Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Parental choice

You don't teach for forty years (at least not in the kind of schools Malcolm did) without knowing there are two types of truly-frightening extreme parenthood:
  • the lot who are likely to beat their child for not excessively over-achieving;
  • the lot who are likely to beat the teacher for not exalting mediocrity or worse as something admirably spectacular.
Sadly, too, between those extremes one can find a dithering mass of incompetence and ignorance, often compensating for their feelings of inadequacy by either spoiling or neglecting, when talking and relating would be ample.

It is axiomatic that schools cannot be separated from the prevailing social climate and conditions, much as government statisticians and league-tablers might demand the opposite.

Which is why the arcane art of "turning a school round" has to involve parents in a big, big way.

Thus Malcolm's superficial observations in reading a nice Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post.

Richard Cohen considers the sad story of Phoebe Prince.

New readers start here:
Phoebe Prince was born in Bedford (that's Bedford, England). At the age of two, she was removed with her parents to Fanore, in the County Clare. Last autumn, at the age of fifteen, she started at South Hadley High School, near Springfield, Massachusetts. As the "new girl" she was on the receiving end of consistent, concerted bullying attacks, involving racism, sexual slurs and a full-blown Facebook campaign. On 14th January this year she was walking home: she had a can thrown at her from a passing car. This was the last straw: she hanged herself in her wardrobe. Even then the Facebook campaign continued.

In the aftermath all kinds of other blame was laid: the school authorities had been informed, and did nothing, the school nurse and counsellors had not acted ...

Last week six named students (four still at the school) were indicted as adults on a range of counts, from two charges of rape, through the usual paraphernalia of civil rights accusations, to harassment and stalking. Three more unnamed students were charged as juveniles.
Now we come back to Richard Cohen's powerful opinion piece. He takes us through much of the above, neatly appending it to William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Then he arrives at the key point:
You will notice that in all the finger-pointing -- the students, the teachers, the administrators -- not a digit is aimed at the parents. Their children are accused of hounding a classmate to death and the parents apparently knew nothing. Not only that, they are somehow not expected to know anything. The teachers are supposed to know what's going on. The principal. Maybe even the school nurse. But the parents? No. They're off the hook.
There is no point in fisking Cohen in detail: go and read the original. It is fair and balanced, and asks of all of us a load of questions we may not all want to consider.

Malcolm. though, sees one sentence worth broadcasting loud and widely:
We fail schools but never parents.

As we go into the UK election campaign, we have Mr Gove's well-intended, but totally useless programme for schools.

In its short form it consists of just four paragraphs, just 233 words.

It indites politicians and bureaucrats. It uses numerous abstract concepts: opportunity, social mobility, accountability, prestige, attainment ... It checks world league tables, standards (thrice), the curriculum (twice), exam(s) (twice), as well as violence, truancy, keep(ing) order. Teacher/ teaching profession get four mentions: children just the one (as know the children's names), and pupils just one.

Spot (as Richard Cohen undoubtedly would) the missing word.

And the final irony?

The Tory education programme is appended to the notion of "Broken Britain", which Mr Gove recommends we mend it in part by:
the kind of reforms that have worked so well in countries like the USA.
For the purposes of Gove's thesis, it is necessary to regard South Hedley as ... where? Sphere: Related Content

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