Monday, April 09, 2012

Obedience and its discontents

Having spent nearly thirty years in what is often known as 'second-chance adult education', though sometimes I wondered about whether the nominal first chance ever really existed, Suzanne Moore's column rang a bell. She wrote,
I just hated school. Education policy is made by those who loved it, and this is a fundamental mistake. People who never regarded school as a moronic prison full of inane rules should not be in charge of them. This is why, instead of looking to the future, the current fashion in education is to look only backwards. 
Of course Moore was an adult returner herself. I wonder if she had a tutor who dished out the same big speech that I used to give to those often brilliant school failures that turned up to my classes. All of them had fragile self-confidence when it came to education; so I used to point out to them that failure was an intelligent response to schools, that they reward conformism rather than talent and that only the unimaginative do well. Maybe someone did, it may also have been a convenient excuse, or perhaps it is just screamingly obvious as you begin to succeed despite all those institutions having done their best to tell you that you were worthless, but she certainly thinks the same, writing here that,
Intelligence, the ability to connect and create ideas, the so-called thinking outside the box – these things are hardly likely when the box itself is idolised.
Though it was a good device for dealing with insecurities, it is a bit of a truism. All organisations require a degree of conformism to function. I know some great teachers who worked in tough areas and all would emphasise the importance of a functioning, structured institution to enabling kids to achieve. What then matters is less the matter of conformism, but the quality and nature of the institution to which people are asked to conform. Football fans will have had the perfect example this weekend. Scholes or Balotelli?

But this still leaves us with a problem, just where are those institutions that harness talent and foster creativity? And even more so, how are they to survive the bureaucratic stranglehold and funding regimes that constrict modern education as tightly as an Edwardian corset? Because now we are looking at the forward march of managerialism, the triumph of jargon-laden orthodoxy and self-perpetuating power structures. Everywhere there is a demand for subservience and the idea of management as a process of command and obedience is ubiquitous. Not only that, in a class society that is becoming more rigid, limited economic mobility is only realistically possible through a narrow conformism.

The sheer mediocrity of the managerial elites demands the same of us all. It certainly infects politics. Moore again:
Our political class is indeed the pinnacle of smug regurgitation. Many are the products of the very best education, and what do they desire? Only to replicate what they know, not to transform the world. As our access to information widens, our education system could open up. Instead, it narrows itself to certainties that anyone with half a brain would have questioned a long time ago. Go to school, get a good job, don't ask what it's for. Freedom does not come from thinking by rote. Whatever they tell you.
So now I look back on a teaching career slowly coming towards its end, a career record unblemished by a single promotion, and comfort myself that it is is only dull conformists who climb the ladder. That is my excuse. And I'm sticking to it.


Jim M. said...

It's hard to know at this stage if if mine has been a life well-lived , or an opportunity wasted. Maybe I'll never know,and maybe that's half the fun.

I do know I like these:

I sat there for a long time, and thought about a lot of things. Foremost among them was the suspicion that my strange and ungovernable instincts might do me in before I had a chance to get rich. No matter how much I wanted those things that I needed money to buy, there was some devilish current pushing me off in another direction- toward anarchy poverty and craziness. That maddening delusion that a man can lead a decent life without hiring himself out as a Judas goat.

( Hunter S. Thompson)

and from Norman Cameron:

Forgive Me, Sire

Forgive me, Sire, for cheating your intent,
That I, who should command a regiment,
Do amble amiably here, O God,
One of the neat ones in your awkward squad.

Anton Deque said...

My whole life has been, in worldly terms, a failure. Except for one thing: I enjoyed it, finally.

Anonymous said...

Isn't you first sentence a dangly whosy-whatsits

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree more. Well said, and glad I found your blog.