Wednesday, 28 July 2010


More than anything else, with this post I want to highlight a strange discrepancy in political rhetoric about people's eligibility to teach. The idea of a 'Troops to Teachers' programme, following the lead of the T3 programme in America has been floated around by the Conservatives for a few years now, and after a report by the Centre for Policy Studies seems to be pushing the idea towards a reality.

I am not against soldiers. What I find unsettling is the idea that the sole fact that they are soldiers, that they have gone through military service, makes them particularly eligible to teach, and particularly so in inner city schools. I'm sure that some ex-servicemen would make great teachers; I'm sure that some would be awful. But likewise for ex-shopworkers, ex-mechanics, ex-doctors, ex-hairdressers, ex-anythings. The Conservatives' unerring love affair with discipline, usually to the detriment of creativity, seems to posit soldiers' militaristic obediance and hierarchical structure as some form of 'ideal type' classroom.

I'm not sure about your experiences in school, but with me, the lessons in which I learnt the most, and in which the pupils most engaged with and liked their teachers, were those lessons which we led by teachers who interacted with us, who 'had a laugh' and who respected our views. Conversely, the worst lessons were those in the chalk and talk mould, which involved the lone pedagogue reading from a textbook to his charges, who had been threatened into stillness and silence. Now obviously, I'm not suggesting that all 'troops to teachers' will necessary fit into the latter teaching style, but from how I am interpreting it, this is what the Conservatives are heralding as the major innovation of such a programme.

One final point, about suitability. If a candidate has a criminal record, although the crimes may not relate to one's suitability to teach, they nonetheless must be declared and the employers make a decision upon that knowledge. You can imagine the uproar if the parents, or - God forbid - the redtop press, discovered that somebody teaching their children had committed a murder. Yet the government, and I would expect they would have the backing of the Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph etc, positively encourage soldiers into their schools; the vocation of a soldier is to 'defend the realm' and this often means killing foreigners. If you are killing in the name of the Queen you are a role model for disaffected youth, if you are killing anybody else you are unsuitable to be in contact with children.

I just wonder whether ex-soldiers are the best solution for 'high-poverty, typically violent inner-city schools'. Maybe I'm overly Gandhi-fying this, but I would rather children and young people were discouraged from guns and violence, rather than having their interest gently assuaged towards a 'legitimate' use of that violence. Should the role model for inner city kids be a soldier? Does this not deepen the stratifications through which pupils in affluent areas go into safe, prestigious, well-paid work and through which pupils in deprived areas go into manual, underpaid, dangerous work.

As I said, some soldiers will be great teachers and some would be awful, just like any profession-switchers. My own view is that military service certainly should not make somebody more suitable as a candidate to teach in modern schools.

1 comment:

T. Messenger said...

I agree that being an ex-serviceperson does not necessarily make you more or less qualified to teach children. What's encouraging is that the problem of ex-servicemen finding post-war work is seeing some ideas and some engagement.

Rationale 1 - We have unruly kids. Let soldiers teach them.
Rationale 2 - Ex-soldiers can't find re-training or work. Let's encourage some to be teachers.

I presume there's a bit of both rationales in this policy but I hope it's more of the second.