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Submitted by AWL on Wed, 23/01/2013 - 11:40

Hi Manny,

Thanks for responding to my piece about the demise of Crown Woods School. You offer some forthright opinions, but no evidence beyond your own assertions, so it's hard to do more than say that as I recall the school in the early and mid 80s (I started there in October 1982) class-discussion was carefully planned for and encouraged, a wide range of views was respected, and colleagues of mine in the English Dpt. were very alive to the issues around who sets limits to free speech in the classroom and how this might best be done.

Anti-racist and anti-sexist initiatives were being taken at long last by large numbers of teachers across London, and elsewhere, in an attempt to prevent schools functioning merely as sites for the reproduction of social injustice. You'll know that CWS pupils came from a wide geographical area, from places like Blackheath and as well as from Eltham: its comprehensive intake presented a more mixed class-profile than you seem to suggest. Equally, working-class South East London had more than one culture.

Finally, it is not true that some students 'are academically brighter/quicker' than others and there's an end to the matter. No-one is born with a fixed quantum of 'academic ability' measurable by some kind of test. People's learning-capacity is not fixed: it is strictly unlimited. However, the education-system in this country constructs pupils in ways predicated on the notion you are happy to endorse, with all manner of adverse consequences (for those labelled 'bright' as well as those you label 'slow and low'.) Determinist thinking such as you advance about so-called 'ability' has a history which is characterised by hierarchising pupils in ways which mimic the social inequalities capitalism fosters and maintains. At its worst such thinking underpins eugenicist views. At best it wastes the talents of tens of thousands. Countries whose education-systems reject the notion of fixed innate 'ability' do best in international comparisons of educational achievement (for what that might be worth). It is easy to confuse the label attached to a child as soon as they enter the school system with the reality of that child's learning-capacity. (It is made almost compulsory to do so by the policies pursued by successive governments.) But it remains a basic error.

Against significant odds and in the teeth of the prevailing orthodoxy, some teachers work to find ways to enable all children to learn in spite of the barriers put in their way by 'ability-labelling and all that stems from it in and beyond school. There is readily-available research about all of this, should you wish to follow it up.

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