And end to Lesson Plans

Before I ramble on with my next diatribe, I need to to lay my credibility credentials on the table with regard to what I’m about to say.

I’ve been a teacher in adult and further education since 1986 when I first qualified (I’d been teaching before that, but solely as an amateur). So I’ve been in the ‘ed biz’ for at least 33 years. I was also twice-elected President (and Fellow) of the Institute for Learning. I have a first-class honours degree in education, and am a published author on educational theory and politics.

Having got that out the way, here’s a radical statement.

I think experienced teachers should stop writing lesson plans.

There y’go. Got it off my chest. I’m sure I’ll cause shock-horror in traditionalist circles. But there is a reason for this radicalism.

The easiest way to explain it is to give an account of a session I taught today. It was part of the WEA ‘Big Ideas’ course, and was on the topic of Englishness and English identity. The session covered cultural, social and political issues (and took in Brexit as a side topic). I had two hours to deal with this much-vexed subject area.

I don’t write lesson plans very often these days, because after 33 years I can largely plan in my head. Not only that, but it allows me the flexibility to respond to issues as they arise, rather than coming to class with a ‘fixed’ view of what the students should be doing or engaging. As i happens, I was having a minor difficulty finding a good ‘entree’ into this topic. I was originally going to use some survey material I found on the ‘net, give it out the group, and let them work out some conclusions from it themselves. I wasn’t all that happy with this; it was a bit ‘dry’ and unexciting.

However, just as I was getting out of the car at the venue, I noticed I still had my mini whiteboards and pens that I sometimes use with groups. It dawned on my that I could use those to get them to write down their immediate answers to the query “What comes to mind when you talk about being English, as opposed to British?”. So I grabbed them, dropped the original idea, and used this approach instead.

It was good! They enjoyed it, became very involved and intrigued by the ideas that came up, and I was able to guide them from their ideas on the whiteboards to the concepts of cultural versus political identity. It was a huge success.

The moral of the story?

If I’d had a lesson plan I’d have been reluctant to abandon it (having invested the effort in all that writing). But worse still: if there’d have been an external observer present I’d have been very inclined to use the pre-organised printed version, rather than the spontaneity of what I came up with as I got out of the car. An observer would have demanded a relevant lesson plan, or they would have ‘marked me down’.

We really need to encourage teacher flexibility and spontaneity. Over-managed corporatism is stifling the capacity of experienced teachers to build on their professionalism and create learning sessions based on their expertise (rather then a preordained sequential plan, that does not recognise the cyclic, parallel, and reflexive issues of human social learning). A fixed plan makes for fixed sessions. Which is the last thing we really need.

So, here are my recommendations to educational providers:

a) Abandon corporate lesson plan forms. Instead, encourage teachers to create their own planning systems (based on some agreed key standards) and create a culture where planning systems are shared with others. Make it a positive asset to show innovation in planning!

b) Insist that written lesson plans are required from teachers only in the first two years of their post-qualification period, as evidence that they can implement planning in diverse situations. After that, there should be no requirement for written plans, except in special circumstances (as follows)

c) During special circumstances (such as inspection or quality audits) planning might be recorded ‘post facto’ (that is to say a record of what has been implemented AFTER the session) as a manner of exemplifying the thought processes that went into the session.

d) Evidence of planning would still be present, but this could be recorded by peer observation or staff interviews, rather than the usual paper-trail process.

I want to give power back to the people within the domain that counts: the student-tutor situation, rather than those who administer the institution. I want the education system to be staffed by people we have confidence in.

We can’t have this under the current penalising system. But we could do things differently, and gain in the process.

The Four Pillars

Diagnosing what has gone wrong with leadership, government, and social confidence lately has led me to do a lot of thinking.

If I was to think about what makes for a Democracy (assuming there is such a thing) then I see it based on four ‘pillars’:

1) The Social Contract
This is an unwritten understanding that is rarefy ever talked about. It basically says: ‘We all agree we will allow you to lead us provided you act in our best interests, are just, legally integral, and show a duty-of-care to all members of society’.

2) The Public Sphere
That there is a free flow of critically analysed information within society. That this is open to all. That sources are valued for their integrity and even handedness. That discussion of ideas and concepts is multi-channelled, and is protected from being badly tainted by powerful interests.

3) The Methodology
That there are recognised methods by which public interests are voiced to the leadership, and that these methods are both free from corruption and are maintained for their validity over time.

4) The Executive
That there is an administrative system that puts into place policy and works efficiently. That this system serves the peoples’ interests (and ONLY the peoples’ interests), and is accountable for its actions at all levels.

Taking the above into account, one might notice that the UK’s issues lie in a ‘fracturing’ of all four pillars —

1) The Social Contract has been broken by governments who have imposed austerity, promised ‘jam tomorrow’ and come up with nothing — except even more economic inequality

2) The Public Sphere is awash with ‘fake’ news, rumour, deliberate fear-mongering, inaccuracy, sloganising, and constant interference from powerful corporate interests.

3) The democratic Methodology is badly confused and confusing. Plebiscites and representation systems vie with social media and populist campaigns. This leads to outcomes that are contradictory and divisive. We don’t know what result to trust, or how to interpret it when it arises.

4) The Executive has become corrupted by scandal and unethical behaviour. MPs expenses claims, corporate involvements, and eccentric voting behaviour have left the populace cynical. It is harder now than ever before to distinguish between a ‘moral’ MP and a one who’s only in the job for their personal gain.

Sounds bad, doesn’t it?

It’s fixable. But it’s going to take some work.

An election could clear the air a little… but we need to rebuild all the above, and I can’t see that happening without it being the focus of much careful thought.

Dr Who’s sexuality problem

A thought just occurred to me: if Dr Who loved Rose Tyler in his previous ‘male’ expression (and assuming their feelings haven’t changed) does the current ‘female’ incarnation make ‘zie’ a lesbian? If so, was zie a lesbian in zir pre-transformation mode?

My brain hurts. šŸ˜‰

Actually, this is an interesting case study of how language betrays us, and how conventional cisnormativity causes such semantic confusion (as I have discovered on many occasions).

Participation and Control

It is interesting to note that Habermas’ concept of ‘The Public Sphere’ (i.e. as a guiding force in socio-political dialogue) has an overlap with Lave and Wengers situated learning conceptualisation (in education), and specifically with regard to their idea of ‘Legitimate Peripheral Participation’ (LPP).

The LPP concept, I would argue, is the gateway to public-sphere control in the early 21st century. The legitimisation of participation in dialectic is mediated by the accessibility of entry into dialogue. Who determines entry? Who establishes agendas? Who controls communicative channels and their accessibility? The gatekeepers of capitalist thought.

Hence these ‘gatekeepers of the social order’ (often shadowy, mostly self-appointed, sometimes unrecognised) initiate the criteria that determine who-says-what-and-on-what-topics.

A good example would be our further education system. Increasingly the boundaries of dialogue in learning (and who takes part in it) have been hemmed in by a managerialist dictatorship of means-and-ends. Is there a ‘public sphere’ in education? No, not really. Who takes part in such dialogue? Those who are ‘legitimised’ by the financial and instrumentalist processes of institutions. What can be discussed? Those aspects of learning which confirm legitimacy… e.g. whatever the qualification and the quantifiable outcome system demands.

We seek to have an informed and progressive democracy, but the very functions of learning that should be facilitators of citizenship are doing the opposite: creating a world of simplistic, drone-like behaviour which lacks the critical faculty.

It’s only by being aware of this process, and wresting control over legitimacy and participatory systems, that true democracy is possible.

A National Resistance for Better Education (NRBE)

1. Learning is a natural feature of human life. Studying is volitional learning.

2. Learning does not occur within the individual human mind. Instead it is a process mediated by social connections, co-participation, and created in communities (both large and small).

3. Teaching is, at the end, a communicative process.

4. Assessment is a process that discovers what has been learned in the teaching situation.

5. Assessment must always be accessible, equitable, understandable, and practicable.

6. The main structural form of a learning is the community of investigation or practice

7. Educational institutions serve their students, teachers and society at large.

8. Educational institutions have a core responsibility to facilitate the work of their teachers.

9. Educational institutions must NOT exploit their students and teachers for the sake of their income and corporate progress. NRBE believes all institutions of learning should be non-profit organisations.

10. Every teacher should have the right to join an appropriate Trade Union (as they wish), without fear of victimisation.

11. Continuous professional development should be in the interests of teaching professionals, not solely the corporate institutional entity.

12. Professionalism in teaching is paramount. Professionals should be respected for their independent ability to implement teaching-and-learning, and not forced to conform to local petty bureaucracies.

13. The role of education in society is not simply an instrument of continuous economic growth.

14. Achieving a qualification without achieving the praxis is a pointless and potentially fraudulent process.

15. Teachers should be treated as ends, not means.

16. All part-time contractual teachers should have the option of being permanently employed as and when they can demonstrate contractual continuity.

17. There are no discipline or subject area hierarchies in education. All learning is equally valuable.

18. All teachers should be trained and qualified to a level relevant to their chosen role and disciplines.

19. Every teacher should be entitled to paid time within their workplace dedicated to further research and personal development. This should be monitored and evaluated by teachers themselves.

20. NRBE believes that the prevailing character within (and between) our institutions should change from micro-management, fear and competition to mutual trust, dialogue and collaboration. NRBEā€™s aim is to create a community of learning in each and every institution, and networks of such co-operative communities in each locality.

21. Smaller is better. The NRBE supports devolved and locally responsible institutions.

22. There will be an end to ā€˜observation of teaching-and-learningā€™ based on management compliance. In its place, NRBE requires a collaborative and collegiate system of peer-based support.

23. NRBE believes that the current framework of national educational inspection is corrupt and antagonistic. It should be abandoned and a new approach adopted, geared to support and improvement rather than punishment and compliance.

24. Educators are entitled to a private life apart from teaching.

25. Bureaucratic systems MUST serve teacher interests and not solely those of the institution. Administrative processes must be made as minimal as is humanly possible.

26. Educators have the right to work in supportive, enabling institutions, which implement equality and diversity in a pro-active manner.

27. All educators, whatever their taught subjects or employment, acknowledge the vital importance of democracy, cooperation, and community as a core aspect of their work.

This come from over thirty years of teaching, and the work of colleagues across the entire sector. I acknowledge the work of my associates in ‘Tutor Voices’, with especial regard to Frank Coffield.

Finally, if you agree with my stance, then let me know. If there are enough supporters we can perhaps get something off the ground. I don’t see NRBE as a trade union, or a professional body. Instead, perhaps it is a UK nexus for educational praxis and activism.

PLEASE feel free to circulate to colleagues, students, friends, etc. as you see fit.

Hatred

Hatred is an insoluble word. Once something has been labelled as hatred then there’s nothing to be done about it. Hatred is like a modern version of the term ‘the devil’: a way of objectifying emotions and psychologies that are fearful, alien, horrifying.

But I think we need to find ways of dealing with the actions we call ‘hatred’. Then we can save ourselves.

Wittgenstein

IĀ read and love Wittgenstein’s work not because he gives me ready-made arguments or answers, but because his process provide a certain discipline of thinking. This has a ‘sanitising’ effect: a tendency to create an oasis of mental calm amongst all the monstrous chaos, where thinking can begin again.

Wittgenstein does not disdain concepts of belief. He simply differentiates between productive and non-productive avenues of thinking. These are not always as obvious as they might seem. For example, he’s against scientism and the misuse of logic. He’s (generally) for the specific and the everyday. He has an underlying ‘feel’ for religious faith, and treats its concepts with respect. But he is fervently ‘anti-nonsense’. He is progressive, not willing to rest on his laurels.

Reading his work is not easy. It takes some time and constant effort to penetrate his obsessive ‘gnawing’ at what seem esoteric problems. And then the penny drops, and you realise he was talking about everyday life all along.

I recommend it. It has been good for me. Get reading!

Faith

All of us have a faith, in the sense that all of us have a commitment to some principle or other that demands a ‘leap in the dark’.

“At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.” (Wittgenstein, ‘On Certainty’)

Prejudice, not being founded on reason

“Prejudice, not being founded on reason, cannot be removed by argument.” (Samuel Johnson).

We’re not going to stop violence that comes out of bigotry by changing our laws or putting more police on the streets. We can only mitigate the problem by changing our social order (our fundamental attitudes to people-and-community). We must remove the sources of deep alienation that cause resentment, and sometimes extreme violence:

  • Massive social inequality
  • Poverty, and a society that doesn’t care
  • Education systems that exacerbate failure
  • Exploitation in and out of work
  • The feeling that nobody matters, only money and fame.
  • That the blame for all the above lies with others who are not ‘like us’.

Oh yes it is! Oh no it isn’t!

I know some transpeople have a downer on traditional British (i.e. English) pantomime. It’s all that travestie: men dressing as women and making fools of themselves on stage, whilst children learn that laughing at a guy in a frock is ‘de rigeur’. Or at the very least, socially sanctioned. Which maybe some of the little blighters translate into action outside the theatre. Hegemony of ideas does have a habit of making bad behaviour ‘OK’.

I used to hold this anti-panto’ position myself at one time, primarily because I used to feel very less confident than I do now. This of course, is a somewhat egocentric position (I nearly wrote selfish, but I’m not that self-flagellating) considering the issues that many transfolk have as they come out and find a niche for themselves in the world.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that the issue is not the jokes that our society has about cross-dressing. A sense of humour is a necessary asset for anyone who has to deal with the vagaries of frocks, accoutrements, make-up, and getting feckin’ shoes that fit. BUT the problem is that the if the ONLY message that our culture gives is that laughing at trannies is fine, then we create a nasty ghetto of thinking where cruelty lives unrestrained. We need alternative narratives that give a contrast to the ‘Ugly Sisters’ routine. Things that show us in a positive light. Unfortunately the UK is still a loooooong way from getting this right; but there is (I think) some hope at the end of the tunnel (for which, may we be truly thankful).

So, yeah… panto’ is just fine. As long as the joke’s not on me all the time.