The contents of a typical school brochure vividly portray the progressive ideology which dominates our education system.
Firstly, there are all of the pictures of pupils and staff with broad grins on their faces. These are supposed to convey the idea that ‘we make learning fun!’ But idiotic grins do not signify any kind of deep satisfaction in what one is doing. They are more likely to signify distraction. Properly focused teachers and pupils are more likely to have a frown of concentration on their faces, because they’re really straining their mental muscles.
The rare photos that do not feature toothy grins will feature something ‘creative’ or ‘active’. The only time you’re allowed to be really focused is when you are running towards the touchline, about to score the winning try, or when you’re playing a violin concerto for a rapt audience. This betrays one of the obvious contradictions in schools addicted to progressive dogma. Learning maths has to be natural and fun, but playing rugby or the violin will feature lots of drills and hard work. Without that, how would the school gain glory against its competitors? And of course the rugby or violin performance is public, so it would be rather embarrassing for the school if it were rubbish. Whereas the rubbish maths performance goes on behind closed doors, well away from the gaze of parents.
Another variation on the grin is permitted when you’re wearing protective goggles in the laboratory, as you gaze at a test tube full of frothing, colourful liquid. Then you can have the seraphic expression of a scientific genius as he reaches his ‘eureka moment’. It’s the joy of discovery learning! Never mind that your lesson was mostly filled with laborious, mistake-ridden mess, and an uncertain conclusion, which the teacher could have explained in five minutes, and you could have spent the rest of the lesson studying in depth and memorising thoroughly. You’ve discovered something for yourself! You’ve discovered that when you combine the thingummy with the whatsit, it goes all frothy and cool! And you’ve got lots of funny stories to tell your mates later about broken test tubes and funny smells! Eureka!
And we mustn’t forget the pictures of a teacher leaning over a group which has busily been discussing the finer points of a Shakespeare sonnet. They smile as they share the journey of literary discovery together. Then the teacher can drift on to the next group and find out what wonderful insights they have gained into the subtleties of the Bard’s language. What the photographer doesn’t record is the moment when the teacher walks away, and the group return, with a sigh of relief, to their avid discussion of last night’s football results. They will spend about five minutes of that lesson focused on Shakespeare, and four of those will be when the teacher is talking to the whole class. The other one will be the time he spends talking to their group.
Of course I don’t object to seeing pupils smiling and enjoying learning. Learning really is enjoyable. But the smile should be a smile of satisfaction at a job well done, not an idiotic, empty-headed grin. I look forward to seeing prospectuses in the near future which give some idea of what is really needed for learning to occur. I look forward to seeing pictures of teachers teaching and pupils listening. I look forward to seeing images of pupils frowning in concentration as they grapple with a really difficult concept or memorise a really beautiful piece of poetry. I think there are plenty of parents out there who are more interested in their children learning something than in their being entertained.