Because there’s something in the air
We’ve got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution’s here
And you know it’s right…
In the Ship and Mitre, as old fashioned a pub as you’ll find in Liverpool, something was in the air on Saturday afternoon. 100 teachers crammed in an upstairs meeting room in a public house. Wood panelled walls. The fuggy air rich with the smell of hops. Glow sticks forming almost anachronistic beacons as the light faded outside. It felt like an old time. It felt like a new time. There was a twitter embargo. Nothing controversial to be broadcast on social media. We wanted to talk openly. We wanted to speak our minds. It was warm, honest, human. There was a sense of reclamation, of a soft revolution, of pedagogical activism – we’re taking back our profession and we’re taking control of our classrooms. We know that it’s right.
The philosopher Deleuze speaks of rhizomes in his work – of life being rhizomatic rather than arboreal in design. Complex rather than linear. Muti-faceted rather than two dimensional. His work resonates with me as we push the myths of linear progress to their limits and as, across many areas of education, we start to understand that we’ve created a monster. And it’s come calling. It’s come calling on our children’s mental health. It’s come calling on teacher recruitment, retention and well being. It’s come calling on youth crime, gang culture – the outcomes of exclusions, off rolling, no excuses. It’s come calling even on Ofsted who are finally admitting that their relentless focus on test results has led to a malnourished experience for children and who, only this week, called out the trad/prog arguments on twitter as divisive and unhelpful. It’s knocking at the door and only the deaf can ignore it.
Deleuze in his essay on “The Societies of Control” speaks of how modes of resistance are often taken, remodelled and formed into modes of control by those who have realised that in order to impose their structures on others, they need two things: pressure from the top and pressure from within. They will take emerging pockets of resistance and remodel them so that they appear to be ‘grass roots’ in order to control and redirect the narrative. They take this and they use disaffection, frustration and stress to drive divisions among us so that we spend our time accusing each other, while the systems of control are left to carry on, uninterrupted. They find within our ranks some allies, often driven by a combination of ambition and anger and they use these to create fuel to gather a small but faithful body of supporters to ensure that the system that started out as a means of resistance becomes yet another bond. They create organisations that seem on the surface to be about us – ‘grass roots’ – but in reality are created, approved, nurtured and promoted by those in control. They keep us distracted so that we talk but are too tired to do. They play our game, but they play it better. Or they did. But the nature of rhizomes is that they pop up elsewhere. You can’t lop a branch off and control the tree – these kinds of plants will find a way of sneaking beneath the surface and finding another outlet. And another. And another.
Resistance doesn’t have to be vocal or violent. It can be joyful. It can be about finding what Mary Myatt calls ‘Bright Spots’ of practice and celebrating them. It can be about closing the door of your classroom and doing what you know is emotionally and developmentally right for children, regardless of what others say and think. It can be about freeing your professional imagination to create learning that makes children’s hearts sing with excitement and heads burst with desirable difficulty. It can be about saying no to that Sunday email. About simply saying “I can’t do all of these things, which two would you like me to focus on?” It can be a postcard home. It can be a deep breath, a smile, a moment of care and compassion. All of these things are modes of resistance. Butterfly wings of change.
I was saddened this week to read @Disidealist’s blog post recounting his recent health problems and the regrets his diagnosis has forced him to face. In it, he says:-
“The hours wasted tweeting, talking about tweets, getting angry about tweets, smirking over tweets just suddenly seem the most pointless waste of limited time…Firstly, stop tweeting as a substitute for action, and instead substitute action for tweeting.”
It stopped me in my tracks. I don’t even want to think of how many hours I’ve spent on twitter, arguing with people who only want to be right. What a waste of energy. BrewEd was not a waste of energy. The hours I spend in the classroom or with teachers, looking for better ways of working and learning and being – they are not a waste of energy. Joining a union was not a waste of energy. Finding and providing affordable CPD for teachers in the form of Northern Rocks and the National Teacher Learning Day – that’s not a waste of energy. Writing this is not a waste of energy. Every person who comes together to talk positively about education; who rises above the spats; who looks at a child who is almost unlovable and finds the love anyway; who takes a deep breath, gets out of the car, walks into the classroom, smiling and welcoming children into another day (no matter how hard it is); everyone who keeps going and keeps others going – who lift up rather than push down – none of those human beings are wasting energy. They are keeping the system going.
And we need more of it. My break from twitter is not a break from what’s important. It’s time to refocus on what’s important. To design curriculum that makes children think, feel and do. That shows them that life is complex, but also beautiful. That leads them through knowledge, yes, but also through inquiry and compassion. That equips them with the heart and mind that can change the world, not keep it as it is. That’s what this break is about. The rest is the noisy distraction of a society of control losing its grip. This time will end and by coming together, uniting, celebrating and quietly but firmly saying no when necessary, we’ll see change. One of the biggest frustrations of power is that ultimately it is transient. It is also one of its biggest blessings.
In March, I had the pleasure of working with 120 children in Leipzig, Germany – the city that started the wave of peaceful protests that eventually brought down the Berlin wall. Those young people performed in the coffee house in the Central Station in a flash mob to an audience, that it turned out, contained one elderly man who had been a part of that protest. This is how they chose to end their piece in homage to protest and to Beethoven. “Raise our voices, loud and strong.” Turn up the volume 🙂