Thursday, 17 October 2013

This is not about Michael Gove, it's about what type of people we want to be

If a student where brought to us having been abusive to another student, we would not consider any excuse acceptable. Nothing they could say to us would make us say that actually it was ok to be for them to have been abusive to another human being.

So why do so many teachers think it is ok to be abusive to and about politicians? Why do we accept behaviour from ourselves that we would not accept from students? Is this a good example to set? Is it not, in fact, practically the definition of hypocrisy? We expect one thing from students, while doing the opposite ourselves.

Similarly, if being criticised we are much more likely to listen to constructive criticism. None of us would take kindly to abuse being hurled at us – in fact we would be almost certain to ignore anything such a rude and obnoxious person would say. So why do we think politicians are different? Why do we think they are likely to listen to people who hurl abuse at them? Surely the only way to be listened to is to treat people with respect, offer constructive criticism and open a dialogue?

Similarly, when dealing with disputes at school, we will mediate, get people together, aim for compromise – get people talking and working together to resolve problems. So why do we not hold ourselves to the same standards when having our own disputes with government? We would never accept from students the ‘nuclear’ option of walking out of a lesson – no matter how great the provocation, so why do we think it is ok to do so ourselves by striking?

We spend our time telling students how prejudice and stereotyping is wrong, yet many of us are prejudiced and hold a stereotypical view of political parties. Surely we have an obligation to ensure that we operate from accurate and considered information, rather than lazy and inaccurate stereotypes?

Students will look at how we behave much more than how we speak. If what we say does not match our actions, then they will conclude we have nothing useful to say. Perhaps it is time teachers held themselves to the same standards they (rightly) expect from their students.
A good and amusing article on political debate is here:, which I quote a small part of below:

           Disagreement in politics does not a pinhead make.

When it comes to debating politics, men then often create the following faulty syllogism:

·         I’m a very intelligent man and I believe X.

·         This other guy believes Y.

·         Therefore this other guy is a complete moron.

This is what essentially lies at the heart of nasty political discourse. And it’s surely a tempting conclusion to make. But take a step back. Does your “opponent” show other signs of being a feeble-minded moron? Did he graduate from college? Does he have a good job? Does he seem able to function as a normal adult? You know, dress himself, feed himself, and refrain from drooling? Probably so. He’s probably not an imbecile. He just feels differently than you do. He was raised in a home by parents with certain beliefs. He’s had life experiences that are divergent from yours. His faith or lack thereof has shaped him in ways that yours hasn’t. Now, once you have established that your friend is not a pinhead, you can begin to have a polite debate.

If we, the teaching profession, want to be taken seriously, then we need to stop acting in a confrontational and abusive way. We need to accept the truth that the Government is not making changes because it hates teachers, nor is it making changes because it wants to destroy the education system – they are making changes because they genuinely believe that the changes they are making are the best way forward for the education of children in this country. This ought to be the goal of all of us, and we are not going to make significant progress in moving forward together until everybody stops demonising the other side, and starts working together, talking together, and treating each other with respect.

Oh, and we would not accept from our students an argument along the lines of :”when they treat me with respect, I’ll treat them with respect”. We would expect our more mature and sensible students to take the lead in offering an olive branch, and I hope we would expect the same from ourselves.

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