‘It was one of those gray mornings after light rains, which become delicious about twelve o’clock, when the clouds part a little, and the scent of the earth is sweet along the lanes and by the hedgerows’ (George Eliot, Middlemarch).
We’re supposed to be teaching British values to our pupils. As with character education, this is best delivered through traditional subjects. I can happily teach my pupils to be proud of their British literary heritage: there’s no shortage of very British and very valuable material there. These sorts of things just don’t work in the abstract, just as you can’t think critically without something to think about, or without background knowledge in order to make reasoned, well-informed judgments about your topic.
But here’s something less exalted which could easily be included in the menu of British values, and integrated into a few minutes of conversation during morning registration: British weather.
We often talk about it at school anyway, especially in the morning, after we’ve fought our way through blustery, wet conditions. Typically the conversation doesn’t get much beyond moaning, though, and it’s usually very ill-informed. This is a real missed opportunity. Britain has great weather for growing things: the wind, the rain and the clouds bring the warm air and moisture which makes our country so green and fertile. On the other hand, the clear skies and sunshine for which people typically yearn are sterile without rain to complement them. They often bring frosts in spring which threaten fruit crops. The fact is, a cloudy, wet spring is best for anyone interested in cultivating the land.
I love Britain, and I love its weather. I love the drama of big fluffy clouds racing across the sky. I love the battle that rages over our island between dry air from the continent and warm fronts from the ocean. I love bracing, cool air that gives laundry a wonderful scent when you get it in from the line.
But what I see in most of my pupils is discontent. They can’t see the point of the rain or the clouds. They just want it to be warm and sunny all the time. Detached from the land, they see the weather purely in terms of personal convenience, and miss its broader significance. Here is one of the many areas where a little factual knowledge can be an immensely enriching thing. Just finding out that the prevailing wind comes from the southwest, from the ocean, was a revelation to me. I discovered that when I was about twenty. I set out on a bike ride from Oxfordshire to Devon, and it was harder going than I expected. The wind always seemed to be blowing against me. Discovery learning is very hit and miss!
Just a basic factual overview of where our British weather comes from, and why it so wonderful for growing all kinds of delicious food, would be immensely enriching for our pupils, and help them to love and appreciate the country where they live, instead of longing for sterile sun and sand all the time.