Thursday, March 03, 2011

Yes, but the kid WAS fat

Jamie's Dream School, a new TV series in which Sir Oliver has gathered luminaries together to teach delinquents, the hope being that the best in their respective fields can do something with these adolescent reprobates that ordinary teachers cannot.

He's assisted in this by an ordinary headmaster.

One of the luminaries is Dr David Starkey, whom I know from from first hand academic experience to be both a brilliant lecturer and scholar. Not that that is a terribly original insight. It also assumes that you actually have an interest in history and want to be there listening to him.

So Starkey's trying to teach these borstal rejects and, to be fair, he's obviously not used to that kind of audience, a fact which, again to be fair, Sir Oliver subsequently appreciated. Anyway, one of the kids baits the said Starkey, who rises to it in short order and (not for nothing was he once known as the rudest man in Britain) tells the said sprog that he's fat. It's all on camera.

Oh, and the kid is fat.

And there, to all intents and purposes, ended the lesson. The kid had been disrepected. The matter's taken up. And here we get to the nub or gist of things. The headmaster, drafted in to assist, takes the kid's side. He'd rather lose the teacher than the kid. Starkey is apparently unrepentant.

My own view is that he showed poor kid management skills, although that is scarcely surprising. But the real point, it seems to me, is this: the clash of wills and educational cultures exemplified on the one hand by the disrespected fatty and his headteacher and, on the other, by David Starkey. The headteacher says that Starkey's verbal putdown embodies all that's wrong with education in this country.

Eh? Starkey is a product of what was once one of the world's finest educational systems, and of teaching which emphasised deference to the teacher (in the sense at least of deferring to him), obedience by the child, rules and so forth.

The fatty is a product of a contemporary system which this headmaster has presumably played a role in creating.

So in backing the kid not the teacher the head sustains the current system, the system that created the delinquent chubster.

And if Starkey exemplifies the educational system of which he is a product, what is the worst that can be said of it by reference to him? He is one of the world's foremost authorities on English courts and monarchs in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, has been at the top of this game for a good 25 years (to my knowledge), has taught in some of the finest academic institutions and tutored countless spotty undergraduates. But he's no good with truculent, misbehaving teenagers.

So which do we choose, the system producing delinquent chubsters or the one producing brilliant historians? Granted, it may not be a zero sum question. but school is pointless for children like these unless discipline rules. There might be better ways of doing it than weak jokes at the expense of fatties, but in seeking to govern the class Starkey grasped the basic point that such as the headmaster deliberately refuse to consider. It seemed to me that Starkey understood these children very well he remarked early on, their problem is not low self-esteem, it's that they have too high an opinion of themselves. Theodore Dalrymple, I think, said as much some years back.


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