Lest we be burnt at the stake…

Unacceptable goings on and subterfuge in British schools, real or imagined, have been very much in the media, recently. But we are all guilty of it in our own way are we not? I suspect any teacher who has passed the 5 year service mark, has felt the pressure of the dictat when trying to teach. You might remember secretly giving your pupils spellings to learn during the ‘children learn to spell by magic’ era. Or perhaps you continue to try to teach your pupils to read by a combination of methods not reliant on phonics alone. Mathematical methods have always been subject to cultural and political censure. How dare you show the pupils how to do a short division method before they’ve spent a lifetime learning a range of ‘approved’ steps which they will have to abandon as they learn the next one? How ironic that the current regime insists on a return to classic methods (presumably of Gove’s own childhood) of calculation and states that pupils could be penalised in tests for not using these. In the same breath, we are to abandon the calculator, in spite of its introduction to the world of education in the middle of the last century. We could transport our pupils back to the Victorian era and they would hardly experience the culture shock.

The extract below is from the Local Schools Network, on the same subject:

We go through cycles of being approved or feeling like heretics only allowed to practise our dark arts in secret. I tend to agree with Patrick Hadley, particularly with regard to the use of long division, where my last pencil and paper calculation was probably in the late 70s. These days, I have a mobile phone with a calculator – and yes, I may end up on a desert island with only a couple of palm fronds and a burnt stick, but I suspect long division may not be the most pressing concern. I have carried out multiplication calculations, but my preferred method is now the ‘lattice’ which I was shown during my PGCE a long time ago. At risk of being executed as a witch, I show the pupils this method, after I have taught the formerly approved grid (admittedly a powerful and useful method), but warn them never to use it openly. Sadly it is the fastest and most accessible method for all abilities, that I have come across. And to answer the maths fundamentalist police, I CAN explain to the pupils how it makes mathematical sense too!
It is really time to remove the overt political or religious influences from education, true. But it is also time to open up the process to the understanding that things are not always what someone else insists they should be. Education is a process which should invite critical thought and evidential practice, but it isn’t like that in England. Teachers are frightened to criticise each successive hegemony or to to question the current dominant culture, even though they know empirically that these are constantly changing or being overturned. Is it that they are fulfilling their function of providing the required example for the next generation? Defer to the establishment. Do not question authority.

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