I recently read ‘A Sense of an Ending,’ by Julian Barnes. I’m not yet sure what I think of the book but one aspect of the protagonist’s life made me think. Having completed university, Tony Webster fell into a career in ‘arts administration’. There was no real plan. Life just happened to him. He reflects on the contrast with a school friend who took a different, more violent path to assert control over his life.
Did you just fall into teaching? Was it something that just happened to you? If so, I suggest you might want to own it. Here’s why.
If you ever feel the urge to write futuristic dystopian fiction then I have a formula you can use. Imagine some kind of horror: children forced to fight to the death, people kept as food for other people, sentient robots hunted down and killed for what they are. Now superimpose a society that doesn’t seem to mind, where TV presenters gossip and sell products just like they do in our world or mawkishly interview those about to be slain. In this society, people behave as they are expected to behave. They collude. Except one: our hero who notices the underlying evil and decides to confront it.
It’s a good trope because it is so real. This is, in essence, what our society is like. Ideas, both horrific and benign, sit under the surface. They are not hidden. We are all aware of them. But we often don’t care for the detail and carry on as if nothing can be done. The chattering classes prefer gossip and an endless, fruitless discussion of personalities.
This is why journalists are such philistines. A momentous decision is taken by the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and journalists give us a tale about Boris’s leadership ambitions, Gove’s treachery and Teresa May’s cunning for not becoming closely associated with either side of the debate. Yes, Jeremy Corbyn has been exposed as an inept leader of the opposition Labour Party but, before that, he was already a long time subscriber to far left ideas that rendered him unelectable. But we won’t discuss those.
Yet, if anything, it’s ideas that the people are hungry for. That’s why we have seen a rise in populist demagogues. That’s why the EU vote went the way that it did. And I suggest it is one of the reasons behind the demise of mainstream media and its personality driven tittle-tattle.
And this is where you come in. You are the hero. Ideas are your business; big ideas, ugly ideas, beautiful ideas. Forget trying to develop critical thinkers or collaborative learners. That’s just the non sequitur that is rolled out at the end of a whole lot of data on how the world of work is changing. Children don’t need to labour on facile projects in order to face the future. They need ideas.
So explain these ideas. Transmit them. Uncover them. Let our young people see the world for what it is: a construction of ideas. Let them understand that they can change these ideas and change the world, should they wish. There is nothing inevitable about the state that we are in. You don’t just have to carry on as if nothing can be done.
And that also applies to you. You don’t just have to carry on as if teaching is something that just happened to you. Once you have a purpose it’s much easier to cut through the noise. Teaching has a purpose. You have a purpose. Own it.