Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Book-burning in postwar Britain

Zere goes "Ze Art of Englisch"... !

"Textbooks are dying out in classrooms because teachers see them as 'regimented and old-fashioned', Elizabeth Truss said yesterday.

"The Education Minister said rampant ideology in schools that teaching should be 'unstructured and free-flow' meant just one in ten ten-year-olds are issued with them now."

- Andrew Levy, Daily Mail, today.

There are three reasons why teachers have abandoned textbooks and now labour till all hours of the night to lay the track on which their train will run the next day:

1. Revolutionaries. As I have said before, at the large comprehensive where I used to teach the head of English told me that the last act of the previous incumbent was to put all the English coursebooks into a skip in the playground and set fire to them, thus ensuring that the wicked old way of teaching from that sort of book would be gone for ever. This was in the mid-70s, and when I told this to others I found out that the same thing had happened in at least two other schools, at about the same time. I will bet my pension that, like the man who campaigned for the end of corporal punishment, the people who did this did not stay in the classroom, or possibly even in teaching.

2. Constant curricular change. How is it possible to write a textbook when the course content alters frequently? Every education secretary jerks the tiller in a different direction: grammar exercises, no grammar exercises, phonics, no phonics, Shakespeare, no Shakespeare.

3. Ofsted. Inspectors and advisers - some of whom may have been like those in (1) above, or taught or sponsored by them - not only don't want to see textbooks, they even frown on worksheets. We are expecting an inspection soon and we are told that our lessons will be classed as failing if they are text-based rather than activity-based.

Teacher is a fool. Education is a stupid job for clever people - you have to be clever to do it, you have to be stupid to take it on. Only periodic deep economic recessions and the institutional ageism in the British workplace keep the "profession" supplied, sucking in young idealists and middle-aged bankrupts and keeping them so busy that they fail to escape again.

And goodness know how much (colour, laser) photocopiers cost annually, compared with the wear-and-tear cost of replacing texts in the old days - the days when, as in modern-day China, South Korea etc children were set work to do and did it.

Still, we now get better, technicolour paper airplanes and higher-quality scrap in the recycling bins.

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Paddington said...

Two quick notes:

1. South Korea just moved from electronic texts back to paper, as the results were worse.
2. With the new 'common core', teachers are actually being given scripts, from which they cannot deviate. Should be fun.

Sackerson said...

Common core where? And surely there's some sane middle ground between no-text and firxed-script?

A K Haart said...

For me on the outside, teaching comes across as a very odd profession. At times it seems chaotic yet at the same time, vastly over-regulated.

Paddington said...

Common core is coming to the US. As for your second question, you have to remember that most American thinking is false dichotomy and excluded middle. It's one way or another, not with any shade of grey at all.