My subject is not some kind of obscure, eccentric, elitist aberration. Like all disciplines, it covers an aspect of the world around us which can enlighten people who have yet to know it. Delivered in a coherent way, it has intrinsic interest where that is allowed to shine through, and not fragmented or subverted for ulterior motives. My subject will not be of deep interest to all students (that is reasonable – and not my fault), but a wide and balanced curriculum can provide something for everyone, insofar as most pupils are biddable. For those who respond at a deeper level, it can provide enduring enrichment for life – irrespective of what the jobs market or wider world throw at them. It needs no more ‘use’ than that.
My subject also provides me with a welcome dose of intellectual stimulus (at least when teaching older students) which is part of my reward for doing the job; its subject matter is intimately linked with both my professional identity and the sense of vocation necessary for me to do this work.
My subject is not merely a means to an end, and I need to be able to teach it in a way that allows me to put my best polish on it. In my case, that is by cultivating a culture of quiet thoughtfulness rather than perpetual novelty.
I see no reason why ‘academic’ (in the narrow sense) should be a dirty word in school circles.
A few days ago, I discussed the questionable wisdom of using education for promoting social mobility. This was not to say, however, that all ‘social engineering’ is wrong: simply to educate someone is to manipulate their life in some way. What seems unjustifiable to me is the foreclosure of so many dimensions of that process simply to promote one centralised view of what is desirable. This applies equally to the restrictions imposed on teachers in the name of being ‘interesting’ ,‘fun’ ,‘economically relevant’ or simply compliant – or on pupils, many whom are implicitly assumed to be incapable of serious thought, instead needing to be merely edu-tained until they can go out to work. To my mind, this amounts to an unacceptable restriction of individual liberty, when education should be about facilitating diversity not increasing uniformity.
The mental agility developed by academic activity is an invaluable tool in the classroom, whether turned into a quick wit, or a profound well of knowledge that students can draw on, once exposed to it. I have experienced little that cuts through to pupils like the earnest experience of real insight – and that is best cultivated in a pure academic way, free from the pedestrian diversions of minimum targets, peer assessments and the like.
A more inspiring opportunity I think education in the true sense cannot offer – and so much more meaningful than any number of ‘edutainment’ games and party tricks. I cannot claim that this is the easiest route – it takes time and patience before children start to engage in real thought, and the success rate will never be 100%. I fear that all this froth has crept in simply as a way of avoiding the sometimes-challenging task of getting pupils to focus on the real, deep issues.
Despite all of the distractions that beset modern children, we should challenge them to confront serious learning rather than shying away from it. I tell my pupils that we don’t play endless games in my class because I consider their education (and the issues) to be more important than that. They come to understand: we under-estimate children if we think they are incapable of responding to this.
So yes, I am a teacher of Geography – to children, of course.