Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Unspoken Problem

Much is written about the standard of teaching these days, both in the popular and academic press. Governments consistently try to ‘fix’ the perceived problem of standards by regularly reforming teaching itself, tightening up on observational visits, and vilifying teachers for letting their students down.

Now even if we take all that as true (which I don’t, but let that pass for a moment) then it still doesn’t address a component that has bedevilled the sector for years. Namely: the standard of management.

Firstly, can I say that this isn’t just a problem in the education sector; it affects just about every enterprise where management operates in the UK. Standards remain poor across the board, or so I’ve found from the many instances of incompetence that I’ve come across in my time. But what makes the education sector suffer particularly badly is the massive power inequalities within the system itself.

Over the past thirty years or so, the post-compulsory sector has become very casualised in its employment practices. Full-time jobs are increasingly rare, and most teaching posts tend to be part-time contractual. Some are even agency work. (And don’t get me on about the various abuses that occur within this system). Because of this, a great many teachers do not belong to a union, or are actively discouraged from joining one. Since the end of IfL they are also without a professional membership body (I do not include ETF as a serious option here). They find themselves dangling powerlessly between arbitrary employment regimes on one hand and unemployment on the other.

When management behaves poorly, acts incompetently, or fails to actively support the teaching process, teachers are unable to speak out. They fear to criticise due to lack of any job security (and the clear possibility of victimisation). They therefore stay quiet, and big issues that cause immense problems in educational standards are never fixed. This results is a system where teachers end up being blamed for issues outside of their control, whilst management fails to rectify its shortcomings. The outcome: continuous decline in overall efficiency, quality and trust.

There are answer to this problem, if institutions are brave enough to take them on board. They include:

  1. Using the same pastoral (and other) standards with teachers that apply to students.
  2. Every institution to create an independent self-organised tutor/teacher advisory group, whose role is to monitor (and feed back on) management performance.
  3. All managers directly in charge of staff to be qualified to Level 4 in management technique, and this status to be maintained by registered yearly CPD.
  4. Observation of Teaching and Learning (OTL) to be on a ‘peer’ basis only. No management observers.
  5. OTL grading to end.
  6. Institutions to minimise the number of non-teaching staff, ideally with organisations being ‘all teaching’ bodies (i.e. everyone teaches, even the Principle)

This is not to say that some organisations don’t include good managers. However, from 35 years of experience of working for just about every educational body you can think of on Tyneside, I can say that the number of excellent managers I have worked for I can count on the fingers of one hand.

This is an unspoken problem. I’m sticking my neck out (yet again) for even mentioning it. But unless something is done, many of the educational problems that we have will continue unrecognised.

I Want…

I want: To be successful at my job, and to do ‘Great Things’. I want to start a whole new ‘school’ of educational thought that is based on a new Grand Unified Theory of Learning: Wittgenstein, Lave, Wenger, Kahneman, Fromm, Loftus, Vygotsky, Luria. A stable job where I teach the things I’m best at, in the way that I know works, and with support from those around me. Where I can take professional decisions and not be second-guessed all the time by ‘managers’. To work with other tutors and to end the isolation we all feel, and the ground-down feeling of being just replaceable cogs in the training machine. I want us all to have importance as people once again. For our needs to become as important as those of our students are. To be creative and make new things happen that are valued by others. To make what I do worthwhile. To have a partner who loves me, and whom I can share things with. Go on holiday with. Eat curry with on a Friday night, and hold conversations where we talk about anything and everything (and I don’t have to spend time making all the conversation). To have someone come up to me and spontaneously kiss me because they really want to. Or hug me round the waist because they like to hold onto me. I’ve never had these simple things. Ever. To be exciting and sexy and glamorous. And have someone be proud of me because of it. For them to want to show me off to others, and for me to be proud of them too for doing so. To have a circle off friends who want to see me. To make them laugh (or cry, or whatever…) and to make good food for them and for us to get rolling drunk together. And to watch stupid movies and talk about them with great seriousness. To look at the one I love and feel happy again. To have a home again. To not have to write a list like this ever again.

The Collected Sayings of Bea Groves

  • We are the narrative of our memories.
  • Love can be spoken plainly. But even then, some people don’t listen.
  • Education is about change. If there is no change, then there is no learning.
  • Just because you are in a minority of one doesn’t mean you’re wrong. The truth of an issue is not resolved by democratic vote.
  • People can be faulted, mad or crippled by need. But not evil.
  • When someone who loves you tells you you’re wonderful, you believe them. When anyone else says this, you wonder what their motivation is.
  • If we use the word ‘know’ accurately, then knowing oneself is impossible. But knowing others certainly is.
  • Your friends may tell you what you want to hear. But hardly ever what you need to hear.
  • Kahneman talks about ‘What You See Is All There Is’ (WYSIATI). Which implies that we have a habit of accepting our own version of experience, and rejecting outright any information that contradicts it.
  • Human beings are not simply bodies, but are extended in time and space.
  • Being afraid of love is like being afraid of breathing.
  • The exploited remain exploited because they do not know their own value and hence are easily bought-off.
  • If you’re not good at something, you’ll know.
  • If you want timelessness: live in the present moment
  • If you hide your light under a bushel, everyone is left in the dark.
  • Talking to yourself is no big deal. It only becomes a problem when someone starts answering.
  • Irrationality cries out within me every day. And rationality cannot help.
  • Immortality is the wrong answer to the questions that matter to us the most.
  • The frightening thing about living is not dying, but the possibility that other people might.
  • If you want a revolution: start with yourself.
  • I looked at my hands. And realised I am the same person as when I was male. Only the language and dress have changed. (Parody of Harriet Tubman)
  • History is important. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, how the hell do you know where you are?
  • The next war we fight will not between state and state, or ideology and ideology — but between ourselves and our uncontrollable needs.
  • There is more to loving than purely attraction. I have learned that over many years. What seems to matter is seeing something of the ‘person’ behind the ‘image’.
  • I don’t mind being alone. But I do mind being lonely. And it seems that loneliness is the one sin that that the early 21st Century still cannot tolerate.
  • The major ethical issue of today is about the balance of doing-what-you-want-to-do versus doing-the-right-thing. Sometimes these two coincide. Often they do not. And it’s then that strength of character comes into play.
  • In the study of history, it’s a common fault to confuse ‘motivation’ for ‘mechanism’ in the interpretation of events.
  • There are things that my Head doesn’t remember. But my Heart certainly does.

Attention all Lefties!

Hands up all those who are left-handed!

OK — all of you with your (left-hand) up… when did you perversely decide to be left-handed? Don’t you know it’s against God’s law to be a lefty? Don’t you know you are ‘queer’ and ‘strange’? Don’t you know you’ll go to hell for being kack-handed? Aren’t you ashamed… you should be? Why don’t you just stop being left-handed and give all us normal right-handed people a break? Do you lefties do sex the same as we do? You’re different, unnatural, peculiar and we don’t really want you living near us.

And if you feel a bit annoyed at the above questions, now you know how transgender people feel every day.

The Time Machine

Regret about the past is a pointless thing. Think about this.

You have a sadness in your past that you desperately want to put right. So you spend years and years inventing a time machine. You want to use the machine to go back into your past and put right your sadness. But when you get into your ‘Tardis’ and go back, you discover that you can’t change the past, not matter how hard you try. Why?

Well, the reason you built the machine was because of your past regret. When you try to ‘correct’ the issue the reason/cause for building the time machine disappears,. Hence if it was never built you can never have travelled into the past.

Our lives are like that. Everything we have ever been or done, however bad we might consider it, has made us what we are today. And as such, all past acts are irrevocable.

Valedictory & Manifesto

This was written a year ago after the deaths of Tony Benn and Bob Crowe, but I think it could be worth repeating in the light of the coming election:

VALEDICTORY

The recent deaths of Bob Crow and Tony Benn would seem, at face value, a terrible tragedy in terms of their importance to the ongoing legacy of traditional socialism. Indeed this is true, to a certain extent. But I am concerned that in the lamentation over the death of heroes, we are lost to ourselves with regard to our own confidence in continuing and developing the dialectical arguments that Bob and Tony had long espoused.

The Grand Narratives of 20th century socialism are gone. We may regret this intensely. But this fact does not mean any pseudo ‘end of history’, and in many respects the plight of working people (the majority, even though they may have little or no political consciousness or sense of themselves) has been hugely intensified since 2008. The struggle between the powerful and greedy ‘haves’ and the downtrodden ‘have nots’ is even more intense now than at any time in recent history.

Perhaps Crow and Benn were an echo of this, but it has to be said: to what extent did they truly speak in terms that would excite reaction from the many who imbibe at the font of TV game shows and day-time soaps? I am uncertain about that. This is by no means a snipe at either of them: Benn in particular is a hero of mine. But I am very wary of heroes… they have a habit of making me believe I can’t get by on my own without their beneficence.

Yet we are all at an opportune moment in history. Capitalism’s inadequacies and contradictions have never been so obvious; even the blind could see the cracks in the ‘system’. And we no longer have the historic cloud of Soviet socialism hanging over us. In fact, for a generation the USSR is now a vague idea seen in old Bond movies. The coast is clear. It’s possible, with a little courage, to plough the ground anew.

But it’s easy for me, an old and unreconstructed neo-Marxist (with heavy Wittgensteinian and existentialist influences!) to preach about the past without positing any view for the future. What could WE do to put things right? By WE, I mean people who believe there’s more to life than a mortgage and binge-drinking at weekend to keep the blues away (and if you think I don’t know about these… think again!). I want things to be better. Why? Not because I am a saint and believe I have to sacrifice myself for some utopian ‘greater good’. I am not so religious. But because I identify myself with the many who suffer because of injustice, inequality, political hypocrisy, and the oligarchical system that masquerades as ‘democracy’ these days.

I want us ALL to have better lives because I will have a better life as a consequence. Does anyone remember ‘solidarity’? It used to be a word we used a lot.

So what do I want to see? OK, here’s a list to begin with:

  • Greater regionalism and devolution of power – an end to centralisation of decision making.
  • Greater decision-making for Wales and Scotland irrespective of any ‘referendum’.
  • Much stronger regulation of the financial sector, and severe punishment of those who misuse the nation’s assets.
  • Regulation of executive ‘bonuses’.
  • Raising of the minimum wage to a Living Wage.
  • Far greater encouragement of micro-finance, co-operative and community interest businesses (and credit unions) as a means of combating commercial bank monopoly.
  • Nationalisation of major utilities — energy, rail transport and water to begin with.
  • Much greater priority given to social housing, and encouragement of local authorities to build and reconstruct existing stock.
  • And end to nuclear arms – no replacement for Trident, and phasing out the current ‘deterrent’.
  • A far more assertive role in Europe — an alliance of socially-orientated parties and groups to combat neo-liberalism within the EU.
  • An end to interventionism in education, closure of Ofsted (establishment of a new ‘multi-dimensional’ quality process), and a new set of professional standards for educationalists across the entire sector.
  • Health and Education-for-All to be the nation’s highest priorities.
  • A highly diversified energy policy, which responds to local needs and issues and takes into account environmental impact as a primary criterion.
  • Educational policy to combat xenophobia, racism, homo- and transphobia across all institutions. Etc.

I am not a dogmatic person. But neither am I a pragmatist. I believe we can find solutions to our problems with sufficient imagination and compassionate good-will. Even so, I feel a little nervous about committing myself to print in such an unvarnished way as I have above. I’ve spent half-a-lifetime avoiding writing such manifestos, because of a deep-seated lack of desire to be shot at by the many who will inevitably decide to take up arms. Nevertheless, though my arse may seem draughtily exposed to the elements, sometimes you’ve just got to risk it getting kicked. So be it. It’s cold out here, but maybe that’s just the wind of change?”

I’m really trying…

I’ve fought hard (I mean REALLY hard) to fit into the politics of ‘trans-ness’ over the years. I sympathise with the arguments people make about unity, consistent messages and strategy that brings a positive spin about transgender needs. I also understand the need for the alliance with LGB people too. And, contrary to popular belief, I do fully and unreservedly support those who fight for transgender rights and better treatment for transfolk in civil society.

However.. (and you KNEW there’d be a ‘however’, didn’t you?)… I have just moved on. Simple as that. I’ve lots of trans’ friends that I like to see, and I talk about my life when I’m asked (usually as part of something to do with E&D issues), but I no longer get turned on by fighting that fight. My friendships (my loves) are based on liking people, not on what their gender may or may not be. It’s just too tiring for me to keep ploughing the trans furrow, without feeling like I’m overemphasising my gender history at the expense of my character.

Sure, I pull out the ‘trans card’ every so often. But that’s because I treat my past and present as an asset, not a liability. If it entertains folk to hear hair-curling stories about things that have happened to me, then that’s fine… but it doesn’t define who I am. For me (and only me) being trans’ is like originating from some sort of exotic land far, far away, where people do things differently. That’s why it’s an asset, and something to be proud of. I’m kind of ‘foreign’ in an interesting and unique way.

Maybe this is why I often think of my being trans’ as closer to the experience of people of other racial backgrounds in the UK than those in the LGB community? Whatever prejudice I have experienced has always been rooted in bigotry based on appearance/culture stereotypes, rather than my perceived sexuality.

Believe it when I say it: I am definitely a person who ‘joins’ things. I’ve been a trade union member all my career, have been part of umpteen organisations, and have led and founded one or two. In fact, these days I’m still up to my neck in voluntary activity with Healthwatch, NHS EDHR, Joseph Cowen Centre, and Tutor Voices. I like being part of things, and especially when I can be valued for whatever skills I might have. But no trans’ organisations. It’s not that I’m against the idea, it’s just that I think I do far better (for everyone) outside that arena than I do in it.

Oh, and I don’t want to be seen as a victim or a drama-queen. It’s oh-so easy to end up falling into one of those two malign categories, since they tend to be the only two that the popular media are interested in.

Of course, I may well regret having written the above. There’s bound to be someone who’ll take a pot-shot at me for being so ‘unorthodox’ (read ‘negative’ — which is the last thing I am!). There will also be those who will read all sorts of things into the above that I actually haven’t said. But hey, I’ve got broad shoulders…

Your Nukes and You

As I’ve said on more than one occasion, the issue with nuclear weapons in the UK (and the expense thereof) is not the bombs in themselves, but the delivery systems. In this case the billions that are posited to be spent on new SLBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile) submarines. In the era of the back-pack bomb and the cruise missile I would have said that SLBMs are ‘macho overkill’ to say the least, with a strong whiff of the UK desperately wanting to seem credible to its American neighbour. If the UK wants to justify the existence of an ‘independent’ (read ‘local’) nuclear deterrent from a strategic position then it needs to start making more sensible choices in how defence money is spent. If you really want a cheaper option, I’d have said mobile MRBM cruise missiles would be better. Whatever ‘better’ means in this insane debate…

This doesn’t mean I’m ‘pro-nuke’, it simply means that the common arguments that are used for renewing Trident just don’t hold strategic water when looked at calmly.

You may have noticed that I know my stuff?! Yes, I do know the difference between gun-type and implosion (‘Teller-Ulam’) weapons, and have a better-than-average understanding of the size, deployment, yield rates and ‘bang-per-buck’ for the common nukes in the global arsenal (or at least, the ones we know about). Having lived all my life with the threat of nuclear war on the horizon, I’ve always felt the need to understand about the bombs that could have given me a very fatal sun tan.

Anyone need a specialist defence adviser? 😀

So you really want to be Normal?

The problem with the word ‘normal’ is that is loaded with acquired attitude. Those at the peak of the normal distribution curve (for whatever characteristic you can think of) seem to assume that they own ‘normality’ as a guarantee of their own soundness and ethical veracity. Because there’s a lot of them then it makes their world obviously the one we all have to comply with in order to be acceptable.

Well let me tell you this: since time began more people have died than are currently alive, and therefore one might assume from this majority data that being dead is ‘normal’. Yes, I know that’s an insane argument (except for those of you out there in Da’esh-land!), but it illustrates what I mean about the misuse of the word ‘normal’.

Normalcy is whatever society wants to make it, and that means a lot of grinding out of unspoken hegemonic values in the mill of history. At one time it was ‘normal’ for women not to vote. At one time it was ‘normal’ for men to wear silk hose and knee breeches. At one time it was ‘normal’ to burn heretics to save their souls. All, very, very, very normal. And now?

Hey-ho all you normal people out there! Feeling a little disconcerted? Maybe somewhat all-at-sea? Got a bad feeling back there? Need to hide under the bed? Want to go back to more ‘traditional’ days? Well, hang on to your cotton-pickin’ socks, cos your normality is nothing more than your infantile fears dressed up in convention.

Sorry to have to deliver this sad news, but as Mr Dylan once sang, “The times they are a-changin'”…. And they’re doing it continuously.

Not really rebels

What amazes me is that the many anti-capitalist and anti-corporatist groups I know are still heavily dependent on Microsoft software. I get complaints that they can’t read my documents (i.e. when they’re not docx files!), and even have problems with PDFs and Epubs. They blame me: but the issue is they’re playing around with the corporate world and not willing to learn FOS software.

I mean, come on folks! You want to be out of the system and yet you run pirated versions of MS Windows and Office on your machines. You aren’t really serious about your aims are you? Or else you’d be Linux through and through.