A week is a long time in politics…what are the opportunists up to seven days later?

I’ve been writing the following post off and on, in odd moments during the last week. There’s been a lot to take in!

spiderman

Friday 1 July 2016

I never intended my blog to get too political in its content, but sometimes it is difficult to avoid. A week ago I wrote of a Brexit campaign dominated by ‘opportunists and second hand car salesmen’. I stand by that, and in particular by the ‘opportunists’ part. Boris Johnson has been shown to be a political chameleon interested only in his own ego and the climbing of political ladders, constantly repositioning himself to achieve that next rung.

It’s strange then to see him stabbed in the back by one of his own. Loyalty to ideals and individuals seems to be in short supply at the political top. I suspect that might actually be one of the greatest problems the political class has to face up to in these turbulent times. Integrity and credibility in our representatives and their actions are so desperately needed right now.

Chief back stabber yesterday was Michael Gove. In a rapid switch he took Boris Johnson out leaving him limp and deflated, like a week old party balloon. However, with this being much more an educational sort of blog generally, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves of how Gove left his previous job as Education secretary.

Although I don’t work in British education, (I work over the North Sea in Dutch state education) I do know many who do and followed Gove’s tenure through the media. On the day that he left the department of education the Guardian newspaper published an interesting article where an array of educationalists expressed a diversity of opinions. There is still a long way for Gove to go in his bid for the political top job, but the article does provide some interesting background reading.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jul/22/michael-gove-legacy-education-secretary

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Four days on, and confusion continues to reign. Michael Gove doesn’t, at least for now seem to have benefitted from any great springboard effect from elbowing Johnson out of the way. In fact backstabbing actually doesn’t seem to go down too well with your political peers it would seem.

I lose track of the number of times that I have been asked in the last week or two for my opinion on the situation. It would seem that being British and living in the ‘other bit’ of the EU has suddenly made me something of a curiousity and an expert in opinions.

This has extended to the classroom too. The pupils I teach have also on occasions been prompted to ask my opinion and to explain my point of view. It is here that I become most frustrated and infuriated with the politics of the last weeks. You see, in education we spend a great deal of time and effort instilling in our pupils qualities such as:

  • Taking responsibility for your own actions
  • Understanding that what you do has an effect on others
  • Being consistent and showing integrity in your own actions
  • Understanding that working together is a crucial social skill to learn
  • If you find yourself in a position of power or leadership, you have to be prepared to take on new responsibilities

I could go on but I’m sure that you get the picture.

I have enormous problems politically with the whole Brexit campaign, but arguably I more enraged by the actions of the political leaders involved. What message can teachers give to their pupils about the behaviour of these so called leaders as one after the other turns and walk away.

“With great power comes great responsibility”, whether you attribute the quote to Voltaire, Churchill or Spider-Man the message is simple.  If you take stances that lead you into a position of power, there is a type of behaviour and integrity that goes hand in hand with that position. This is the message I would want to teach; indeed, I think most in the teaching profession would stand by it. It is hugely regrettable that a significant group in the British political elite have displayed such arrogance and contempt for their position as role models for young and old in recent weeks.

I don’t remember this bit at teacher training

As a parent of teenage children I am only too familiar with that feeling you get when they want to go into town without you for the first time or they are going to go on a school trip to Amsterdam and are going to be given a hour of free time to explore. You are kind of excited for them, but at the same time anxious.

That’s the parent’s experience with their own children. A teacher’s experience (with someone else’s children) can at times be somewhat different.

Teacher training teaches you about your subject, about didactics and, if you are lucky, about classroom organization. It doesn’t teach you much about the burden of responsibility you sometimes feel for other peoples’ children and the finer points of crowd control. The importance of these last two points was brought home to me recently on a five day school trip I went on.

In short, we were travelling from the Netherlands to Oxford in the UK by bus and boat. Staying in a sports an education complex and on one day making a trip into Oxford for a tour, a boat trip and some shopping.  It all sounds quite nice so far, until I mention that our party of children was 135 twelve year olds…..yes you read it right! I should point out that I was one of a team of ten staff members, but that is still an awful lot of little faces to count!

street

Looking back, the trip went very well, mostly only minor problems of homesick children to deal with. But there is always in the background that weight of responsibility I mentioned at the start, coupled with skills in crowd control. On no day did I feel these factors more than on our day in Oxford.

135 excited twelve year olds in the busy Oxford city centre for the day.  I word be lying if I didn’t say that I felt a bit stressed by the responsibility at times. At the end of the day we amassed the whole group again before heading for the bus park, head counted again and then once more, just to be sure, before making our way through the packed streets in the drizzle just as it got dark. Our sprawling crocodile of children of children being shepherded by myself and my colleagues.  If you have ever watched one of those films of huge clouds of birds swopping through the air together, the overall mass of the flock constantly changing…..well yes it was kind of like that, except perhaps the birds are a little more in control of their situation than it felt we were.

birds

You know you are doing something exceptional, or possibly crazy,  when you notice people stopping in the street to watch.  On their faces a mixture of disbelief and pity.  One couple stopped to watch and as I passed simply said “how many?”,  “135” I said, the lady said nothing, simply stared with mouth open, and the man laughed and “good luck!”.  When we got back to the buses, it was time for the umpteenth head count of the day, 135 onto the bus, on more count once they were all sitting down, 135 again. We could leave with the whole flock.