk to kids about sex (which is a normal and healthy reaction) and are being made to do so, overcoming any scruples they may have. Or they do want to talk to kids about sex, in which case they are the very last people who should be doing so.


Mulier Fortis said...

The brainstorming rude sexual words technique seems to be standard procedure - I seem to recall it from my own PGCE training days. You're absolutely right - it is designed to break down natural modesty. Get them young, as the saying goes.

torchofthefaith said...

Oddly enough, I was subjected to exactly this approach as a seminarian at Ushaw in the summer of 1999.

All in the group were required to provide a sexual swearword to be written up on the 'whiteboard'. Failure to comply would be seen as a 'formation issue'. We were told it was necessary to 'help us to get in touch with our sexuality'.

At the time I was 27 years old and coming to the end of two years of this 'priestly formation'. Prior to this I had worked for almost 9 years in a high street bank.

It was one of the last days before I finally walked.

By God's grace I'm still a Catholic. In fact all that craziness has deepened my faith - in the true teachings of the Catholic Church that is. Thanks be to God.


Ben Trovato said...

All of which raises the question: is it worse to require adolescents or seminarians to do such a thing?

Answer (I think): No: it is quite wrong in both cases.

Patricius said...

I have been following this series and it is interesting how Nick and Meryl have been "set up". They were identified as "Catholics" in an earlier programme and shown praying together. Meryl has been treated appallingly by the school management- whoever heard of a trainee being issued with a written warning?- for instance. Nick, who appears to have a certain level of self assurance that, I presume, reflects a public school background, appeared to be sailing through successfully and it appears that some spiteful person in management decided that they would land him in this particular class precisely in order to test his mettle - and provide "good television". Although he clearly managed to survive the ordeal I am delighted to see that in the next episode he gives the school management a dose of their own medicine by dumping them for his own - unrelated- reasons.

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks, Patricius,

It sounds as though I will have to get my steam-powered bbc iplayer powered up, and look at the whole series.

Clare@ BattlementsOfRubies said...

Golly. So Nick, the teacher who led this session is a practising Catholic? Jesus wept.

Maria said...

I agree with Patricius . We should not rush to criticise the mistakes of a young person who is just starting out in a very tough but honourable career. This young teacher is openly religious on the programme and this is so often ridiculed nowadays. He is also shown to be resilient, cheerful and kind when faced with very difficult and challenging children. Yes, he does have a lot to learn and he has made mistakes but he is not a qualified , trained teacher . Speaking as an experienced Catholic Teacher , I think Nick will go on to make a wonderful teacher - and we sorely need intelligent , kind, practising Catholic teachers. He is , in many , many ways an excellent role model for young people . He chose to teach in a tough comprehensive even though, as a Maths graduate from Imperial , he could doubtless have chosen to pursue a more lucrative career elsewhere.

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks for your comment, which prompts me to make a very important clarification: my ire is directed principally at the professionals who asked this unfortunate young teacher to conduct this lesson in this way; and behind them the politicians and soi-disant educational experts who impose this kind of sex education on the country. The young teacher (whilst I think he should have known better) was I understand placed in a very difficult position indeed (and from Patricius' comments, I wonder if that was deliberate and indeed malicious!)