Last month I read an article by Nick Hanauer in which he suggests that “However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.” Hanauer is talking specifically about the US education system but this seems to me to be a Transferable (if not, indeed, a Universal) Truth. Hanauer, if you need reminding, was one of the first to invest in the opening of charter schools in the US and in the same article he also says the following:
“All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools – if we modernised our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools – American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.
But after decades of organising and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong.”
The thrust of Hanauers reflections and conclusions is that without deep systemic change to wealth distribution, all else is just so much window dressing to make the wealthy feel better about themselves (“Educationalism appeals to the wealthy and powerful because it tells us what we want to hear: that we can help restore shared prosperity without sharing our wealth or power.”).
All of which has what, exactly, to do with provincial high schools in the UK? Well at risk of coming over like depressive twenty-something filled with Existential Ennui, it does rather make me wonder What Is The Point?
What Is The Point of chasing performance measures that show Pupil Premium (Hanauer’s students from “low-income and working-class communities”, or what we in the UK education sector would call ‘Disadvantaged’) progress when ultimately any traction in mythical pathway of Social Mobility is at best only tentatively hinged on Exam Results and Academic Attainment?
What Is The Point in setting Aspirational Targets for students from those “low-income and working-class communities” when we know that the System is stacked against them (and the stacks are getting ever higher)? What Is The Point in propagating the lie that Education is their way to A Better Life (which we inevitably define as being Middle Class) when the evidence suggests that in fact the way to a Better (more affluent) life is in fact something that is outside of their (our) control?
What Is The Point in the implementation of rigid behaviour codes under the guise of achieving Improved Outcomes and Progress 8 figures when we understand that beyond the gates of High School those Improved Outcomes are in fact one of the smallest factors in determining aforementioned Social Mobility? And is implementation of rigid behaviour codes under the guise of achieving Improved Outcomes and Progress 8 figures actually little more than desire to ensure that those “low-income and working-class communities” learn to follow instructions without question? In other words that they learn to Know Their Place? That implementation of rigid behaviour codes under the guise of achieving Improved Outcomes and Progress 8 figures is in fact just a way of Making Teacher’s Lives Easier (though now I think about it…)?
So with less than a week to go until the new academic year heaves itself into action, in own reflection of twenty eight years (and counting) of teaching in Provincial High Schools, perhaps conclusion is that ultimately all I have done is to Make Me Feel Better About Myself (except in current mood filled with Existential Ennui, naturally). But maybe that is enough and maybe That Is The Point.
It’s not much though, is it?