teaching unplugged – in brief

Stand and don’t deliver

[This post is republished from the dogme site at]

Some strong stuff in this week’s Education Guardian; by turns sobering and inspiring.

Here is the inspiration: outgoing children’s laureate Michael Rosen describes how a colleague of his late father’s has ‘unearthed the English syllabus that my father helped to devise in 1958. I read: “Whatever language the pupils possess, it is this which must be built on rather than driven underground. However narrow the experience of our pupils may be (and it is often wider than we think), it is this experience alone which has given their language meaning. The starting point for English work must be the ability to handle effectively their own experience. Oral work, written work and the discussion of literature must create an atmosphere in which the pupils become confident of the full acceptability of the material of their own experience. Only in this way can they advance to the next stage.”‘

This chimes strongly with much in the dogme ‘pantheon’ – the work of Sylvia Ashton-Warner with disadvantaged children in New Zealand, for example. But it also brings us bang up to date: the phrase, the ‘full acceptability of the material of their own experience’ is strongly reminiscent of the argument made by Bonny Norton in her IATEFL plenary this year that when speakers use language they are organising and re-organising a sense of who they are and how they relate to the world: language as social practice..

(Full article at

Rosen proceeds: ‘I am overcome with feelings of admiration, sadness, regret and anger. … . How did the Thatcher and Blair governments succeed so quickly to wipe out years of such thought, theory and practice?’

Is he over-reacting? He is not. For two pages later comes sobering evidence of the pass to which we have come.

In an article titled ‘How children became customers’ which truly must be read to be believed (no, it’s not from Private Eye or The Onion), we learn that ‘growing central control of education has has helped to produce a drive to talk about schooling from a “performance management” perspective, which is borrowed from business.’

The article then quotes directly from the Nuffield 14-19 review, 6 years in the making: “The consumer or client replaces the learner. The curriculum is delivered. Aims are spelt out in terms of targets. Audits (based on performance indicators) measure success defined in terms of hitting the targets.”

It adds: “As the language of performance and management has advanced, so we have proportionately lost a language of education which recognises the intrinsic value of pursuing certain sorts of question … of seeking understanding [and] of exploring through literature and the arts what it means to be human.”

It is like the fulfilment of a prophecy, or perhaps a death foretold.

Have posters like Diarmiud and myself been exaggerating to use words like ‘utitilitarian’ and ‘philistine’ in our reflections on the UK education system as we find it? We have not. For these are two words used by the Cambridge review of primary education, published earlier this year, to describe what is happening in our schools.

Read it here, and weep: <>

But then consider that dogme – as evidenced by the quote from Michael Rosen’s father, above – adds its voice to a powerful tradition within teaching which seeks to serve the whole human being, starting with their experience of the world, and working with the raw material of their communicative needs.

Stand, my friends, and don’t deliver.


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