Educating the non-scholastic - Raymond King

Raymond King on educational methods for children who are not suited to traditional academic teaching styles.

"BLAGG OF 4 IOTA HAS AN ANNOUNCEMENT TO MAKE." The headmaster stood aside from the rostrum, and a ripple of amused expectation passed over twelve hundred faces as Ted Blagg, with permissive unconventionality, stepped up, wearing crew-cut, side-whiskers, drapes, drain-pipes, and winkle-pickers.

"I am a film-star", began Ted, prefacing a notice of the première of "Living for Kicks", Iota Production's first film, in which he had been cast to play the lead. Who should know Ted's potentiality as a gang leader better than his classmates? We only suspected it. "Living for Kicks" tells the story of a tough group of adolescents: car-theft, joy-ride, near-tragedy, hospital, juvenile court, approved school, abscondence, gang-fight, and recapture — a topical story of wayward youth, seen through the eyes of the peer-group.

Iota Productions is a company on business lines run by the members of Form 4 Iota, Wandsworth School, to produce and exhibit films made by themselves. That is what justifies a description of their project as a contribution to educational method. Theirs is a real and first-hand experience, made possible by the incredible restraint of a teacher who led them through discussion of all the difficulties and problems, but, when it came to the final project, refused to interfere.

Rôles were widely distributed. All aspects of the production were in the hands of the boys themselves: story, script, direction, camera-work — including lighting and focusing — continuity, editing, titling, and publicity. They managed their own finances, too. The school loaned the equipment, but the cost of the film stock and the production was raised by the chairman and directors of the company through the issue of shares at half-a-crown to members, and an appeal for donations. The project was neither a stunt, nor a casual and unrelated episode in school life. Its significance is not fully apparent apart from what led up to it and what is due to follow.

It is a particular illustration of one aspect of a curricular plan for what we in a fully comprehensive school find to be the "hard core" of the problem of secondary education for all: for the group that come between the 70 per cent. on the one hand for whom we can plan a purposive education on scholastic, though not necessarily academic lines, and the 10 per cent. on the other hand whose total education is in the hands of diagnostic and remedial experts.

Second class citizens?

In a fourth year arranged 15 forms abreast, this 20 per cent. or so of less able "secondary modern" pupils make up three forms. They have shown in their passage through the school little or no capacity for scholastic objectives, mainly owing to low I.Q., but in some cases to temperamental, emotional, social, or environmental factors. To send them out as failures contradicts what in one way or another a flexible organisation of wide resources enables us to do for the rest.

How for these too can we organise success? To regard them as second class citizens contradicts the spirit of a comprehensive school. How can they earn recognition? For failures and inferior citizens they will become unless there are teachers who have faith in them and in whom they in turn will feel confidence.

But, paradoxically, in order to succeed with them we have to stop being "teachers" and accept the role of social mentors. At this stage in their lives they are likely to react to being taught subjects or even to being treated like schoolboys with boredom and apathy, if not with rebelliousness and hostility. Their physical maturity and social independence and sophistication, callow as it may be, lead them to resent a situation in which their intellectual short-comings are too continually and too painfully obvious. Schooling of the traditional kind has lost contact with their interests in life and their emotional drives.

We decided that goals of schooling other than scholastic must be accepted in the fourth, and, for some, final year of the course. And yet what we appeared to be closing the door on did, as it turned out, come in at the window. We re-thought their curriculum as a more integrated whole in terms of social skills. From the consideration of their education as persons, as citizens, and as productive workers, three interpenetrating areas of formative experience emerged: Communication (the Person), Co-operation (the Citizen), and Calculation in conjunction with Construction (the Productive Worker). A fourth area was individual choice of a special activity. Moral education, social responsibility, and personal standards (courtesy, speech, appearance) were regarded as dimensions of the curriculum, or, to change the figure, a climate of education actively fostered by all the teachers concerned.

Now to return to Ted Blagg and his class-mates.

Ted was enjoying a new-found power to communicate, amounting to a transformation of personality.

Is it not reasonable to suppose that the drives and urges of inarticulate adolescents take the anti-social form they so often do because they cannot use the social channel of communication?

We found it useful to start by encouraging free group discussion of the everyday social problems that these boys feel really concern them: relations with parents and teachers, other young people of their age, authority, the police. But it was not until we gave them the chance to work out their problems in simple social mime and drama that they began to show objective insight rather than subjective feeling, mainly resentment. At an appropriate stage we brought the police into the classroom and had it out together. It was development along such lines as these that led up to the making of 'Living for Kicks'.

And what came in at the window?

The collective enterprise involved lengthy and lively discussion both of the story and of the organisation of the producing company. Detailed observation of human behaviour in real surroundings was required and the right approach to co-operating people and institutions outside the school, in order to secure realistic scenic background. They all got to know something of the many facets and functions of film-making, and found the obvious practical route to film appreciation.

The whole group was involved, practically, financially, emotionally, co-operatively. They were ready to accept responsibility, show initiative, and exercise self-discipline. Social integration is at the root of group morale. All experienced the enhanced status that comes from acceptance and from recognition of worth-while achievement, in this case by the whole school and the parents. A succession of showings at 3d. a head on an Open Day swelled Iota Productions' finances. Shares issued at 2s. 6d. are now worth 5s.

But when it was suggested that the film should be shown at a simple entertainment arranged for certain old people in the neighbourhood, no one had in mind to make a charge. Who are these old people, and how do they come into the picture? This brings us to the second area of educational experience, that we call above Co-operation.

Social studies for this group are real and relevant, locally applicable (though not exclusively so), and designed to foster social awareness, social purpose, and social action. In this phase such studies link the school with its community and help to bridge the gap between school and working life for boys who are near the point of transition. Local studies form the starting point: honest social surveys from which they learn to appreciate social achievement and its complexity, but in which they note some of the weaknesses and failures of present-day society. Why, they ask for example, don't They do something about old age pensioners and cripples living alone? Their compassion, genuine enough, doesn't mean that they feel in any way called upon to act. It is a matter for Them, the authorities, the grown-ups. Adolescents have no influence in affairs, no organised means, no status in public. Their emotional stirrings, compassion, a sense that things are not as they should be, even indignation, have no ready and rational social outlet.

Is it not reasonable to suppose that absence of, or ignorance of channels for social impulse and action account for a good deal of adolescent rebelliousness, violence, and vandalism?

Group action.

As individuals we all feel powerless very often, whether we are adolescent or adult. We need group dynamics to start something, even to produce new attitudes in individuals: certainly to give the individual adolescent confidence and support in a novel undertaking. John Fordham left school last Christmas. He wasn't a 'success' at school: he didn't pass any examinations. He was, in fact, a rather obstreperous member of the 20 per cent whose education we are grappling with as our toughest problem. School held him at any rate until the middle of his fifth year. Most of the staff no doubt thought it would be better for him to get the 'discipline' of work. But patently not all his teachers had despaired of him.

The mother of one of my sixth formers, a social worker in the area, mentioned him and his doings to me recently. My informant knew nothing of his school record and reputation. She thought it brought great credit on the school to have produced a boy who had spent much of his spare time in the months after leaving in helping a lonely old age pensioner by painting and decorating her kitchen and living room and making a concrete path in her garden. He had done this without reward, without fuss, without any smug sense of charity or sacrifice, and without anyone — so far as he was concerned — knowing about it. John is no sentimentalist: yet here he is, self-committed to works of compassion, self-identified with a human lot other than his own. I cannot number John among our failures. He has learned at least one lesson that our rethinking of the curriculum enabled us to teach him, that the adolescent can gain in stature and earn his own social status in the community by seeking out and performing a social role.

Applied social studies as a curricular activity entail the keeping of a log which the pupil may submit for the Mayor's Award, a diploma for social competence and good citizenship. A social survey brought a group into touch with a home for crippled children. They discovered a need for toy repairing, which led to social service of a useful and in fact congenial kind. Their work as members of a Toymakers' Association carried over into what I have called the third area of educational experience: Calculation and Construction. The toy-makers drew on an adequate range of resources: Woodwork, Metalwork, Painting and Decorating departments, Drawing Office, and English and Mathematics classrooms.

Dick Bennet for one, put more effort and care into this work than we have known him put into anything else. His log book is a model: neat drawings and sketches, measurements, calculations, and accounts of transactions of the Association and of the finished products. Much of the work was done by Dick and others out of school: rather out of character, so it seemed, for Dick, whose constitutional indolence has constantly depressed his performance in studies, in spite of a tolerably fair I.Q. and propitious home background.

For boys of this group the kind of work that meets with the readiest response is a real job with an immediately useful and practical purpose and demonstrable social utility. Large-scale projects are attractive. A whole form devoted its handicraft periods and extra voluntary time to the construction of workmanlike side-shows for the School Fair, from drawing board to finished product, and later zealously operated the shows to the benefit of a charitable cause. Another form have spent the winter months constructing their own dinghies with a view to their use in the summer. When we are asked by the LCC to repair and refurbish the craft they provide for the use of school rowing and sailing clubs, we have to hand just the kind of job we are looking for.

I call to mind Arthur Noble, the most persistent truant I have known in many years, whom neither his teachers, his parents, nor the authorities could keep in school beyond a day or two now and then. We gave him the chance of two days a week down at the Boathouse — quite out of order; of course — but Arthur attended school for the rest of the week to earn the opportunity of satisfying his passion for messing about in boats, the only enthusiasm we ever managed to discover in him.

Of the group of which I am speaking, it is often said that they have far more leisure than they know how to fill. The kind of activity that we seek to promote takes up some of this super-abundant free time, in a voluntary way, of course. The person who could best direct it would be part teacher, part youth-leader, with his time so disposed that he would be available to the group, say, for a couple of hours on two evenings a week and at the week-end, with corresponding freedom in the day-time. We are hoping shortly to make such an appointment.

Communication, Co-operation, Calculation and Construction, stimulated by group dynamics, sustained by the security of acceptance as persons and as contributing members of a great community, rewarded by recognition and the status that accrues to those who find and fill a social role. A small percentage of boys still leave at 15: rather more fail to return for their fifth year: but the individuals we would wish to be rid of as early as possible are very few, and for the most part probably ought not to be in our kind of institution at all. In our work for the less able 'secondary modern' we shall be a good deal more satisfied when the school leaving age is raised to 16. I am sure that a year's added maturity gives these young people clearer insight into the meaning of a saying of Rabbi ben Hillel, who shall have the last word:

If I am not for myself, who is for me? (self-acceptance).
And if I am for myself alone, what am I? (social purpose).
And if not now, when? (social action here and now).

H. RAYMOND KING has been headmaster of Wandsworth School, London for many years, and has enthusiastically shepherded its growth from a grammar school to a fully comprehensive school. He is a former chairman of the English New Education Fellowship.

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Jun 26 2016 17:25


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