They went to school once

Do we come to bury education, or to praise it? Let us not so much think of those who have died but those who are still living here among us — what do we remember of them?

By Tim Middleton A young child came home from his first day at school and his mother asked him, nervously but excitedly, what he had learned on his day at school. “Not enough, it seems,” the child responded. “They want me to go back again tomorrow”. No doubt the child will go on to say the same thing day after day, to his eternal surprise and probable regret.

Of course, the child mentioned in our opening paragraph would not have turned to Shakespeare until quite a while later, but it is a fate that does also tend to happen to many pupils at some stage. That child may have had to study Julius Caesar which includes the famous lines by Mark Antony, uttered after Brutus and his fellow senators had murdered their ruler, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” He went on to say that “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones”, in effect saying that when people die, others tend to remember the bad things they did, not the good. And he did so by repeating the phrase “But Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honourable man”, seeking to cast doubt on what Brutus had said. The evil men do lives after them.

So, friends, readers, countrymen, lend me your ears a while. Do we come to bury education, or to praise it? Let us not so much think of those who have died but those who are still living here among us — what do we remember of them? All around us we have drivers who overtake on blind rises, who will not wait their turn to overtake, who will not queue to turn right but will block the lane intended for those going straight, who will double or triple park for their own convenience while blocking the way for through traffic, who drive down the lane of oncoming traffic, who pull out from the side of the road forcing those already there to slow down or stop, who drive slowly in the overtaking lane, who do not use their indicators. What do they all have in common? They all went to school once.

We have uncaring neighbours who play loud music that can be heard several blocks away, who have noisy parties late into the night and following morning, who burn garden rubbish, who dump their litter on the roadside away from their home, who toss rubbish out of the window while driving. And do you know what? They too all went to school once. We have civil servants who are often far from civil and rarely offer any service, who lose files at will, who do not provide all the information required, who prolong endless bureaucracy. They all went to school once. We have parents who lie for their children to get out of trouble at school, who not only allow but also encourage underage drinking, who shout and swear and harm their children, who give in to their child’s every request and whim, who think treats are the way to have children behave. They too all went to school once.

We have a society that jumps queues, arrives late, plans little. We have people who believe that corruption and connection are all that is required for them to go far. We have bullying and belligerent bosses, people who will bribe and be bribed, who will blackmail and blackball competitors and rivals, who will use violence when they have no reason, purely for their own benefit. They all went to school once. We have profiteering prophets, cheating sportsmen and husbands. We have people in senior positions who only want the power, position and privileges without the responsibilities. We have people who demand respect, subservience, acquiescence. And guess what? Yes, they all went to school once. We have intelligent people saying that despite all of the above, everything is fine; we have intelligent people blaming everyone else for all that is wrong. They too all went to school once. They have clearly not learned enough.

What have we all learned from our schooling? Not enough, it seems. We do not need to have gone to school to have realised that. What good has the schooling we have offered done? All these folk went to school once — and clearly that was not enough, as either little of what they have learned has been taken on board or all that we have taught has been irrelevant. Many say that there is nothing wrong with education and they no doubt are honourable men. The fact remains: all these folk went to school once — and what good has it done? Well might we be inclined to mark and echo the words of Mark Antony “O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their reason.” So bear with me; my heart is in the coffin with Education, and I must pause till it come back.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. 
  • email: [email protected]
  • website: www.atschisz

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