Facebook Posting, 2012

This is one of the archival ‘Your Memories on Facebook’ prompts, but rather than re-share it there I am posting here: I’m simply proud of the restraint I demonstrated at the time, but also, with the hindsight we all now have, how incisive the observation was also at that time, and of course still is as The Gove apparently has come out in support of May’s grammar school nonsense, though I should perhaps regard such support as the kiss of death, almost literally:

Why oh why oh why did I just dip into watching Spiv Gove answering questions in Parliament – he is a brylcreem bastard in slickly saying so much to express so little. It is a rhetorical nothingness. He has no educational ideas other than an anachronistic ideology and even this is blatantly bereft of understanding. Can anyone imagine how hard it was to say just this so relatively politely?

To Say

Let’s break the conventions of

…to say…

I know you are more than
following;

more than following.

It is already
other ways

…miles…

and where you move beyond,
moving through the knowing,

there are layers like lines on to
understanding:

I think it would be fair to say.

The sound is there and I see you
watching,

then the rich vein from inside,
from years that have meaning

…just for you…

in a unison that is
gone by.

‘The Killer Inside Me’ by Jim Thompson: book review

killer

Written in 1952, this first person portrayal of the behaviour of a sociopath/psychopath in small-town America must have been then, and still is, both a frightening insight into the mind of a killer as well as a metaphor for the evil that can exist within an ostensibly ‘normal’ person and place, anywhere.

Cited by many as Thompson’s best work, I had to take a second run at reading in order to become wholly involved and to finish. I’m glad I did. I think my initial hesitancy was much to do with having seen the film version near that first reading. Even on the second successful one, the impact of seeing the film was destructive: [significant spoiler alert, so consider going to the fourth paragraph if…] because the critical narrative ruse is the fact that Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford thinks the first woman he brutally assaulted is dead, told so by his friend and the sheriff Bob Maples, and this is what gives him the confidence to carry on killing because he has not been linked to her death. Such foreknowledge from the film that she isn’t dead obviously destroys the twist at the book’s end: this is when we should find out Joyce is in fact alive, dramatically if deeply disturbing by her entry and what she says to Lou.

With Thompson’s penchant for peculiar/disturbing endings [Savage Night and The Getaway] it is fair to question the reality of the finale in this book. It could be that Joyce is dead – she should be after Lou’s ruthless beating of her – and he just imagines her return, especially as it is in his own home having been released from an insane asylum in an almost farcical legal scenario with the outrageous lawyer Billy Boy Walker. A house he has just primed to be torched and does. And all of this after he has spent a night watching images of his girlfriend Amy who he also viciously killed, these having been projected onto his sanatorium bedroom wall, though he is told later this never happened. But I think it did all happen, even though Ford is clearly insane.

Or is he? This is the wonderful dilemma for the reader, though ‘wonderful’ seems an oddly positive word to use for such a sinister suspense story. But that is its great appeal. We are drawn into Lou’s personal charm as both a person and lawman, a little dull but well-liked in his small-town community, and certainly highly intelligent: his reading of his deceased physician father’s medical, philosophy and other books is impressive. The possibility that he isn’t insane is more troubling than if he is, and this is the huge part of that attractive dilemma – which do we think, perhaps prefer, and probably need to prefer? Thompson toys with us brilliantly in the latter part of the book, and near the end he has Lou reference a book by Kraepelin which

…was written about a disease, or a condition, rather, called dementia praecox, Schizophrenia, paranoid type. Acute, recurrent, advanced.

    Incurable.

    It was written, you might say, about –

    But I reckon you know, don’t you?

And the fact Lou addresses us as readers like this, his own toying throughout the story, means we question whether this too is just an excuse, a manufacturing from his cleverness and ideas gleaned from his wide reading.

I did find the book dragged through much of the middle, though this might be a natural – maybe purposeful – bathos after the early graphic violence and revelations of Lou’s past. But Thompson does build the suspense cleverly in the final quarter, or maybe even third. There is a brilliant procrastinated narrative as Lou teases with his telling of what he has done to his girlfriend Amy Stanton. Chapter 25 is an artistic gem in the way it becomes a ‘list’ narrative, all thirteen of its paragraphs beginning with the apparent direct address of You or You’ve, speaking actually about himself in this generic third person, but also us, it seems, drawing us into his vision and explanation and justification, and the repetitions make it hypnotic and controlling. But of course the big tease here is what it predicts about the final chapter and story’s dramatic conclusion.

killer2

Posting My Agitations

There are a number of educational issues that will get me agitated and animated when being discussed and espousing views contrary to my entrenched own. There are many, but key ones are: testing in English Keys Stages 2 and 3; the damage done to GCSE English by Michael Gove; the academisation programme, and selection/privilege in education, either through grammar schools or public schools.

The current agitation-inducer is Theresa May’s political quest to reinstate grammar schools in this country and her truly unbelievable attempt to re-define them as agents for social mobility and a succour to the poor. My prejudices against this are primarily though my actual experience: having taught English for 30 years in an 11-18 comprehensive, and within this institution almost always teaching mixed-ability classes – certainly under my HOD control. I will also include my own secondary modern school education of two years [CSE and GCE].

As a student, I know I benefitted entirely from the quality of most teachers I experienced and the leadership of my secondary modern school Headmaster. It was a good, happy school where I always felt valued, and when challenged, was allowed to assert my independence to meet that. As a teacher, I always valued academic success and worked hard to encourage and support those who had the aptitude for it, and this was matched by my equal support and encouragement for those who excelled in other ways: neither trajectory taking precedence over the other. But I believe they and I had the greatest possible educational experiences by that very mix of trajectories and an ethos which did not give primacy to either [well, that is until a target culture corrupted that ethos by its insidious focus and demands]. And of course that teacher reflection is a snapshot summary of a far more complex and dynamic experience.

So I am bound to disagree with May’s proposals to re-establish grammar schools in this country. I would in whatever guise she attempts to frame their future existence and purpose because they are quite simply selective and therefore divisive. What I am genuinely finding impossible to understand and accept, over and above my clearly stated prejudices against in any shape or form, is her assertions that grammar and public schools can become a panacea for social mobility.

Because I am agitated and animated I don’t think I can proffer the most expansive and fully reasoned rationale against, but I do feel quite able to challenge and unpick a number of her quite random claims for a shake-up of our education system. In no particular order:

  • May wants private schools to do more to help the state sector and therefore help to deliver a ‘great meritocracy’. How does she propose to instruct the sharing of what it is that makes private schools ‘successful’ when this is so irrefutably and inextricably linked to their privilege? The privilege of selection, the privilege of small class sizes [often ridiculously so], the privilege of resources paid by extravagant fees, the socio/economic privilege of most students, the privilege of examination ‘success’ that can only ever be relative to those many stated privileges? This is a sweeping aside from May which is totally bonkers.
  • May wants independent schools to offer the same ‘support’ to state schools in order to earn their charitable status, but surely their apparent success is built on the same privileges as those of private schools [indeed, perhaps she is confusing the two and really thinking of a single entity]. The implication is she thinks that teaching and the curriculum are somehow superior in such schools. Well, it might be more wholly academic because of its many routes to being selective, but yet again, its successes in examination results [presumably the touchstone] are for those privileged reasons, not teaching and curriculum design.
  • May wants private schools to sponsor and/or set up state schools and provide direct teaching support. I don’t understand the financial implications of this at all. Do private schools pay for this? Does the government finance this but private schools exert their private control? Can this be done with taxpayers’ money? Setting this nonsense aside, where is the proof that private school teachers/teaching is more effective than others? Surely, the privileged environment in which their teachers teach contributes hugely to any apparent overall successes?
  • May wants new grammar schools to make places available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. But will there still be academic selection? So we can have poorer children who are not the failures of some richer children? How do students from disadvantaged, low-income backgrounds compete/gel with/ feel inclusive within the social milieu of grammar schools? That’s a hard question to ask let alone answer. What does ‘disadvantaged’ really mean? What kind of disadvantages can be overcome by the experience and tradition of grammar schools and those who work in them? That’s a hard question to ask let alone answer.
  • May wants grammar schools to open feeder primary schools in disadvantaged areas. Will the primary school students for these be selected? How does this address disadvantage?
  • May claims her proposals will not establish a binary system of grammar schools and secondary moderns. But will it still establish a bifurcated system of those selected and those who are not? How can this not be the case? That’s an easy question to ask and a bugger for May and Greening [and others] to answer, surely?
  • May wants to open up the education system to greater diversity. Why? Are a preponderance of faith schools, for example, the best way to help nurture a cohesive, inclusive society? Isn’t the core principle of comprehensive education that it is diverse? Diverse for all? Isn’t ‘diverse for all’ the definition of diversity?

I’m not sure I feel any less agitated but I am less animated because I am exhausted. All of the questions I have asked are genuinely born of my complete incredulity about May’s rhetoric of producing a ‘great meritocracy’ through her proposed ideological adjustments to the education system we have now. I’m sure I should be relieved and reassured when so many in her own party do not seem to agree with her vision, or that rhetoric, and even when Michael Wilshaw criticises it. And this will, I know, be open to debate before it ever becomes a reality. As I have been saying in previous posts and repeat this one last time [perhaps…], if May was being honest about wanting the privilege of grammar schools expanded and offered as a part of the education system, we could debate the issue more clearly and directly. My fear is that many people might be fooled by her rhetoric about the promise of offering social mobility and justice. It does seem that the electorate in this country, the majority who do not share in the prosperity and privileges of the very few for whom the Tory Party exists, are increasingly duped and deluded by the fancy talk about caring.

The Dogma of Definitions

Theresa May today described public schools as follows:

‘Most of the major public schools started out as the route by which poor boys could reach the professions. The nature of their intake may have changed today – indeed these schools have become more and more divorced from normal life’

This is the definition of a public school from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

‘The term public school emerged in the 18th century when the reputation of certain grammar schools spread beyond their immediate environs. They began taking students whose parents could afford  [my highlighting] residential fees and thus became known as public, in contrast to local, schools. By the late 20th century the term independent school was increasingly preferred by the institutions themselves’

It has always been about selection and privilege. May’s consistent promotion of her current ambition to help the poor and generate social mobility is not supported by fantasy views of a past or the future.

Theresa May’s Dogma and Ideology

According to The Guardian, Theresa May will be saying today: “For too long we have tolerated a system that contains an arbitrary rule preventing selective schools from being established – sacrificing children’s potential because of dogma and ideology. The truth is that we already have selection in our school system – and it’s selection by house price, selection by wealth. That is simply unfair.”

That pairing of dogma and ideology would prove an interesting question on any future 11+ selection test by asking how its contextualisation today makes it the epitome of irony.

I mentioned in my previous posting how May’s own ideological stance seeps through the holes in her argument advocating the return of grammar schools. The sickliest ooze is how she uses the term ‘selection’, appropriating and defining it as her version being somehow more prevalent and divisive than that of the 11+ itself – a linguistic shifting that surely beggars belief?

Labour has in its own history in government when it sullied the situation with the promotion of parental choice, though this did not include the encouraging to build and promote grammar schools. In this respect, they facilitated precisely what May rightly points out in wealthier and/or middle class parents having the means and motivation to select the ‘better’ school for their children to attend. It always seemed risible to me for Labour to argue about the philosophical point for parental free choice when it could so easily be undermined by the simple inability of a parent to afford and be able to transport their children to a school other than their nearest.

A succinct comment on the contradictions prompted by parental choice in education in the UK is contained in the following paragraph by Sonia Exley, Lecturer in Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, from a chapter in the 28th edition of ‘British Social Attitudes – School Choice’:

The fact that majorities in Britain support both a parental right to choose and greater educational equality sit in obvious contrast with the literature on school choice discussed at the beginning of this chapter. Such literature presents parental choice in the current British context as being in clear tension with educational equality, but this tension appears to go unrecognised by many, and there seems to be some disconnect in the public mind between inequality in the school system overall and an exercising of extensive parental partiality. Perhaps a greater role for academics, then, in drawing attention to the contradictions between school choice and social justice, is needed.

What I most abhor is May’s [and presumably her policy-making scribes’] language perversion of what ‘selection’ does fundamentally mean. The wealth and motivation I have acknowledge is divisive enough, but a selective testing at quite an arbitrary age of 11 which positively labels and nurtures one set of students against the negative labelling and potential disadvantaging of others is insidious.

At the fundamental core of the selection on ‘intelligence’/IQ and similar, is the inherent and arrogant classification of worth and value in terms of educational promise. This itself is undermined, further ironically, by those wealthy and motivated parents who pay to coach and train their children to pass the 11+ examination, and can then make sure they are able to be transported to a grammar school. Test questions like,

English: Select the option which has the sentence with the most suitable grammar.

  • Was it he whom had a house burn down?
  • Was it he whose house burnt down?
  • Was it he that had a house burn down?
  • Was it he who’s house burnt down?

As I said in my previous posting, this is no more than the perusing of the poles of the argument, but I therefore repeat how I wish May and similar would be honest and acknowledge that grammar schools are being promoted for the privileged and that this is an intrinsic ideology of the Tory Party. To keep dressing it up as a concern for social mobility and justice is – even where held as some honest purpose – minuscule within that larger political dogma that favours the few.

Theresa May’s Grubby Grammar School Ideology

I don’t believe for a nano-second that Theresa May and her right-wing followers [Fallon et al] believe grammar schools provide social mobility for everyone, this being the pseudo-philosophy behind promoting them as opposed to the honest argument that they provide for the privileged, and provide a formal ‘golden age’ academic education. Immediately upon her appointment [not election] as Prime Minister, May stood outside No 10 and claimed she as a leader would be most concerned about ‘social justice’. It was clear that the lie was firmly planted then.

May has claimed that selection already exists with the post-code non-lottery of wealthy parents buying houses and living near the ‘best’ state schools. This in itself flouts the principle of even her government that all state schools [but more-so as academies] should be of the same high standards. So much of the evidence is that state comprehensives have indeed made huge improvements and attained these national high standards, many, perhaps most, ironically not as academies. And despite so much withering political interference with the curriculum and assessment.

There are countless more holes easily drilled in her argument about provision for social mobility, and what seeps through these is May’s and others’ blind adherence to a grubby ideology. Having had a ‘successful’ grammar school education herself, she like so many before her – notably Michael Gove – make the simplistic extrapolation that what was good for them is therefore necessary for others.

I know this is one opinion simply set against another, but I genuinely cannot see the promotion of a return to grammar schools as anything other than ideological – and working in essence quite knowingly against equality in provision and outcomes. Why not be honest about this and make claim to a philosophy that the apparently more intelligent/academic deserve an environment and curriculum targeted at that presumed excellence? At least we can then challenge the educational claims on both sides of the argument. But to assert this political policy – so symptomatic of a PM wanting to make an entirely personal mark – is for a universal greater good is woefully disingenuous.

No, I mean a lie.