Alice in Education Land 3

More values and something of a quarrel.

In which Alice witnesses a fight and gets involved in a quarrel.

Alice heard a noise outside the room, which grew in volume from a hum to a hubbub to finally reach the level of a full blown commotion. There were two voices, similar to each other but definitely different in some indefinable way, both gradually rising in tone. It sounded rather repetitive.

“Yes, I do!”

“You most obviously don’t!”

“But I clearly do. It is my job.”

“But just as clearly, you don’t”

“I have to!”

“Then why don’t you?”

Alice could hear that the argument, if that was the right name for it, was going nowhere. She wondered if she would be able to put her debating skills to use to help the two, whose voices they were, to reach a conclusion. She poked her head around the door, which complained at being opened again as it was quite happy being closed. Alice had no sooner made a restrained coughing sound when she recognised the two people in front of her. They stopped their quarrel and turned to face Alice.

“It is Tweedledum and Tweedledee!” cried Alice. Two more old friends from her previous trip, who she knew to be by nature rather disputational. “What on earth are you arguing about?”2book18

“He says he is responsible,” said Dee, poking Dum in ribs, “and then he says he makes his students responsible as well.”

“So I do,” replied Dum proudly, “it is one of our values you know, or at least it used to be.”

Alice thought back to the Values she had seen on the poster, and remembered how the school had changed Excellence into Mediocrity. They had obviously changed the second one too, as it now said Avoids Responsibility. This would be the opportunity to find out why. She asked them to start from the beginning.

“Right!” Said Dee, folding his arms and adopting what Alice thought was a rather smug expression on his face. “First we must agree our terms. The Oxford Dictionary defines responsibility as being The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control of it and The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something. Now, let us consider the subjects you teach. Did you decide they should be part of the curriculum?”

“Obviously not! The school management decides what goes into the curriculum, but anyway they are the sort of subjects that all schools would have on their curriculum.”

“So there is a decision you do not have control of and are clearly not to blame for. What about the content of the courses? Are you in control of what the topics are?”

“You know perfectly well that the context is defined by organization that sets the syllabus and scheme of work.”

“Exactly. Another set of decisions that you have no responsibility for. What about the students in your class? How do they get their final grade?

“Well, it is sometimes an exam and sometimes assessed coursework.”

“You don’t even have responsibility for that then. Do you? In fact you have managed to avoid responsibility for whether the subject is taught at all, what the subject comprises or assessing how well the students do. All you have responsibility for is making sure you follow a path laid down by someone else. It is even worse for the students. They have none of those responsibilities either, and even the small decisions of what order to do things and how long to spend on them are taken away from them, because you make them. Not only have you avoided most responsibility, you have made sure that the students aren’t allowed any either”

“You can’t just let teachers and students make up what they want to teach!”

“You can!

“You can’t”

“It would be daft!”

“No it wouldn’t.”

“Yes it would! Look. Remember that chap i had in my class that smelt of glue and kept drinking tea?”

“The Mad hatter?”

“Exactly. Now, he was so barmy that, if I gave him the choices of what to learn, heaven knows where we would have got to. He came out with all sorts of gibberish.”

“Did he engage in what you were trying to teach him?

“Not at all. he claimed to be a personal friend of Time, who he must have upset a great deal to cause the lessons to go so slowly. His only interest was to continually experiment whether a sleeping dormouse would wake up if it was dipped in tea.”

“And did it?”

“No, er Yes, er I don’t know. I was trying to teach.”

“But not the Hatter obviously.”

2book26Alice interrupted. “I remember the Mad Hatter. What did you do with him?”

“We put him in detention of course”

He was certainly quite an individual.” This prompted a shiver from both Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

“Did you s-say individual?” The both stammered together. Alice nodded nervously. “Don’t let the Red Queen hear you saying that word. You will be in real trouble. We got rid of individuals a long time ago.”

“But surely all your students are individuals, all different and their education should take this into account.” Dum and Dee took turns to respond.

“They all do the same courses. At the same age.”

“They all take the same exams. On the same day.”

“They all arrive at the same time,”

“And leave at the same time.”

“They are all here for the same number of years.”

“They are all assessed in the same way, with the same rubrics.”

“We measure them all against the same learning outcomes.”

“They have the same books, the same computers.”

“They even wear the same clothes!” concluded Tweedledum, with a sheepish glance to Tweedledee, who was indeed dressed exactly the same as he.

“In what way could we say we treat them as individuals? No. like all schools, we celebrate conformity.”

“But that’s not fair.” said Alice, “Lots of schools talk about differentiation and personalised education just because they recognise children are individuals.”

“They may talk about it.” return Dee, “but they don’t do it. They do all the things we just mentioned, however impressive their rhetoric. Just think about one aspect. How can a school, that prides itself on treating children as individuals, justify putting them all in identical uniforms?”

With that the identical individuals disappeared down the corridor into the distance, leaving Alice quite exhausted.

Chapter 4