Back to the Future

I went to school in the 1970’s. Some people say this was the time when it all went wrong. When state schools became all fluffy and child centred, when they renounced the traditional methods. Perhaps I just went to the wrong kind of state school, but this is not my memory at all. I remember it as a time when we kept our mouths shut and did as we were told. A time when those of us who refused to comply would be screamed at, humiliated, or beaten with a cane. Our lessons were traditional, we learned by rote, and we did an awful lot of copying from the board. Children were streamed by their perceived ability, with those at the ‘top’ given extra attention, while those at the ‘bottom’ were shunted to one side.

This is not a time to which I would want us to return. Despite all the difficulties it can cause us as educators, I am delighted that children now have a voice, and know their rights. Even though it makes a teacher’s job harder, I think it is wonderful that we are asked to engage children, rather than simply insisting that they comply. I have a theory that our view of how education should be is based (at least partly) on our own experiences as a school child. The terror I felt as a child, at the hand of adults, has coloured my entire vision of what education can and should look like. Corporal punishment was outlawed in state schools in the United Kingdom in 1987. Some of the people reading this blog post may not even have been born when this change was made. So please let us not forget, when we hark back to the ‘good old days’ that for some of us they didn’t feel that ‘good’ at all.

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12 Responses to Back to the Future

  1. Although I’m sure there are some people out there who would see these as ‘good old days’, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone – online or off – state that they want the things you list here to return. Can you give a couple of references to where these statements are being made? If nothing else, I’d like to argue against them as well.

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  2. Kris Boulton says:

    Who’s ever harked back to the gold old days?

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  3. MaggieD says:

    Perhaps things had changed by the 70s, Sue, but I went to school in the 50s & 60s and I didn’t experience anything like that. I adored Primary school, where are teachers were nearly all very nice ladies ( only 2 teachers and the HT of the ‘juniors’ were male) and the only thing I can recall learning by rote is the times tables. Yes, we sat at desks all facing the front and we didn’t chatter in class but it wasn’t hard.
    Secondary school (single sex Grammar) was a bit boring at times but that was partly because some of the teachers were not very good and, yes, the poor ones did make us copy (or write from dictation) endless notes, but that was exceptional rather than the norm.
    Whether we were better or worse educated than children today I couldn’t judge; but we were perfectly happy (apart from grumbling about petty uniform rules and being made to swim in the outdoor pool when the water was 60 degrees F).

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  4. nemocracy says:

    I remember boys being given the slipper by the HT – Junior 3 1966 – in front of the class. I can’t remember why. I had a junior school teacher who threw chalk and tea towels around. Girls’ Grammar was less violent (although some of the pupils…). My main complaint would be of neglect in secondary with no one taking much interest. If you kept your head down you were gratefully ignored. Loved primary school and loved people being told off! I always agreed with the teacher’s judgement. That’s a strong formative influence it takes a long time to shake off!

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  5. MaggieD says:

    Indeed, Kris. It makes me think that it is possibly quite dangerous to let one’s own experience form one’s views. Though, of course, there is always the resolve not to let other children experience what one felt to be ‘wrong’ about one’s own childhood. For example, there were things my mother did that I vowed I would never do to my children (nothing outrageously awful, I assure you!)

    My childhood experience tells me that there was nothing teribly wrong with a ‘traditional’ 50s primary education. I suspect that so long as children feel secure and valued in school, and their interest is engaged, the ‘style’ of education they receive might not be as critical as people think.

    (OTH Some aspects of my 60’s Grammar school education were dire when I look back at it, even though it was completely untraumatic- apart from that freezing swimming pool…)

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  6. sean says:

    I went to a catholic primary school #brutal

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  7. bt0558 says:

    “Perhaps I just went to the wrong kind of state school, but this is not my memory at all. I remember it as a time when we kept our mouths shut and did as we were told. A time when those of us who refused to comply would be screamed at, humiliated, or beaten with a cane. Our lessons were traditional, we learned by rote, and we did an awful lot of copying from the board. Children were streamed by their perceived ability, with those at the ‘top’ given extra attention, while those at the ‘bottom’ were shunted to one side.”

    Agree 100%, this was my experience too. In my school there was also the “slipper” used to beat us and a drumstick used by the music teacher. Some teachers would not hesitate to throw a wooden chalkboard cleaner at a student for no obvious reason.

    I went to a London comprehensive rather than a grammar, maybe that is the difference..

    Be careful mentioning “child centred” as this will soon be translated by the Tradstremists as “child led” and “child controlled”, suddenly you will be advocating letting the kids play games and have fun rather than enabling learning.

    Kris

    “Who’s ever harked back to the gold old days?”….LOL

    Surely that is exactly what traditionalism is about, the hint is in there if you look hard enough.

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    • Kris Boulton says:

      And I’m asking then, who are these ‘traditionalists’?

      Like Michael said, I’ve never heard anyone – not even ‘the other Michael’ 😉 – suggest that ‘education in the 50s was perfect, we ruined it, and it’s to this we must return,’ so I guess I’m just surprised that anyone would feel the need to dedicate time to writing in warning of such a move!

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  8. Thank you for writing this. You have revived memories of the physical violence children suffered at my generally good, small-town primary school in the 60s. A couple of teachers were terrifying and ruled by fear, shouting and hitting. I was generally a model child, and was shocked to be slapped across the face by a trainee teacher who lost control of a group.

    The children who were caned or given the ruler the most were ones who came from troubled homes. The instance that haunts me still is a little classmate of 7 whose mother had just died, and who got into trouble for pinching other children. The elderly RE teacher stood her on a desk and repeatedly struck her leg hard with a ruler, saying, “I hope your mother is looking down from heaven and is ashamed of you”. So cruel.

    Personally, I flourished at school, but it certainly wasn’t “good old days” for everyone, and I’m glad teachers are more child-centred than some of those I knew.

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  9. Pingback: Education Panorama (August ’14) by @TeacherToolkit | @TeacherToolkit

  10. Jill Berry says:

    I found Sue’s post and the subsequent comments interesting. I started secondary school in 1969 (mixed state grammar which became a comprehensive during my time there) and then started teaching in 1980. My schooling wasn’t brutal, but there certainly wasn’t much by way of pastoral care, in my memory. I was deeply unhappy for a time in my third year there and I don’t think any of my teachers really noticed. Certainly no one offered any support.

    When I started teaching, corporal punishment was still being used and, perhaps related to this, it wasn’t unusual to see staff (male staff, in my experience) giving pupils (boys) a ‘clip round the ear’ in the classroom or in the corridor, and I remember finding that quite shocking. I felt great relief when corporal punishment was finally outlawed, especially as my first promoted post was into a pastoral role and I knew there were staff in parallel posts who had been called upon to use the cane.

    When I compare my own schooldays, my experience of teaching in the 1980s and the state of education now I’m always aware of how far we’ve come – how schools seem to me to be much more caring places, with well-developed pastoral systems and positive relationships and, within the classroom, a far greater focus on helping learners to be their best. In some respects there are greater pressures on teachers and school leaders at all levels, but the rewards are also considerable, and certainly the provision the pupils get is, in my opinion, so much better.

    I’m interested in what others think.

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