A New Primary Teacher Writes…August 8, 2014
This was a comment somebody left on my last post, but I thought it deserved to be a post in its own right.
I’ve been following your posts having switched from a career in accountancy to primary teaching. This is the first time I am piping up with an opinion.
My training has been pretty much a cult-like initiation process into progressive teaching, however, my academic background (scientific/mathematical) has led me to question everything I am expected to do/believe. In order to avoid a even longer post, I can simply state that I agree with everything described in the book ‘Progressively Worse’.
As a rare logical-rational type in a primary school setting I have also come to question the orthodoxy ‘Children must (and can only) learn through play’. I firmly believe that the some of the behaviour issues that secondary teachers must endure have their roots in play-based primary education. That old adage ‘Bring me the boy of 7 and I will give you the man’ is so acutely true when I observe how increasingly difficult it is to teach year 5 and 6 children who have been left to do whatever they like, in the name of ‘play-based learning’.
Essentially, I think two rather odd myths collide. The first is the myth ‘out there’ that all children are subjected to some kind of Gradgrindian school experience. This, coupled with the child-led parenting approach, has led to children being given free reign outside of school to do whatever they like. No controls, no structure, no discipline. Just do whatever you like and ‘Be free to discover yourself by having bad manners and playing violent video games until 1am’.
The second myth, which exists in the world of state education, is that all ‘working class’ children are subjected to some kind of Gradgrindian home experience. This, coupled with the child-centred teaching approach, has led to children being given free reign inside of school to do whatever they like. No controls, no structure, no discipline. Just do whatever you like and ‘Be free to never discover long division, so long as your self-esteem is enormous and you really enjoy Art’.
I fail to see how the answer to lack of parenting, that would otherwise install self-control in a child, is a play-based classroom that has no structure and no discipline. Surely this would re-inforce bad behaviour? Such bad behaviour in the infant classes tends to be excused as ‘They’re only cute and cheeky little children’ by teachers who have adopted a motherly approach. By the time they enter junior school, complete with an inability to read, it is too late and the bad behaviour is no longer cute, cheeky or indeed funny. This behaviour is annoying, tiring and increasingly dangerous at a time when you are trying to prepare them for SATs and being able to access secondary education. You can turn things around, by being strict, but this is not advised………
By the time these badly behaved children enter secondary school, complete with their inability to read, write or add up, it is too late. When children enter puberty they cease to want to take advice from adults and instead follow their peers. That window for an honest message about the rewards of self-discipline and hard work, and how it is the single most important thing that can transform your life, closed back in Year 6, because primary teachers believe that children should live in a bubble of self-centred happiness.
Apparently children miraculously grow-up in the 6 week holiday between junior school and the secondary school? No I don’t think so.
I have begun to question why everyone thinks that the Victorian classroom was so inherently cruel (although we can all agree that The Cane was). These days I think that possibly those Victorian teachers steeled themselves in order to do the right thing, because they saw the home conditions of the children they taught, and knew that basic education was too important for children to fail.
Children these days are just not being taught to sit still, listen and be quiet. That basic, numero-uno most important skill for learning either never installed, or, if the child is from a home where the skill has been taught by decent parents, driven out by play-based learning in the infant classes.
The whole ‘Let children learn through play’ thing seems to come from a place of misplaced kindness, whereby adults just do not want children to experience any kind of struggle, or work, or inconvenience. It is a very emotional interpretation, and emotive types seem to dominate in primary education.
When I look at a child, I see, from my previous experience, the young working-class woman in my office who is facing a bleak career because she hasn’t been taught the basics, including the self-discipline to turn up to work on time. There is no safety net for her: government benefits are severely restricted for young people, and her parents cannot afford to support her indefinitely. I am busy reporting to clients and management, so cannot teach her basic grammar! Where is the happiness when, at the age of 16 and at the end of her apprentice probation, we do not keep her on?