You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up

So in the UK’s Daily Mail comes a piece about a teacher.  An English teacher.

Who admits that she’s illiterate.

Well, actually, she’s not.  Apparently she’s just really, really badly educated and doesn’t know what the word “illiterate” means:

As a teacher with six years’ experience, you might imagine that I would have been in my element as I chatted about the eight-year-olds in my charge and offered their parents encouragement and advice.

Instead I was consumed with embarrassment. And no wonder. The father opposite me — a lawyer — was looking at me as if I was dirt under his shoe.

I had been telling him about the new drive to improve literacy standards in our school when he had interrupted me.

‘Can you repeat what you just said?’ he said. ‘I’m not sure I could possibly have heard you correctly.’

I had no idea why he was getting so agitated. To humour him, I repeated slowly: ‘I said that me and the headmistress are doing all we can to improve standards.’

I might as well have told him that we were planning to bring back the birch. Throwing his hands up in the air, he launched into a tirade that left me red hot with shame.

‘Me and the headmistress?’ he ranted. ‘Don’t you know it should be: “The headmistress and I”? How can you call yourself a teacher when your grammar is so poor?’

And a little later in the piece:

The stark truth is that most people educated in a state school in the Seventies and Eighties had little or no grounding in grammar. And many of us have become teachers. Scarred ourselves, we have passed the damage on.

I’m convinced the rot started in 1964 when Harold Wilson’s Labour government came to power and abolished the 11-plus in many areas. Parents were told this was to enable primary schools to develop a more informal, child-centred, progressive style of teaching, with the emphasis on learning by discovery.

As a teacher, I can see this is rubbish. The belief that grammar could be ignored was virtually all pervasive until 1988, when the Conservative government introduced the National Curriculum.

This observation dovetails nicely with the one made by former New York Teacher of the Year, John Taylor Gatto, when he wrote:

I lived through the great transformation which turned schools from often useful places (if never the essential ones school publicists claimed) into laboratories of state experimentation. When I began teaching in 1961, the social environment of Manhattan schools was a distant cousin of the western Pennsylvania schools I attended in the 1940s, as Darwin was a distant cousin of Malthus.

Discipline was the daily watchword on school corridors. A network of discipline referrals, graded into an elaborate catalogue of well-calibrated offenses, was etched into the classroom heart. At bottom, hard as it is to believe in today’s school climate, there was a common dedication to the intellectual part of the enterprise. I remember screaming (pompously) at an administrator who marked on my plan book that he would like to see evidence I was teaching “the whole child,” that I didn’t teach children at all, I taught the discipline of the English language! Priggish as that sounds, it reflects an attitude not uncommon among teachers who grew up in the 1940s and before. Even with much slippage in practice, Monongahela and Manhattan had a family relationship. About schooling at least. Then suddenly in 1965 everything changed.

Whatever the event is that I’m actually referring to—and its full dimensions are still only partially clear to me—it was a nationwide phenomenon simultaneously arriving in all big cities coast to coast, penetrating the hinterlands afterwards. Whatever it was, it arrived all at once, the way we see national testing and other remote-control school matters like School-to-Work legislation appear in every state today at the same time. A plan was being orchestrated, the nature of which is unmasked in the upcoming chapters.

Think of this thing for the moment as a course of discipline dictated by coaches outside the perimeter of the visible school world. It constituted psychological restructuring of the institution’s mission, but traveled under the guise of a public emergency which (the public was told) dictated increasing the intellectual content of the business! Except for its nightmare aspect, it could have been a scene from farce, a swipe directly from Orwell’s 1984 and its fictional telly announcements that the chocolate ration was being raised every time it was being lowered. This reorientation did not arise from any democratic debate, or from any public clamor for such a peculiar initiative; the public was not consulted or informed. Best of all, those engineering the makeover denied it was happening.

1964 in the UK, 1965 in the U.S.  Coincidence? 

But I wrote all that so I could post this, the Quote of the Day, definitely the Week, possibly the Month and contender for Quote of the Year, by our “illiterate” teacher:

Thankfully, I had the good grace to quit teaching and take a job in the media.

I can’t think of a more appropriate place for her!  Can you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.