by Scottish Secret Teacher
In this series of three articles, a current Scottish school teacher relates their view of the absurdity of the New Normal in the education system.
This week: Teachers and other educational professionals are not blameless in creating the conditions for this national embarrassment.
Educators at all levels are very good at what psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’. This is when a subject holds an understanding of reality in their mind, and, despite evidence to the contrary, maintains that their perception of the world is the correct one. The fiction is maintained by interpreting facts in a way that are favourable to their world-view, ignoring facts or different interpretations that are not, and not processing the glaring contradictions in what they think or say. In the old days it was called ‘lying to yourself’ or ‘denial’. A lifetime can be spent in such a state, certainly a career in education can be.
In teaching there is a case for the legitimate denial of reality: it’s an ego-bruising affair. Pupils and classes can be challenging…to your self-esteem: you’re never as good as you hope to be, sometimes you’re struggling for mediocrity, and there’s the threatening, dangling sword of guilt that you’ve irreversibly failed someone and their life chances through what you have done, what you have not done, or because you’re you. Who wants to accept that? Matters are further complicated when the commanding institutions , of arguably the most idealistic profession, proclaim the birth of a new world, each term, with ecstatic, revelatory, rapturous language which implies we educators should constantly be celebrating achievements; but that success is seldom glimpsed in the chewing-gum stained carpets and stampeding corridors of a school.
In addition, the reality of little progress or often regression is ignored by an out of touch bureaucracy that ducks difficult choices in the hope of advancing their careers and pleasing their political masters. We now have had over ten years of the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ which had a great deal of political weight thrown behind it, trumpeting it as ‘revolutionary’. The inspiring language of developing the ‘whole person’, creating ‘learners for the 21st century’ and ushering in ‘a New Enlightenment’ beckoned a Bright Dawn for the ship of schools in the Scottish educational fleet. Career-wise, its wake certainly lifted whole boats of people upward.
Reality check. Standards are lower now than when I started in teaching (which were lower than when I left school); teachers are less impressive in their knowledge base and their independence of mind (as we’ll see). Pupils are supposed to be developing into ‘responsible citizens’ or ‘critical thinkers’ – aside from the fact that most pupils are doggedly trained – we have to ask, who is capable of teaching them these lofty aims? The entire Covid-19/coronavirus ‘pandemic’ has exposed the vast majority of teachers to be either shallow thinkers who struggle to ask simple, basic questions and then draw obvious conclusions from uncontestable facts, or educators who are so morally weak that they are psychologically enthralled by the twin powers of conformity and obedience to the extent that they will step over what reason and sense they have to impose absurd guidance on young people that is more in keeping with some sort of cult.
Leaving for a moment the conspiracy theories about the intentional dumbing down of the global population – certainly, there is no attempt to raise standards upwards in Scottish education – few, very few teachers have protested about the obvious lowering of standards in school work or examinations. In Maths the calculator has progressively eroded the student’s ability to do mental math; there has been an increase in classwork being used as a component of certification, and the competency of math required to achieve a Higher A is less today than twenty years ago. In English, it is the same. Reading papers that would once have been extracts from classic novels are now from mid-range newspapers. What was once two essays in the exam on Shakespeare and a demanding novel are currently a short poem in front of you and, if this has been the teacher’s choice of text, an essay on a film. It’s quite possible to complete National 5 and Higher English and never read a novel! And get an A! Many pupils and, sadly, teachers are in lockstep as they drive down standards and render less meaningful any achievement. And it’s across the board.
It was a slow, seamless process: hardly noticed by some, resignedly accepted by others, cheerled by proselytisers of ‘Inclusion’, and enthusiastically embraced by those who discovered that a lack of rigorous learning might not be a barrier to advancement. (Just repeat the buzz words, don’t question and do what you’re told.) In the entire corporate body of pedagogy, there was a lack of analysis and ethics as each lurch downwards was made. It has taken us to a place that is not only distressing; it is absolutely humiliating. When grown adults who educate for a living walk along packed, narrow corridors with a cloth on their face thinking that it will protect them from an aerosolised virus, whilst ordering pupils to do the same, then all the flaws and weaknesses of Scottish education are laid bare, and the dumbing-down (agenda?) has succeeded.
There can be little question that reasoning and critical thought are nearly extinct in Scottish schools, with curiosity and basic tenets of knowledge joining them on their death beds. Yet, it’s difficult to see that this loss of intellectual ability is the entire problem. Cognitive dissonance is not a congenital disease that effects an individual for life. It is an emotional and psychological disposition that can be corrected with a little courage to face the discrepancies you see in the world and then try to reconcile them with a more integrated map of your world, a truer one. Curiosity and questioning, after all, are natural drives in human beings, so you don’t necessarily need to be taught them or be a person with a degree to have these capacities.
But they can be repressed. Fear can repress the awkward questions, the dissonant information, the disequilibrium between the comfortable mental bubble and the, at times, harsh, real world. Intellectual diminution discounted, allows the only conclusion that can be drawn: there is too much fear in education. The first argument for that case: despite the evidence of their own eyes – people are not dropping down dead or being hospitalised in the schools where they work – the near-entirety of staff members refuse to acknowledge this and instead hold on tightly to their fears; still leaping apart from each other if another adult gets too close. It illustrates the power of fear: it can completely distort the world you live in.
Teachers and people who work in schools are generally nice people, a few are very committed professionals with empathy. Nonetheless, how can they teach the stated outcomes of the curriculum when they cannot achieve them in their own lives? In the case of COVID-19, they do not use their own capacities to research easily available evidence that disproves the mass media propaganda – thus failing to be ‘successful learners’ – or to stand-up and query dubious data and guidance – thus failing to be ‘responsible citizens’ – or attend their work without voicing fears whilst also projecting those fears onto children – thus failing to be ‘confident individuals’ or do anything positive to tackle a respitory virus, except act unthinkingly by manically spraying non-risk assessed chemicals everywhere – thus failing to be ‘effective contributors’.
All staff members were pupils once too. Clearly the qualities that should be rising to this occasion have not been inculcated through their schooling. Disasterously, this lack, mixed with fear, is being transmitted to children, which is far more terrible and life-stunting than any coronavirus the pupils will ever suffer.
Schools and teachers have to face their failure head on. We are not going in the right direction, we do not have the right structures and important individual values are absent (perhaps we don’t have the right people either). It will all lead, eventually, to social catastrophe. Whether by design or by accident, an uneducated, frightened and characterless population is not one that can constitute a democratic, meritocracy and will only prepare children for a future of what is now being called neo-Feudalism by academics and futurists: a wealthy, technologically empowered elite that sits atop a hapless and groaning people. Permanently.