“The students will not tolerate the teacher having power in the classroom”

This is a reply to a comment kindly left by OldAndrew of Scenes from the Battleground blog, which was a reply to this blog entry. I originally just replied to OldAndrew’s comment in a comment, but my reply got too long for a comment.

if students object to the very idea of the teacher being in charge, then there is nothing the teacher can do and still teach. You can make all the points you like about how the teacher is “responsible”, the point is that in that situation the teacher has responsibility without power.
Quite right. The situation is worse than I thought and I have edited my comment here from my original, flippant response. Obviously, little learning or teaching can take place in chaos.

You’re caught between a rock and hard place: you are denied the power (or authority) to act responsibly, and yet blamed for not acting responsibly or authoritatively. It seems a Catch-22 situation. The problem seems to be largely a legal and political one, yet also an ideological one in that a few teachers are not enough to make a difference, and if the school as a whole from the Head downwards is not backing up a serious attempt to impose order in the chaos (e.g. by recognizing, as OldAndrew says, that appeasement does not lead to increased order but the reverse; that some of the dearly held beliefs about children, their nature, and human behaviour may well be not only wrong but contributing to the problem), then most attempts will fail and the efforts of OldAndrew and his ilk will be limited. (I’m thinking of the example of Marie Stubbs, who was headmistress and managed to either bring around most of the staff to her way of thinking or hire her own replacements.)

I have found OldAndrew’s blog to be a fascinating source of information about British secondary school education. I especially recommend his Guide to Scenes from the Battleground

I recall reading about an incident earlier in 2009 in a British school, when a teacher was fired for forcibly removing an obstreperous student from a classroom: he physically grabbed the boy by the collar and the seat of his pants and pushed him out of the classroom. The police were called, and I don’t know what happened to the young man (15 or16, I can’t recall exactly), but the teacher had the book thrown at him: defrocked, disrobed, you name it. The poor guy was approaching retirement age, but I doubt if this is the way he had imagined leaving the profession. (I wish I could find the link).

(I’m reminded of the entrepreneurs and industrialists in Atlas Shrugged, forced to somehow continue inventing and producing despite a plethora of laws and regulations that effectively demotivate and prevent them from making a profit.)

“if the teacher were to slap anyone’s face the teacher would be suspended, fired and probably prosecuted.” I realize that times have changed since I went to school.

“the change in the law prohibiting this and all forms of corporal punishment in state schools was passed by Mrs Thatcher’s government, so I’m not sure where the “dominant socialist” thing came from.”
I interpreted the push for group work and mixed ability classes as coming from an ideology that said elitism is bad, ranking and streaming students is bad, hence (by implication) achievement is bad (or at least should be downplayed), in other words egalitarianism or socialism. I don’t equate socialism only with the left wing, or the Labour party (Hitler’s party was the National Socialists). I had not realized Thatcher’s specific responsibility, but it does not surprise me.

Thanks for commenting.

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7 thoughts on ““The students will not tolerate the teacher having power in the classroom”

  1. I’ll ignore your effort to pretend the Nazis were socialist (for pity’s sake, do people still do that?).

    More generally, I do need to write a proper blog entry about ideology, but I have a low tolerance for people who try to equate the progressive ideology in education with socialism or even with the left.

    Roughly speaking it is anti-authoritarian mainly Anglo-American in its origins. The more authoritarian elements of the left, be that soviet communism or just working class British socialism had no time for it. It is an oppositionalist mentality. Therefore, it is believed by Trotskyites, the Labour left, but also by Liberal Democrats. There are even a sprinkling of the extreme free market right who see authority exercised by teachers as authority exercised by the state. Any form of liberalism can accomodate progressive education. In practice it cuts across a lot of ideological lines with only the authoritarian right consistently against it.

    Further difficulty is created by the fact that it comes in both modernist and post-modernist flavours – those who see it as scientific and rational and those who see it as pluralistic and tolerant.

    The best philosophical essay on it is probably “The Crisis In Education” by Hannah Arendt.

    It is a mistake to read to much egalitarianism into it. Progressives may support mixed ability classes and oppose ranking, but that is more because they oppose whole class teaching and desert rather than because they support equality of outcome. They tend to oppose egalitarian measures that direct resources to specifially teaching the least able or to improve education in deprived areas. They hate the Academy program and high-performing schools in deprived areas. They hate efforts to identify the least able or the most unfortunate in order to help them.

    As I said I will write about this properly some time.

  2. I’ll ignore your effort to pretend the Nazis were socialist (for pity’s sake, do people still do that?).

    I did no such thing. Please read more carefully.

  3. Sorry, but

    “I don’t equate socialism only with the left wing, or the Labour party (Hitler’s party was the National Socialists).”

    looks like an effort to pretend the Nazis were socialist to me.

  4. I’m not pretending anything. The Nazis called themselves socialists. The ideological difference between fascism and socialism is much smaller than most people realize, as shown by the example of the Nazis. Basically they are two sides of the same, statist, coin. But this is straying too far from the point of your original blog entry, and I don’t wish to discuss this further here. I add the quotes below for those who might wish to study more.

    As I said I will write about this properly some time.
    I look forward to reading it. I have put the Hannah Arendt essay you mention on my “To Read” list.

    “The superficial distinctions of Fascism, Bolshevism, Hitlerism, are the concern of journalists and publicists; the serious student sees in them only one root-idea of a complete conversion of social power into State power.” — Albert Jay Nock

    “Comrades! We must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all.” — Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev, addressing the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, 2-25-56

    “The unity of a nation’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual; and that the higher interests involved in the life of the whole must here set the limits and lay down the duties of the interests of the individual.” — Adolph Hitler

    …statism has the broadest definition with socialism and fascism being variants of statism. A major point of both socialism and fascism has to do with the ownership and control of property. In socialism, property is publicly owned and controlled. In fascism, property is privately owned but controlled by the government. Property owners do not control their own property but have the responsibility for that property. The government has the use of the property without any responsibility.
    – from “The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus”, chap 20 in “Capitalism: the unknown ideal”, Ayn Rand

  5. “I’m not pretending anything. The Nazis called themselves socialists.”

    The names totalitarians use for things are not usually taken as reliable. Sorry, but if your ideology makes you redefine things to the point where Nazis are socialists then you should reconsider your ideology, not expect others to also redefine words. I realise this is drifting off topic, but I think there is an issue here in as much there is very little point going into some depth about what is happening in education, only to label everything you don’t like “socialist”. Not least because it leads people to suggest solutions to the problems that won’t solve the actual problems, but will fit a narrow ideological criteria of “not being socialist”. As it is I find myself dealing with people who say “yes, it is exactly how you say, but it will all be solved when the Labour Party loses power”.

    Anyway, when I get round to my blog entry about identifying the ideology in education, I’ll make sure I draw it to your attention.

  6. As it is I find myself dealing with people who say “yes, it is exactly how you say, but it will all be solved when the Labour Party loses power”.
    I’m not one of those people, nor do I label everything I don’t like “socialist”. I suggest you take your own advice. While accusing me of knee-jerk reactions, you seem to be doing the same yourself. Let’s close this discussion, shall we? It is producing more heat than light.

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