Wednesday, 6 November 2013

6th November 2013 - I Saw the Ghost of Michael Gove Today - Political/Angry

When I was thinking of writing this blog, I felt weak and broken. I felt like a sad loser and profoundly on the wrong side of the track, rhetorically. But it didn't let me go and the article below made me sure that I not only was right, but that I needed to speak out. I will not divulge where the company I was a guest of today is, nor name any of their employees. But I do have a story to tell about what happened to me today and I think it's worth getting out of the comedy mould for what Greg Proops would call "the boring preaching part". I did not have to sign a secrecy agreement nor any other documents. This also means that my opinions are my own and nor blogger, nor the company has the right to remove it. Fundamentally, this story is about my disappointment in what the British educational system is about to become. It's genuinely upset me. I know that in context, my behaviour was not appropriate and I might have reacted differently if the first part of the seminar had gone better. This is not the reason I am a teacher or why I want to become an academic. God, it was like hell to me and I need to get it off my chest. First, read this:

Read it? I read it after the event. I don't think it would have influenced me and what I did and said today.

I had found a job advert on my university's website. It was for a teacher/tutor position. It looked good, interesting and a great way to keep on going being a teacher. Last year, I worked as a tutor and teacher with children of secondary school age. I enjoyed it a lot, I loved the sense of communality that occurs when some genuinely learns something. Be it something as ostensibly harmless as irregular French verbs and you sometimes find that what you have communicated -and this specifically pertains to history, English and Philosophy- genuinely changes the way a young person thinks. The words: "Oh, I'd never thought about this from that perspective!" are great ones for anyone passionate about education.

I was called back on the basis of my cover letter and CV and after a short chat, I was invited to come for a training day. Not for Modern Foreign Languages, in which I have most experience, but in English and Public Speaking. As I have a degree in English Language and Literature and experience as a performer, this would fit beautifully. This training day, oddly, would not be paid for, nor would travel costs be reimbursed. I was surprised, but I still came out today, in my suit, looking forward to the training day.

I arrived in plenty of time, there were oddly only men, who had found the same advert and replied. They were mostly from the science-end of the spectrum and were nice and friendly. We had a coffee and then moved to the meeting room. The man leading the training looked and sounded nice and well-intentioned. And I am sure that he was. Throughout the session, he dropped that he did motivational speaking work. I was not surprised. The style of his speech was full of the cadences of HR and positivity coaches I have encountered in my many, many years on this planet. This year, however, I was not so patient as I perhaps should have been.

The first task we were all set was to tell the group about an inspirational teacher. I chose dr. Gene Moore. I told about how his class on Borges' The Library of Babel freed up my mind to the manifold possibilities of literary studies and the freedom Gene gave to our interpretations. He taught me that if I could argue my point well enough, I could never be wrong, but that my voice would be valuable. Eventually, everyone did this in turn. I put my hand up to go first. I told the story, I thought I connected to the rest of the group. I have done this for a long time, so I was confident I could at least talk to people. 

After everyone had had their turn, the man who lead the seminar took me outside told me he was very disappointed in me and had given me a 4 out of ten. I was surprised. Apparently I spoke too quickly (I did not) and I said 'er' too often. I did not know how to react. I am willing to accept that I might be completely psychotic and that all of the teaching I have done was disgracefully bad, that all public speaking I have ever done was worthless and that I was constantly 'er'-ing throughout my life. I couldn't understand and I felt like they dropped me before they tried. I asked whether it was because I was Dutch, or whether I'd done anything that had upset them. No, apparently it was all fine. If I just spoke slightly slower and 'er'-ed a bit less I would get that 4/10 up to a 8/10. I was quite sceptical of this, since my teaching qualities would hang on my speed of speech and my proclivity to use the stopgap 'er'. And I did try to accommodate them. I lowered my voice and spoke slower in every single sentence I spoke afterwards. I did feel deflated and worthless. I was shocked that I was marked down so much just because I spoke slightly too fast for an imaginary audience of 12 year-olds (which we hadn't been told to write for). All others, speech issues galore, got higher marks than I did. But their focus in their short talks was on correctness. They were -apart from one- science and maths people, for whom correctness is more relevant.

Despite my disappointment and the now obvious distrust I got from the men who lead the seminar, I chose to stay. I did want the job. Sorry, I still did want the job then. It must have been a momentary lapse in concentration, surely. I was going to make up for it later. 

We started going through the book of rules for every class. Constant and repetitive attention was paid to the disciplinarian aspects of teaching with special attention to punishing disruptive students. What would students do to actively disrupt class? Because that's what students do, right? They do not want to learn, they want to be outside, playing football. And they certainly felt too good for school. This was new to me, never having had issues with this kind of motivational difficulties from students. The leader of the seminar continued sketching what all children essentially were: they were disruptive, lazy, disinterested and were going to be supermodels and professional footballers anyway. Really? Students I have worked with have always known the difference between dreams and reality. Dreams are a great thing, but the future is more complicated than that. Anyone but the most delusional ten year old knows that dreams are dreams and that they serve a purpose, but that most people don't end up becoming Hollywood actresses.

I wasn't sure. What I have seen as a tutor is a lot of children who have profound difficulty in coping with the stresses of increasingly heavy workloads in school and the high expectations placed upon them. These children are not aspirational, just in the wrong field. No, they were defeated. This was irrelevant, apparently.

Before every lesson, then, the tutors would have to outline that the students would never be popstars, but that they had to work hard to become valued members of society. Nothing wrong with that, a bit negativistic maybe, but still. What then was said shocked me: that as members of society, these children would especially make their marks within the entrepreneurial world. WHAT? Yes, you want to build those bridges, be successful (not my words) and earn a lot of money. 99% of success stories are about people working hard to attain those goals. WELL... it depends what your idea of success is.

I thought I saw a laughing Michael Gove flit past the room and back into the sky.*

I had to question this. Why were we supposed to provide these ideologically questionable ideas to children? Children are impressionable. As violent and harmful television can be, to be told, multiple times a week, that you can only ever be successful (what a word) in the world of business and entrepreneurship is more violent and repressive than that. I would not want to live in a world like that. This is where the ideological harm that Gove is doing to the next generation of children comes in. Michael Gove wants to create a populace that a. votes Tory because they value money above the wellbeing of their fellow citizens, b. does not care about art, culture or the possibility of people having a different perspective than they do, and c. unimaginative, unfeeling and apathetic. To damage children (CHILDREN!) with this is beyond me. I had to question it. 

Obviously, I was treated as a disruptive influence, had to pack my bags and leave. The leader of the seminar was disappointed, so was I. He gave me one of the least convincing wellwishes I have ever received. Lost for words, I just looked at him. I couldn't believe that he meant what he had been saying. God, it'd be worse if he did. Then, if this was his genuine notion of being well-intentioned, is exactly what scares me.

I know I should respect people with a different ideology to mine. I know my views might easily be misconstrued as being petty and that I am a bad loser because I didn't get the job. To that criticism I say: a. you're being essentially fascist, you prick, b. I care too much about children's lives to let this go without saying something about this and I genuinely believe your views are harming children's lives and c. I think independent thought is to be applauded and this company clearly did not believe in individual expression but in the depressing neo-liberal world that I fight tooth and nail to become reality.

And to Polly Toynbee I say: if you're on a demo somewhere, let me know. I'll come and support you. Also dr. William McEvoy. If you ever need me on a demo, I will be very happy to help out.

I will leave you with a video of Caroline Lucas MP, addressing the 'Say No To Privatisation' occupation at the University Sussex, earlier this year. She memorably addresses the values of the humanities, values that clearly do not chime with this company. I am very happy to say I will never work for them. Much love, J‎ 

*I didn't really, that was obviously a metaphor you literalist douchebag.



    A good friend just pointed out to me that this post may be misread as equating science with the viewpoints espoused by this company. Science, as she said, is all about independent thought and curiosity (one only has to think of, for instance, Richard Feynman and a book title like 'The Pleasure of Finding Things Out'). I do not suggest for one second that science and rational thought lead to the ideological narrowness as espoused by said company and Michael Gove. So there. The Sciences are as much under fire as the Humanities by this reductionist view of education. I hope the science people in the group did the same thing, eventually, and left.

  2. And then on December 5th, THIS happened:

    Just had the weirdest phone call. Some of you may remember my blog about a particularly horrific training day I had with this tutoring company 6 weeks ago. I was eventually successful in my request for having them removed from UCL Jobshop. Now, out of the blue, I get a phone call whether I want to work in Hounslow on Saturday. Apparently, even though they nearly forcibly removed me from the training day for asking difficult questions, my name had a tick next to it.
    Even though I, for a moment, played with the idea to just go and do it, I told the truth and the lady on the phone was quite shocked. I said that even if I wanted to do it, I wouldn't qualify not having had the requisite training. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said.
    "That's ok. No worries. Actually, I'm more sorry for you, if anything."