“Sleep teaching was actually prohibited in England. There was something called liberalism.”

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There was an article in the Daily Mail this week about a bright young teacher lamenting left-wing bias in education; he worried that teachers were using their influence to brainwash the young people in their care, promoting ‘lefty ideals’ and anti-Tory messages. This is a serious allegation, and one that warrants unpicking.

First of all, education has long been viewed as wielding great ideological power, and its potential to be a cultural mouthpiece for the state is something that Althusser discussed when he talked about ideological state apparatuses and repressive state apparatuses. When you have a charismatic speaker and a rapt audience, there is certainly potential for this. But this may well be overstating a teacher’s charisma and influence, as well as over-estimating a young person’s willingness to be fed propaganda without an argument… But there are rules about political bias in the classroom for a reason.

Teaching does attract a fair amount of ‘lefties’, obviously. But I’m curious to know exactly what Calvin Robinson means when he thinks students are being brainwashed to support Labour rather than Conservative. Is it that overt? If so, let’s not pretend for a second that teachers have any reason to love the Conservatives at the moment. Rushed and poorly planned curricular changes: check. Selling schools off to private firms: check. Dismantling terms and conditions: check. Mucking about with pensions: check. Cutting funding, so that jobs have to be cut: check. Enforcing a pay freeze: check. Maybe the solution to teachers being apparently anti-Tory is for Tories to stop being anti-teacher.

Do young people have any reason to love the Conservatives? They are the ones facing tougher and more ‘rigorous’ testing. They are the ones who lose access to subjects that aren’t deemed necessary. They are the ones who face massive tuition fees if they want to go to university. They are the ones who seem, to use one of their words, the most ‘woke’ in years. Could it be that students are just engaging more in politics and seeking spaces to air their views?

I think there’s something more to this as well, and it’s to do with the current obsession with polarising every single damn issue into ‘left’ and ‘right’. Either can be used in a derogatory way. And this obsession ensures that we only stay divided. If political discussion in classrooms is more covert than overt, we are looking at the promotion of certain principles, rather than citations from a manifesto.

There is official guidance on the sort of principles that teachers must promote in classrooms: these are called British Values. It’s not a phrase I like, because when you look at the values, there is nothing particularly British about them; we don’t own them. We should just call them Decent Human Being Values. They are as follows:

  • democracy
  • rule of law
  • individual liberty
  • mutual tolerance and respect

See what I mean? There’s nothing specifically British about these; it’s not like there’s a reference to Queen and Country, Proper Queuing Etiquette, or Making Tea.

Do these sound inherently right or left wing? Should they?

Pair these with the need to ensure that Equality and Diversity issues are addressed sensitively and appropriately, and you might start to think that this is where a more ‘left wing’ bias starts to come in. If I told you that these came into effect under a Labour government, while British Values became a requirement a few years ago, would that make a difference? Does the phrase ‘British Values’ start to sound a bit like something from a UKIP manifesto? Or are we just projecting a political bias where maybe there isn’t one at all?

BV and E&D show that there is a definite ideological push in education, but it’s one that few would argue with. It’s fine to use that opportunity to teach kindness, tolerance and respect, right? Because if that’s what Robinson thinks is left wing, he’s really not saying great things about the opposite view.

Is he wishing that we teach two sides of every debate? Because, sweetie, there isn’t time, and it’s not always appropriate to do so. I talked a lot about politics this year during lessons on The Handmaid’s Tale; I taught these classes from an unabashed feminist perspective. Should I have stopped and given equal weight to the far right view espoused by the founders of Gilead? Because to do so would have fundamentally misunderstood the novel.

An E&D fail lesson went viral this week. In this lesson, students were asked to consider the slave trade from the point of view of a trader; they were asked to weigh up the value for money offered by the different slaves and take part in an auction. At a stretch, they can have some points for including numeracy skills, I guess, but this clearly hit the wrong note. Funnily enough, encouraging young people to treat human beings like commodities isn’t really the sort of thing that a Decent Human Being should do. Would Robinson approve of this lesson for its promotion of capitalist values? I suspect not. I really hope not.

Because it’s not really about left and right. It’s about right and wrong. It’s about Decent Human Being Values. If certain political parties champion those more than others, then of course there will be political bias. Rather than fighting the symptom, maybe those in power should address the cause. If you don’t want people to think you’re nasty, how about you stop being nasty?

And let’s be realistic. When you have attacked the education system for years, don’t be surprised when it’s not a fan.

Yes, balance is best. But sometimes it’s not going to work. If you had to choose between a ‘lefty’ lesson and a ‘righty’ one, though, ask yourself: would one do more harm than the other? Would we be more worried about one than the other? Is it more or less worrying when the politics of a classroom oppose those of the government?

I’m going to leave you with some quotations from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, on the subject of brainwashing. Huxley presents ‘sleep teaching’ in the novel – the very opposite of being ‘woke’.

“And that,” put in the Director sententiously, “that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny.”

“Till at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too – all his life long. The mind that judges and desire and decides – made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions… Suggestions from the State.”

The purpose of this ‘sleep teaching’ was to ensure hierarchical social stability – to keep everyone in their place and happy about it.

“Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I’m so glad I’m a Beta.”

When the State’s ideas are beamed straight into people’s brains, dystopia ensues. Maybe those ‘lefty’ teachers are just ensuring that young people grow up to be questioning and discerning individuals, rather than those who parrot propaganda. Now that doesn’t sound so bad.

Huxley, again, puts it better than I can:

“…most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”

I want young people to dream of something bigger and better. I want young people to have high expectations. I want young people to question injustice. I want them to discover and embrace their agency, rather than sucucmb to their servitude. I think that just makes me a Decent Human Being. If it makes me a ‘lefty revolutionary’, then maybe our society really is in poor shape.

Robinson has since published a follow up, which you can read here.

Is texting trouble? IDK, is this even an issue?

This post is by Shannon-Rose Clack, A Level English Language student at East Norfolk Sixth Form College. Shannon took part in a competition to create a blog post about Language and Technology, and her piece was selected as the winner. As part of her prize, she gets her first Guest Writer credit. Well done Shannon!

Texters have created what has evolved into a new sub-language, with mixed reviews.

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‘Mom’ seems to be a little confused by text talk (Textese). Misunderstandings with your mother? Best to avoid imo 😉

Textese is gushing out of the virtual world it has flooded, and is seeping into our irl chats. However, is the artful distortion of our language actually causing harm to it?

Well, depending on who you ask you’ll get a very different yet similarly certain response. A news article written by John Humphrey thinks texters are “vandals” of the language – that they “pillage” and “savage”… I wonder if the same was said of Shakespeare.

I’m in no way saying an overzealous use of “lmao” puts us on that revolutionist podium with Sir William, but, really, we are doing the same stuff: changing up what is and creating something new.

Young people are rather revolutionary, so no brows raise when they are automatically blamed for Textese spreading like a yawn. Even though 80% of texters are adults. And would you agree that adults can spell even though they are constantly seeing incorrect spellings on phones? So why worry that the 20% of young texters will fall short here?

Linguistics professor David Crystal found that worrying wearisome, so decided to slap on a cap and get investigating. Crystal learned that, in fact, young texters had more advanced literacy AND numeracy skills. Literacy improved because texting is essentially practice in reading and writing, no matter how much the words have deviated from their original form. Plus, a greater understanding of phonetics (sounds in words) is developed to be able to shorten words, omitting the least important letters. Maths skills heighten thanks to the code breaking skills required to translate some of the more confusing acronyms, (‘icymi’, I’m looking at you).

As the phone pictured above shows, occasionally people misinterpret the messages. This is one problem anti-text-talkers have with the language. It can lead to confusion where, with modern keyboard-adorned mobiles, there is little need. Although, regardless of it’s close links to English, like any language Textese needs to be learnt. In this argument, however, because the language is independent of English, its existence can’t take away from traditional talk.

Social media may be involved in the ubiquity of txt tlk. I mean, if Twitter will only give you 140 characters, ur not gna waste ltrs or expand on every little point. Is there a problem with being concise? And besides; abbreviations, acronyms, emojis… they are all identifiers of different writers’ styles. Surely anything that enhances expression through language is enhancing language itself instead of deteriorating it?

Text talk isn’t so new-fangled anyway. Emojis are reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Abbreviations like ‘c u l8r’ can be tracked back 100 years according to Crystal. Traces of Textese in a postcard from 1907, found by Caroline Tagg (journalist) is proof of this.

Does that not make the fear of language devolution more than 110 years after the phrases were coined redundant? Ridiculous, like an unshaven sheep in a blue woolly jumper?

No matter how people feel, it looks as if Textese has been here a while and isn’t leaving the building any time soon. Personally, I’m glad; I love a good ‘lmao’.

Shannon’s original post can be found here

Who needs some good news?

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It’s been a while since my last post, as it’s been my really busy season in terms of work. So busy, in fact, that I’ve barely left the house over the last few weeks. (Apart from finally getting to see Take That live, of course. But those of you who remember my Mark Owen poster shrine from the 90s will appreciate how much of a Big Deal that was…)

Rather a lot has happened since my WLGH post; Manchester, London Bridge, Grenfell Tower… Oh, and that General Election. The news has been pretty depressing all round. And it’s been harder and harder to focus on looking for the helpers, or the reasons to be cheerful.

Do we all need some good news? OK. Here goes. I’ll see what I can do.

Evil Laugh News

It’s been a year since Michael Gove put his name into the goblet of fire that was the Tory leadership battle. A year since he was thoroughly trounced. Does that raise an evil laugh? Yeah, he’s back now and that’s not great, but it does ensure we have a pantomime villain to boo. And an excuse for us to keep watching this:

Follow Forest Friends on Twitter. Trust me. Providers of risky belly laughs on a regular basis.

Yasssssss News

Game of Thrones is back this month!

Summer Time News

Exams are over for another year, and for the teachers among us, we’re nearly at the summer holidays! The sun is occasionally getting his hat on, too. Huzzah!

Beautiful News

Having been introduced to Pajiba 10 at my other writing home, I have to pass it on. It’s an annual celebration of the most gorgeous celebs – inside and out – where you pick your top 5 male and female ‘freebies’. Voting is still open if you want to weigh in! Oh, and you also get to settle the Best Chris argument once and for all. Go on, have a go. Or just have a scroll through the comments and bask in everyone’s lustful joy. Vote here!

Heart-Warming News

This is what happens when desperation is recognised for what it is, and law enforcement reaches for compassion rather than a gun.

Cute, Pure and Lovely News

Follow We Rate Dogs on Twitter. Trust me. Providers of warm fuzzies on a regular basis.

Puppy pictures on Instagram are my medicine of choice when it comes to chicken soup for the soul, but this video is particularly gorgeous. Who knew a chimp hugging a dog (and then pretending to play the bongos on the dog’s back, apparently) could be so therapeutic?

How can I follow that? Have a beautiful week, folks xx