December 6, 2004

A Creative Approach

I went to two secondary schools.
The first one was a former girls’ grammar in Kendal, with a strict bottle-green uniform [and white knee-socks*], but I only went there for two terms.
The second school had a dress code, which meant that our school photographs looking like youth club gatherings, as we all stretched the boundaries of the code as far as we could get away with. I have a lot of long-harboured resentments about this school, but the dress code is a good demonstration of the apparently-casual student-centricity of the teaching style and the curriculum. Bear in mind that I’m talking about nearly twenty years ago [dear god], not the current txtspk era, which effectively suggests that my school was at the vanguard of modern educational technique. Hurrah. Lucky me.

At school one, we were taught Classical Studies. At school two we were taught Social Studies. Very modern. So much more useful to practice completing council house application forms than to learn about Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection.
At school one, the music teacher drew crotchets and minims on the blackboard. At school two, music lessons were about listening to a random piece of music while drawing our impressions of it on a piece of paper, then performing in small groups a piece made up on the spot that was supposed to be related to the original piece. This was the audio version of the aforementioned school photograph: a pointless cacophony.
At school one, drama lessons featured a fey, floaty woman encouraging us to write and taking us to the theatre. At school two, drama lessons consisted of the teacher setting a theme, and us making up and performing a scene in front of the class. All I learnt was how to die on my feet in front of the rest of my class, once a week, for three years.
I would like to have learned about music. I would have liked some technical information about how it works, and a structured understanding of which composers were writing what music, when.
I could happily have skipped drama altogether, but then on the other hand, it would have been nice to know a thing or two about stagecraft, and presentation skills would have been useful. Just think what you could do with drama classes, if you took elements of media studies and film studies, and discussed the technique of acting or stage lighting or directing, instead of focusing solely on who could come up with the best ideas within a 35 minute lesson [i.e. anyone with the sense to plagiarise whatever they saw on TV last night].
Certainly, I had a handful of talented peers, for whom these showcase classes were great fun. And perhaps some of them were somehow disadvantaged, and did not already have music lessons or a local theatre club, in which case I’m happy that the teachers encouraged them to be creative.
I suspect, though, that rather than trying to find the hidden gems, this style of teaching was intended to be democratic; something we could all join in, regardless of our musical or acting abilities. Perhaps it was supposed to be a chance to let off steam, tire us out so we didn’t give the maths and history teachers too much trouble.
In subjects that were not streamed according to ability, perhaps it was too difficult to specify a sensible middle ground, where the majority of the pupils could learn something, so they sat back and let us make a racket instead. how patronising, to decide that too many of us were incapable of learning about music, to make it worth while actually teaching us about it.
I feel as though I have missed out, been deprived by an indulgent education authority who were too concerned with giving “everyone” a “fair” chance, to give any of us any useful training. Because you can be sure that the kids who were going to need to know how to complete council house application forms were probably skiving that day.
*Gratuitous school uniform detail provided solely for Pete’s enjoyment. Stop drooling, Sevitz.


11 thoughts on “A Creative Approach

  1. Yay inherent permission to drool!!
    Alas there is no excuse for that approach to schooling, well not then. These days, of course, it’s all about manipulating targets and metrics and.. ohh yeah I guess we’d better teach them something as well. Maybe.

  2. Although my personal enjoyment was a factor, my gripe is that tunelessly banging a xylophone for half an hour was a waste of time, and that I would rather have had a more academic musical education. I would at least have preferred to be given the choice. I feel like whoever set the curriculum decided that all or most of the class would benefit more from making random loud noises than from being taught facts and techniques.

    Karen on December 7, 2004
  3. But perhaps some kids did benifit from banging ? Surely one shouldn’t deny kids a good bang?

  4. yep – just Google-checked it.
    Carries a maximum fine of two school dinners
    Oh and btw, aren’t socks to be worn on the feet, not the knees?

  5. Sounds like you would have loved it at my school. I studied Latin for two years, learnt how to listen for specific instruments in a classical recording, but drama lessons were unheard of. We all had old fashioned flip top desks and stood up when the teacher entered the room (this was 1987-1991, before anyone asks). I probably thought it all a little dull at the time but my stuffy girls grammar school gave me a fine education. I understand how you must feel a little short changed by your own experience.

  6. Oh dear god you have brought back some long-suppressed memories there. Chief amongst them: ‘dance’ lessons (in place of competitive sport: suited me because I am dreadfully unsporty but I agree with your sentiments and feel that at least knowing the rules to some sports might have been more useful long term) in which we all pretended to be bits of chewing gum being chewed to the War of the Worlds music. Shudder.

  7. Oh yes, the same rule applied to sports. At school one, there were definitely games lessons featuring a blackboard, in which the rules of hockey were explained.
    I can’t say that makes me feel better, though, because I was definitely able to understand how bad I was at all sports with or without a good theoretical grounding.

    Karen on December 9, 2004
  8. True. But knowing the rules to sports might have some practical application (pub quizzes and the like) whereas doing a mean impersonation of a bit of chewed gum is rarely called for. (Maybe later in the evening after the quiz has been lost, I suppose.)
    I’d have *liked* PE lessons with a blackboard – no need for PE knickers for a start. Remember them?

  9. Oh god, don’t mention PE knickers here, you will bring the dirty old men out in droves.

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