Perhaps it’s just me, but it feels as though the language, attitudes and rhetoric around education are going through a peculiarly masculine phase. Grit, resilience, DIRT, rigour: there’s definitely a lack of fluffy kitten type words such as empathy, kindness, compassion. Even though four out of five staff working in schools are female (see 3a here), I regularly see images of panels at education conferences made up mainly or solely of men. Male voices dominate the discourse on Twitter. The terms ‘master’, ‘mastery’ and ‘master teacher’ are thrown around, as though these words have no possible gender connotations. And now, we are told, the government plans to expand its programmes designed to instill a ‘military ethos‘ into schools. I have absolutely nothing against people from other fields coming into education; I had a couple of other careers myself, before training as a teacher. But to prioritise and fast track entrants from one specific field seems odd, especially when so few appear to be taking up the opportunity.
I have no doubt at all that there are wonderful ex-service personnel, doing a fabulous job in schools. There is no reason at all why ex-service people should not enter the profession. Values in the forces, such as respect and responsibility, are ones with which all educators would concur. But we cannot avoid the fact that the services are a masculine environment, and that this is a career in which people are required to kill other people. We cannot close our ears to stories of bullying, sexual harassment and harsh training techniques in the army. We cannot pretend that conformity is not a key part of the way discipline is instilled. This is categorically not to say that I believe ex-services personnel would bring such things with them into schools. But equally I don’t think the government gets to pick and choose which parts of the military approach they mean, when they use the term ‘military values’. Because, to my ear at least, this term describes a powerfully masculine view of the world: and it’s a world in which there are absolutely, certainly, most definitely not enough kittens.