20 June 2007

Infantilise the Adult. Children Made Adults.

I am very concerned that schoolchildren are being involved in teacher interviews.

While the government sets about infantilising the adult population, there is this perverse mentality of denying that children are children by giving them a kind of faux-adult authority. There is a worrying alarm bell that goes off in the back of my mind when I hear of such things. It is like there is a perverse and even perverted "trojan horse" at work. Frankly, it has echoes of the Red Guard in China that was used to break the authority and respect in the child-parent and child-teacher relationship, leaving only the child-State relationship in place.

The NASUWT are not keen on the idea, either. I agree with their stance that it undermines and deprofessionalises teachers. Children are not a teacher's peer-group. They are NOT the "customers" either, even though this appears to be the implication. That position is held by the school, its Governers and the wider body of parents.

The question I have, though, is where this is coming from? Who is drivng it? I cannot see that it is coming from teachers or headteachers. LEAs? It seems one body is partly responsible - Peoples School Soviets School Councils UK. This is an "independent charity", though I suspect it may receive most of its funding from the Dfes. It appears to want to make it law (oh, the Sociofascist hand at work) that all schools be required to have a School Council. Question: If it is such a good idea, why the need for law?

I feel it might be worth digging deeper into just who are these people. They may do some things right, but the way they appear to go about it - this fake independence - gives me the creeps.


Paul said...

"While the government sets about infantilising the adult population, there is this perverse mentality of denying that children are children by giving them a kind of faux-adult authority. There is a worrying alarm bell that goes off in the back of my mind when I hear of such things."

Mine too --- the statist's ideal adult is a dim, pleasure-fixated conformist, dependably dependent, malleable and unquestioning. The population can be pushed to attain this ideal --- the deliberate infantilisation of adults is the obvious way. But the same goal can be achieved by tackling the problem from the other end: by ensuring that children grow only older --- not wiser.

The modern practice of denigrating didactic and parental authority (since it is so horribly oppressive) and heaping praise upon children when they complete the most undemanding of tasks or behave moderately well leaves them with delusions of competence and maturity. A child who has effectively been told that adult opinion carries no more weight than his own, and whose academic pensées are invariably greeted with fawning adult wonderment will, not unreasonably, conclude that he has achieved intellectual parity with adults*. He thus has no need to strive for deeper understanding: his mind is a finished article, and he can concentrate on other more enjoyable matters.

A few more years of that, and he'll be the model voter.

* ...or possibly that adults only ever patronise him with fluffy lies and thus deserve his bitter contempt.

Asher Jacobsberg said...

Hi Roger,

it's actually very easy to check whether or not we're funded by the DfES; all of our accounts are published on the Charity Commission's website. The DfES has funded specific projects, but they've never been our primary source of income.

We put forward a view that schools work better if you listen to the whole school: all staff, all pupils, governors, parents and the local authority. This is not to turn young people into faux-adults, but to acknowledge that they might have something useful to contribute to their own education and community. Good school councils do this in a structured way that respects pupil-teacher boundaries and ensures all pupils are heard. A good national policy on school councils would enshrine this in law and limit the worries you have.

If you'd like to see how good school councils work, please get in touch and I'm sure we can arrange a visit for you.


Asher Jacobsberg

People's School Soviets/School Councils UK

Roger Thornhill said...

Dear Asher,

Firstly, thank you for commenting, and with good humour.

While I welcome the idea that pupils are listened to in certain circumstances, it does not necessarily follow that School Councils are an imperative.

Unfortunately, enshrining School Councils in law would do the reverse of limiting my worries. It would increase them, for if it becomes law it must surely come with objectives, targets and all manner of metrics controlled externally. How else could the law be seen to be implemented?

A school will therefore have an entity within that, by definition, it is not in full control of, yet cannot lawfully ignore, nor decommission. It will be a Trojan Horse that must be fed. Even if you do not desire this outcome, the temptation to hijack School Councils by the centre is real. If schools are independent or get independence the risk is even greater.

Therefore, I object to enforced School Councils as much as I object to enforced recycling.

The best way to propagate best practice is not to enforce it, but to enable autonomy and allow schools to learn from each other and to cherry pick what suits them best, if at all. If we allowed new schools to be set up outside of LEA s we shall have the surplus capacity to hasten the process and give parents choice to avoid schools implementing such practices if desired. That to me is part of the solution to get the best schools possible.

Regardless of the above, if children interviewing teachers is part of the package, that is evidence enough that such a thing should never become law. I would like to hear what you say about that specific issue and if it is a School Council guideline/policy/suggestion.

Comrade Roger.

p.s. I may very well take you up on your offer.

Fabian Tassano said...

As with the wider debate over children's rights, I wonder whether arguing over whether children should be able to contribute to decisions which affect them (“yes they should because they have rights too” – “no they shouldn’t because they don't know what’s good for them”) misses more important points. E.g.:

1) When children appear to be given "powers", are we talking about their views (supposedly) being given force via the medium of a state official? Is it a case of questioning a child and interpreting its noises in the light of what the questioners have already concluded (similar to “consultations”)? Or simply announcing what is in the child's "best interests"?

2) Hence, when the government appears to be giving "more power" to children, are we really talking about shifting power away from parents and towards the state?

3) When more power is given to a particular constituency, e.g. students, is it to each individual student over his or her own affairs? Or to the entire student body over everyone else? So, instead of looking at a shift from one group to another, are we looking at a shift from the individual to the collective?

Applying these thoughts in this case, we may wonder the following. Is the purpose of giving weight to the “student voice” partly to “democratise” (i.e. collectivise) decisions which would otherwise be taken by individual headmasters or teachers? Why is it not being proposed that parents have a voice in who is appointed to teaching positions? In letting children have a say, how much manipulation or selectivity is going to be applied by others?

Saying that “pupils are the customers” is just dishonest nonsense. How can you be a customer if you have no right to change schools, let alone leave the education system altogether?

When teachers’ unions support “student voice” but then talk of the need for an “appropriate pupil/teacher relationship” I am reminded of medical professionals talking about “patient autonomy” while keeping the real power firmly in their own hands. I suspect that NASUWT would talk just as much about “disempowering and deprofessionalising teachers” if it was suggested that parents had a say in what was taught or who was hired. Statements made by professional bodies reflect the fact that they exist to preserve the powers and interests of their members.