Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Educating Yorkshire

This TV series has been an excellent insight into modern schooling, and a challenging insight into modern youth. There are a few points that I think are important to draw from it. What is more, I want to draw some parallels with the Christian community.

"If we cannot send them out as decent human beings, we have failed" This is part of the opening sequence, and is said by the headmaster. It is a vital insight into what the role of the school is - it is not to pass exams, achieve well on league tables, attract the brightest pupils. It is to EDUCATE our young people, and that means sending them out as decent human being into the world.

That doesn't mean that exams are unimportant. It doesn't mean that the learning that takes place is merely co-incidental - I think it is important for people to be educated to the highest level that they can be, because this helps them to be decent human beings. But the scoring system is not all there is.

For churches and other such communities of faith, I think this is also a good aim - that they should produce decent human beings. Not that they should grow, or produce lots of next generation ministers or missionaries or any of this stuff. It is that they should produce decent people. It is a sad reflection on many churches that, whatever else they might achieve, their members are not decent human beings.

The second thing I have noticed is the level of pastoral support that the pupils have within the school. I know some people think they are being mollycoddled by all of this, and that it is a waste of money and effort. If the purpose of the school is to educate, then leave the pastoral care to families and churches.

And yet, I know that if this level of support and help had been available to me, it would have made a big difference. I know that some of my issues with depression started while I was at school. I know that my behaviour at school was not particularly good, and I was most definitely showing signs that I would now recognise as mental illness. I know that if the level of pastoral support available in Thornhill Community Academy had been around for me, they would have identified an issue, and I might have been able to get some help. So no, the pastoral support they give is not meaningless, not a waste of money. In some cases, it is helping the pupils find their way in life, and so saving them from being a police problem down the line. In others, it is helping them get help for their issues, and so enabling them to be long-term, productive members of society.

Faith communities should be places that provide all sorts of pastoral care, and yet this report suggests that loneliness - a key pastoral issue - is higher in those within faith communities as those not. There may be all sorts of reasons for this, not least that the lonely may seek out faith communities, but this is one indication that so often, church groups do not provide help and support, especially not when members are having doubts and questions about their faith and belief.

The next thing that is significant in this series, and is unusual in Thornhill, is that the teachers and pastoral staff especially talk the language of the pupils. When one of the pupils is being asked if they called another pupil a "paki", the teachers investigating use these words, rather than avoiding them. It takes the threat out of them, and it makes it much easier to admit that they did. Or didn't, as would seem to have been the case here.

Against from the opening sequence, one of the staff tells a pupil "Stop crying you mardy bugger", which is good Yorkshire language. Being prepared to be accept the language they use makes for easier communication. You get the sense that none of the staff are going to be shocked or personally offended by anything that the pupils say. This means that when they are feeling passionate, intense, whatever, they can talk and express themselves.

Faith communities are so often speaking a language that outsiders do not use. It has all sorts of extra words in, that have no real meaning outside the community. And there are all sorts of words and expression that are not expected to be used, because they are "course" or "vulgar". It can so often get to the point where certain subjects are off limits - sex, drinking, swearing - giving an impression that certain areas of life are not part of the "spiritual" self. I mean, when was the last time you heard a sermon on Lev 15?

The truth is that God is present when you masturbate, God is present when you decide to have that one extra drink, God is present when you tell someone to "F*** off" - or they tell you to do the same. God is not "nice". He is not just with us when we are being "nice". Talking the same language as people outside the church might be a shock, but it enables communication far better.

The third aspect that I get from the series is that being a teacher in a school today is Extremely Hard Work. The government have been very quick to denigrate teachers, making implications that they need to work harder and do more. This program does show that at least some teachers are working unbelievably hard. Of course, there are some poor teachers. There are some poor MPs, some poor bankers, some poor software developers..... that in itself does not mean that the entire profession is poor or incapable. It means that there are some bad examples, as there are in all professions, all job types.

There was one teacher in particular who took my attention - Mr Steer. He was reduced to tears at one point, by the pressure of the work he had to do - managing the GSCE year who were exceptionally stroppy this year. He was also so dedicated to his pupils that he came in limping with a bad leg, brought on by stress, it would seem. He was in because his pupils had an exam, and he put their needs above his own - the head did, eventually, send him to get checked out. In truth, he looks like he is heading for a breakdown, not because he is weak, but because he is dedicated.

I don't see that level of dedication from the MPs who are so quick to criticise, so quick to add more to their workload.

Does this relate to the church? Well being a pastor is also a very tough job. This is especially true when pastors are trained theologically,  but the work is mostly administrative and functional - running the church organisation. In truth, some of the problems I have with churches and clergy is that they are so often in the wrong job. They are doing administration, not theology, and the administrative load is increasing. They may be pastoral, but be put into impossible pastoral positions. The role of "pastor" or "vicar" is a ridiculous one - at its core, that it why I believe we should get rid of our church structures and clergy, because that would free people to do what they should be doing, not managing a system.

Finally - being a teenager is a very tough place to be today. In some ways, this is one of the great insights the program shows, that our young people are often stroppy, miserable, disruptive, rude and unpleasant. That is the nature of young people under the sort of stresses that they are under today. When I was a teenager, there were many stresses and problems in life, most of which have got worse since that time.

I don't think the church today is particularly good at dealing with teenagers or young people as a whole. So often I hear either patronising comments or instructive comments - that is "do this and you will be OK". Neither of these is appropriate, in fact. The staff at Thornhill show that they look at each child and try to understand what their particular problems are, and how they can be assisted (not resolved - most of the time, they cannot be "sorted"). Often I hear a staff member asking a pupil "what can we do to help you?" which is a far better approach.

So Educating Yorkshire is also, it seems, about educating everyone. One more thing - there is also lighter moments, enough humour to make it seem possible and real. Like any job, there are good an bad times. But at the end of the day, their task is to produce decent human beings. Large portions of our education system is exceptionally good at doing just that.

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