Spare the rod with interest

By Ray Lewis on Oct 6, 08 02:47 PM

Depending on which publication you read, It seems Ofsted, the government's schools watchdog has an annual spend of anything between 60 and £150 million of taxpayers money to enforce a "Target Driven" education strategy.

Armies of interfering Performance Managers with their massive budgets and salaries now test and monitor everything, formulate new strategies for literacy and numeracy and produce league tables to tell us what exactly? Little Johnny can't spell cannabis, but he knows where he can get some?

My personal experience of school taught me it is difficult to teach kids anything if they are inattentive, however well formulated the education strategy.

At school in the1960s I found some subjects incredibly dull, but I soon learned to fake interest because even back then education was "Target Driven." If you dropped your attention for a second, you became the target and a blackboard duster stained with the blood of many past pupils who lacked interest would bounce off your head. Even the thickos learned to fake it.

Whether you approve or disapprove, corporal punishment worked. It ensured discipline, and even faked interest allowed some information to filter into the uninterested brain. I've got a memory like a ... ...utensil for straining vegetables, but I can still quote every line of the poem Cargoes, by John Masefield, which was indelibly embedded in my head using the flying blackboard duster and swishing bamboo education strategy.

How it affects you in later life I'm not sure, but when I mentioned to my wife I was blackboard dustered, slippered and caned many times at school and it didn't do me any harm, her look of incredulity left me in severe doubt.

It's sad, but apart from the demise of corporal punishment, the way we teach our kids hasn't changed much since School Board Men were dragging little boys from chimneys. They are still being forced to learn about stuff in which they have no interest; the only difference being you can't beat it into them anymore.

Many of the great musicians, sportsmen, scientists, engineers et al began their careers at an early age because they found something more interesting to do than getting high and knifing their mates. Perhaps if less vocationally aware children were encouraged to follow their instincts, they would be less violent and actually enjoy their school experience.

I don't mean dropping traditional subjects. Everyone needs to know how to read the racing pages, write out a bet and moan about how much money they have lost. But it should be clear from an early age which child actually likes maths, which spends his day tapping out tunes on his desk with a pencil and which kicks a ball at every opportunity. Every kid will be good at something, but unless schools focus on their interests they will probably never find out what it is.

So instead of trying to teach kids what Confucius said, how Newton got a bump on his head, or even early twentieth century Middle Eastern import strategies for ivory apes and peacocks - why not let them develop their chosen pursuits? Even if they are not the sharpest spines on the cactus they will at least have a chance to excel in subjects that grasp their interest, instead of failing miserably in ones that don't.

Excuse the maths whiz PT for extra trigonometry. Don't force the pencil tapper to use his rhythm stick to solve equations - bung him in the music room with a set of drums. And the ball kickers? Wayne Rooney is reputed to be worth 30 million pounds. I'll bet his knowledge of ancient Chinese is limited to a mouldy King prawn fried rice at the back of his fridge.

Everyone my age detested at least one subject at school and could never learn much about it unless inspired by a chalky head wound, a swish from a giant pandas' leftover, or the throbbing mirror image of "PUMA" imprinted across the cheeks of his bottom. It is unlikely corporal punishment will ever return to the classroom, so if millions have to be spent on "Target Driven" education strategies, why not try letting the interests of the kids set the targets instead of those of the bureaucrats.

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