Saturday, 17 August 2013

Prejudice and belief in education

When I started University in 1969 I had been reading about and arguing about education for about four years.

I had been at a Grammar School and my younger brother had won a place at a Direct Grant Public School via the 11+ system. Our father became a junior school head teacher and our mother was a secondary teacher, mostly working with troubled children. Both had come from working class backgrounds in the pre-war years. My brother and I talked and argued a lot about education. He hated his Direct Grant School but liked one or two of the teachers. I was bored with the dullness of my Grammar School teaching but I enjoyed the trips, the sport and the friendships. Neither of us learned a lot at school but we both read a lot and followed current affairs. We were both impressed by the film "If", with Malcolm McDowell playing the part of ourselves. I read things like John Holt's "How Children Fail" and A.S. Neil's "Summerhill". We both read Oz magazine and were interested in the progress of the Cultural Revolution in China.

At University I was a fringe participant in the radical politics of the time. I'm pictured near the front of the march in The Guardian's picture. Reading sociology in my university courses I became more informed of the background to the comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education that was well underway and I decided to make education my career. I was inspired by Nell Keddie and Michael F.D. Young who led some teaching on our Part II courses and I read a lot more about structures and theories of schooling and curriculum. I was influenced (but bored) by structural studies of social mobility but I read the damning survey evidence of how arbitrary the 11+ had been. I was more excited by Erving Goffman's analysis of total institutions (including Public Schools) and wider questions of the social nature of knowledge.

I then trained as a teacher and moved north to Darlington where I moved into another council house and spent five years teaching the supposedly least able children on a Darlington housing estate. I went on eventually to teach A Level to (mostly working class) sixth formers in East Middlesbrough. I did a Masters Degree in Research Methods when I was there and started to use research to improve the way I worked. "The Public School Phenomenon" by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy impressed around this time.

As years went on I moved to the University of Leeds where I did research in new developments in teacher education, worked on research into new kinds teaching using what became the world wide web and did some teaching for the Open University. I met a lot of teachers during this period. I ended my days at Leeds working on collecting and indexing educational research literature for the University Library. This entailed a lot of reading and attendance at national and international educational research conferences.

At the end of all this, in retirement, my basic values remain unchanged. I inherited my parents' socialism (a socialism that included reading the Daily Telegraph and pretending to support the status quo to act as devil's advocate to whatever nonsense I was talking at any one period). I still retain no respect for Public Schools as a part of national life and believe that if they could be wound up it woudl be a very good thing. However, I am happier than I was in 1967 that my attitude is more consistent with good evidence and my own lifetime in education.

I can see that lots of the people who disagree with my outlook on egalitarianism through education have wide knowledge and experience that leads them to different views. I'm happy with that and see prejudice as irrelevant in both their case and mine. We see evidence differently. They see justice in one child rising to wealth and power through ability, I see the injustice of the same long queue with a majority of children still getting short shrift. We have both judged on what we experience and see. Neither are what we might call "prejudiced". We have different values.

Today I wrote two tweets in response to something else I had read in Twitter 140 characters in each one to indicate my current belief.

  1. The Public School & Oxbridge alumni have been disproportionately represented in leadership of the many failures of our national institutions
  2. Is it worth saying, for old times sake? Public Schools and Oxbridge are a blight on society. The stultifying machinery of social immobility.