Person Specifications, Mind Control And Silent Corridors

I am contemplating a move to a different place. As part of the ridiculous idea of starting a new life two years short of my sixtieth birthday, I’ve been looking at possible employers. Is there a school on the Kent coast that might consider shoehorning a cantankerous, creaking presence made up chiefly of swears and in possession of a hairline that, in silhouette, resembles that of a disappointed cockatoo into an English Dept. workroom? Furthermore, does a school exist in that region I’d be happy to serve in?

So I’ve gone in the direction of a job advert for a Teacher of English and am immediately impressed that they want “an expert practitioner”. I thought, “that’s me, that is: I qualify for that. I could get that job.”

However, the brief flurry of moderate excitement dissipated rather rapidly as I read on. The “expert practitioner” must be committed to a vision that involves “micro-scripting” and “‘read alouds”. I don't mind the second one as I can read aloud perfectly adequately and can do the voices and everything. I’ve had to look up what the former is: apparently, ‘scripted instruction’ is where the teacher has to follow a script that has been written for them.

In which case, I think, why bother hiring a teacher? Anyone who can read aloud would be able to do the job. And why advertise for an “expert practitioner” and then immediately divest them of that expertise? Any truly expert practitioner, on being handed their micro-script, would be replying,

“No thanks. I know what I’m doing. I’ve done this before, y’know. You did advertise for an expert.”

In truth, I can see the point of this practice with, for instance, early stage EAL learners and, perhaps, even for MfL at points, but reducing my level of knowledge of how to teach young people how to write to that of the kind of person who might be employed by a MAT to write such a thing wouldn’t work for me.

I get to the person specification and find out that I really don't qualify for this organisation’s idea of an expert practitioner at all. For them, the expert practitioner “must value our warm strict environment with silent transitions to support the well-being of our students with SEN”. Here we move into totalitarian realms. The successful candidate for this job is subject to thought control; they are told compulsorily what they must value, and the thing that they must value is the Orwellian practice of having kids banned from speaking to each other outside of lessons. This practice, which I think its promoters probably saw in some dystopian sci-fi while failing to recognize what they were seeing was satire, must be valued. It is a non negotiable. If you do not believe what we believe, regardless of your abilities and expertise, you do not qualify to serve our children.

Silent corridors were described by Jack Monroe when she discovered their existence, as turning schools into “a weird authoritarian compliance training ground.” And the reaction to Monroe’s tweet from people who are not teachers included the following: “horrifying and terrifying”, “takes a truth about children needing structure and turns it into a regime of brutality”, “dystopian”, “horrific”, “scary” and, presciently, as “1984 is now”.[1]

So I’m pretty certain I’m not going to be able to value something I hesitate to call a technique, as that implies some level of skill, that, after all due consideration, I think to be not only a blunt tool of coercion and control but, moreover, a piece of evidence of the alt-right of the education system sliding ecstatically into a version of pre-fascism. As for ‘warm/strict’, I’ve written what I think about this idea in ‘The Fascist Painting’:

“How am I ever to make sense of pain and the shell on my back, dear teacher?”

“Through receiving lessons informed by dual coding – having pictures to accompany language.”

“And how am I to react to being punished for every minor infraction?”

“I am going to do warm/strict on you now.”

“And what am I to make of the oxymorons in which authority speaks?”

“I am now going to do lovingly-abusive on you.”

Warm strict, nice nasty, clever stupid, stupid stupid.”

The person specification then goes onto stipulate that the successful applicant “must believe that a knowledge-rich curriculum levels the playing field for all students”. I’m still uncertain how I feel about a knowledge-rich curriculum, not entirely sure what I believe. I can see there is the kernel of an excellent idea here, but I can also see it lends itself to easy satire. What catches in my throat, though, is teachers being told compulsorily what they are to believe.

What I definitely believe is that advertising for an expert practitioner and then telling them what they are, in fact, required to believe either reveals a stunning lack of appreciation of irony or an intellectual issue of an altogether grander, more global order. I suppose none of us are ever fully alive to our own stupidity. For me, making cancerous non ideas compulsory is bad enough, but asserting that highly intelligent graduate professionals must also be subject to thought control is either spectacularly stupid or deeply sinister or, more likely, both. To say that any organization or movement that is so stupidly arrogant that they will publically espouse that what they seek is the mind control of experts is over-reaching itself is quite a substantial understatement. The experts are gonna kick back, you know.

My view is that, increasingly, we seem to be taking a profession that should be inhabiting the realm of the idea into the Stalinist arena of authoritarian mind control, and I worry that, if this is how the school views its teachers, how does it view its students? The job specification for the position of dictator has one chief requirement, after all: “First of all, you got to be stoopid.”

I decided I’d not submit an application, made a cup of tea, sat on the verandah, lit a fag and turned another leaf of ‘1984’. It, so it seems, is now.


[1] One of the responders to Monroe’s tweet worked at such a place. Here is her description: “Classes 8am-6pm. no break room, only coffee in an atrium, so any confidential matters were overheard. Zero pastoral care. Crying children ignored by staff. At lunch pupils were expected to do table service. They admitted feeling suicidal.”


Added Mon, 22 Aug 2022 07:58

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