Whilst the receptionist was undergoing a minor/major meltdown, I sat and waited. I waited some more…
Then, other people arrived and waited with me.
The northern star was twinkling into action and there lay before me a whole galaxy of this. As I waited, I shared some snippets of conversation with a woman who had once been an assistant-head at a school I had worked at long, long ago. She seemed more grounded now than I could ever remember her being; perhaps that is what supply does to you.
First up was a group of Year 10s. They were mostly quiet if not particularly hardworking. Their subject was Financial Management. They had a Powerpoint to produce. As the lesson was swinging into an hour of acceptable monotony, a little dispute started into life. A maths teacher was trying to persuade three girls that they should attend a maths revision talk (at a local theatre) that they had signed up for. The girls were not having it. They steadfastly refused.
I was interested to see what had broken the calm of my first period. It turned out that they girls would not attend the event because they would miss two lessons by their favourite teachers. There was something quite decent about that, however their refusal to do as they were reasonably being asked to do was something that was occurring more and more in schools.
Straightforward, reasonable requests (stop climbing out of the window – we are on the tenth floor) are now up for discussion. No, not discussion but contention. It’s a free world and that means that I am free to do as I choose and am also free to completely ignore any request that happens to get in my way.
As part of the discussion/contention process, an assistant vice-principal was called in along with the head of maths. Four refuseniks and three teachers, of varying levels of perceived status, were now involved in a protracted disagreement. Nothing is simple any longer. Everything takes negotiation. It’s like freeing hostages or something similar. Even with this weight of numbers, the outcome wasn’t certain.
On the periphery of all this was a Year 10 class who were quickly being drawn into the debate. It was becoming one of those TV shows where half-wits appear to resolve their ridiculous differences. They are given a platform, an audience, and an overblown sense of their self-importance. And some people watch it as if it is real.
There is a trend in teaching which promotes a reasonable, rational, and empathetic approach to dealing with conflict and disobedience. It’s a softly, softly, I can see where you are coming from, approach which works in as much as it does not fan the flames of disagreement. It doesn’t seem to work any more and I think that is down to its overuse.
Consider antibiotics as fundamental to this argument. The taking of antibiotics has long been seen as a way of combatting all those nasties that would have the better of us, without the medicine so thoughtfully developed by Alexander Fleming.
Nowadays, only fools take them. They have become as cutting-edge as placebos. Infections just laugh in the face of such mumbo-jumbo and plough straight on with their intended paths of destruction.
For a short while, though, the patients do feel better (and then they die).
Perhaps society is a Petra Dish and nobody has noticed the rapid growth taking place in the centre.