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.