Saturday, May 03, 2008

Nasty little notion - rant alert!

It’s not often that my jaw hits the floor these days. I feel like I’m often existing in some bizarre Orwellian nightmare when I listen to the pronouncements of the great and good. Let’s face it, when people vote for Boris Johnson in large numbers (because they think a public school educated bigot acting the clown is funny?) the world can’t get much stranger. But, today, this little gem (sorry links not working) caught my eye on the BBC website.

Can others see the inherent contradictions here? First, Clarissa Williams criticises the push to get all children into early years settings asap and says,
“Are parents so distrusted that we want to separate them from their children at the earliest opportunity?"
I was rather pleased to hear someone so far on the inside of the system say something so sensible. But then she goes on to propose that people’s benefit levels should be affected by whether or not they “engage with schools”. It seems she can’t quite let go of the distrust herself. Patronising is the word that springs to mind. Would she like star charts down at the benefit office too?

Like Ms Williams, I dislike the punitive attitudes of councils who jail the parents of truanting children, and so on. But, unlike Ms Williams, I don’t favour an approach that seeks to replace the stick with a carrot. I know that it is unfashionable to say it, but when it comes to the welfare of their children, people are best motivated by their love for their children. They don’t need slapped wrists or extra pocket money. They need a system that respects their relationships and stops lecturing long enough to listen to what people actually say they need and want.

It seems to me that, deep within our culture these days, is an unshakeable idea that we are consumers. The rhetoric is all about participation but, when you dig a little, it is clear that you are meant to shut up and ‘engage with’ what is doled out, with a happy smile and a thank you. Public services should be just that – services that belong to us all. They never are. Sometimes people manage to access a bit of funding to get some, genuinely participatory, project off the ground but it is always a struggle. I encountered that when D and I were volunteers at the local Breastfeed Drop-in. At the time there were funds aplenty for Sure Start initiatives but this, well-established, peer to peer support project, was always in financial crisis. Running costs were very low but it seemed that, unless you were operating under the umbrella of the ‘good thing’ that was Sure Start, then you had to be constantly seeking new sources of funding and spending hours of volunteer time on filling in grant applications. You’re really not meant to do it yourselves - just turn up at the approved venue and get your services as they see fit.

This is, it seems to me, the key to understanding the state education system. It was why it always felt so hard to influence anything when we were parents of a school child. We were meant to be constantly grateful for everything (not that I’m against gratitude to individuals who do a good job) but never question. We did our best and were just the sort of ‘engaged’ parents that Ms Williams wants. We helped out in the classroom, washed paint pots, read with ‘slow readers’ and all that stuff. I can remember taking down Santa’s grotto well into the evening, after the Christmas fair. But, that really wasn’t participation. We could raise the money for play equipment but still had to abide by every edict without question. One day it was decreed that parents could no longer take their children to the classroom at the start of the day. Children had to be handed over to their teacher in the playground. Teaching assistants were posted, like bouncers, on the doors. I had to fight my way in to help my five year old out of her waterproof trousers, because no-one else was doing it and I could see her mounting panic and distress. That just made me a ‘naughty mummy’ and, no doubt, I would have been docked some of my golden time. You must be ‘engaged’ it seems, just how and when the PTB want you.

The truth, I suspect, behind Ms Williams bright idea is that she has a nice little stereotype in mind of the kind of parents who need to be motivated with extra benefit payments. They’re nothing like her, or her friends, of course. People ‘like her’ just do the right thing because they are socially responsible and mature and have their children’s best interests at heart. It is all about us and them, isn’t it? People like ‘them’ need bribes. I’m surprised she didn’t suggest free scratch cards. But, it’s all the rage at the moment, this sort of idea. Where we live, primary school children’s names are entered in a lottery for a new bike – if they achieve 100% attendance at school. Quite apart from the inherently unpleasant notion that being ill or unable to attend school is always a BAD thing (what about children with serious health problems who will never get entered in the lottery?) the whole scheme is aimed squarely at certain ‘types’ of school where attendance is a ‘problem’. It’s also aimed, rather transparently, at children who don’t already have a nice bike – or whatever the bribe may be. You can read between the lines. Just like we can read between the lines of what Ms Williams is proposing.

The state education system is clearly about ensuring compliance – far more than it is about education. But what is particularly scary about Ms Williams’ idea is the ease with which people now accept that ‘the state,’ acting as a single entity, should be able tweak the lives of individuals to suit a current political/ideological goal. Benefit payments should be about ensuring the basics of life to everyone in our society, not a means by which the state can make people jump through hoops. YUK.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree! My kids attend a school that used a "reward" scheme until lots of parents voiced their was withdrawn. Have you ever thought of running for office in local government?? You make perfect sense about social issues, we need more people like you around. Well said!!

Gill said...

Oh, snap! GMTA ;-)

Anonymous said...

You go girl!

Just been over and read Gill's take on this too.

I am trying to be a calm sort of person, but I must admit that when I think back to the way the schools wanted us as parents to dance to their tune and come off as the 'good' parents and do their cleaning and helping etc and that they would make lots of guilt tripping campaigns against the 'bad' parents who didn't have the inclination to do the extra stuff - it does make me chomp on the table in fury.

I ended up having to take my son for an hour a day to bridge the time when the classroom assistant wasn't allowed in the class (long story) even though I was paying for the schooling (waldorf). Whe people ask us: "How *gasp* do you manage?" about taking care of the kids ourselves (i.e: home edding) we chuckle cos we rememebered how much we toiled for the school and it's teachers when we were part of it and desperately trying to do whatever they asked of us. My joke is: "well, even on the crap days I am still doing 50% better than any teacher ever did." It just consumes so much energy trying to 'support' the school, the failing school that is.

They had us running around doing all sorts for them in both the private and non fee paying schools we tried, but we were never allowed any real input. There was also this thing about the public face of the school that we were all supposed to contribute to upholding.

Parents evenings were jokes too - sat across the table from some vinegar t*ts teacher with a mouth like an ***s and scowly beady eyes listing all the ways our 7 year old was 'failing'. They'd come bleating to us about pages in workbooks not completed, we'd get little nasty notes sent home from teachers moaning about how one of our kids would SO chat loudly during morning assembly and could we reprimand her for this? We'd get told that we were making ourselves unpopular with the other parents cos we didn't participate in the work during run up to fetes etc. Madness.

And what we did have to offer wasn't relevant to them. When they complained about our kids we were very interested in getting involved in helping them figure some stuff out, but then with a shock their response hit us: they didn't want us as anything more than someone to dump on. We weren't to be involved in the kids schooling, we were just handmaidens to do as we were bidden to support them in their 'oh so hard' work.

I've known a lot of teachers close hand socially and they are 99% moaners. I'm sorry. Any N.U.T types will have to go sit on a bunsen burner for all I care, teachers just moan and moan and moan. Fact of matter is what else could they do? How else could a person attracted to work in a classroom (of all places) be gainfully employed? Would they work in Woolworths? Me no think so. Not enough status.

They act like they deserve so much more than they get (as in more pay etc) but it isn't because of what they are doing, they appear to want more money as compensation.

Once payment for a job becomes a form of compensation for what we do, we should not be allowed to work with other living souls.

Can you tell I don't like teachers? LOL. I am trying not to generalise but.. They get RIGHT on my babsers. Generally. I know that there is the odd one that is alright but generally, they are just making school what it is. If more of them stood up for something fresh instead of just the usual old compensation angles then the school system could be revolutionised.

I am really tired of hearing parents getting a beating because of the fact that the school system is total and utter crap. The teachers within it are perpetuating the whole set up because so few dare to stand up and say something new.

I saw so much insanity within the school system I am astounded that more parents are not able to see what is going on. I guess we are trained to just respect the 'authority' and this leads us unable to say boo to a goose.

And anyway, what about parents who don't want to read to their kids? We love books in our household and all the kids pore over the books independantly, but sometimes reading is forced and unnatural if we feel we must do it. I refuse if I am knackered. So they read to eachother. Books are great, but there is more to life than reading.


EF x

Allie said...

Hi all!

Thanks for the comments.

While I appreciate what you've been through, EF, I don't feel that way about teachers. IMO, most teachers really are doing their best in a system that most people find frustrating, to put it mildly. What worries me is that teachers are encouraged, in the current system, to drive themselves to the edge of breakdown in pursuit of completed paperwork and so on. And that tends to dent the positive, child-interested part of anyone. I also feel for young teachers (you can read them on the TES boards) who think they're entering a supportive, professional environment and then find themselves in a harsh 'sink or swim' job. That sets a rotten example to kids, I reckon.

I also think that schools tend to bring out a strange, scripted behaviour in many of us. They certainly did in me. I wish that we could all just *breathe* and *relax* a little about education. Then maybe we could communicate and share and come up with something rather more humane and flexible.

Gill, off to read you now!

Jenny said...

Youve said what Ive been thinking so much more eloquently than I could!
I feel exactly the same about state schooling, we are all meant to present our children and be grateful recuipients of what is being instilled in them.
I too was the sort of parent who did all those things you mentioned, yet as soon as I stsrted questioning and requesting help for my children( in line with the law) I was immediately told to go away. Only we didnt.....and ended up in a SEN tribunal with the head giving evidence against us for the LEA ( they lost)

It only now my younger two have been home for a year that Ive really managed to form my thoughts on this into pretty much what you posted.

We were supposedly also 'model parents' but suddeenly we didnt act as we were 'supposed to' and we didnt go away, thanking the teachers endlessly for what the education system ( and they as deliverers of that )was doing to my children.An opinion? No, you arent allowed an opinion about how your child learns, what your child learns or anything else in school from whether they are sat with disruptive children to what they are allowed to eat during the day.

The staff who were so bilious to usand the kids during a horrendous time seem to be the ones who subscribed to the "thank us and go away and stop interfering" mould!( and curiously none of it was anything to do with them directly!)

It was the realisation that "This isnt ever going to work, we care 'too much'" which made me withdraw the younger two and freed them from the negativity which surrounded them due to our terrible misdeeds ;-)