Although schools like to maintain an illusion of democracy, most are, in fact, autocratic dictatorships. There is no room for individuality in the school system. It is a hierarchy, and in a hierarchy everyone answers to the person above them. When a teacher refuses to conform to the agreed systems of operation, he causes problems for his line manager, which in turn causes problems for his line manager’s manager. This continues right up to the headteacher of the school, beyond to the local authority and ultimately to the government. Any attempts by a teacher to break the mould are therefore quashed as quickly as possible; the net around him tightens as tracking of his planning, teaching and marking by more senior figures is turned up a notch.
Similarly well-rehearsed procedures are in place to deal with children, who sit on the very bottom layer of the hierarchical pyramid, furthest away from the apex of control. A child who does not fit the system – who is not “normal” – must be fixed and forced to adapt. Any child daring to express his individuality is soon identified and beaten into submission, sometimes through the award of a “learning difficulty” label or, worse still, by being forced to take personality-suppressing drugs. Such punishments are in addition to an elaborate system of tests, reports and evaluations that constantly monitors the child’s behaviour. The widespread use of conformity bribes (disguised as “rewards”) – including stars, merits, stickers, certificates, sweets, chocolates, prizes and money – strips away any sense of personal responsibility on the part of the child and effectively places his self-worth into the hands of his adult superiors.
Operating behind an illusory curtain of democracy is very useful to headteachers and their leadership teams because it means they can force through almost any initiative they like – and then claim that everyone played a part in the decision. This is how it typically works:
(1) The headteacher (or other senior figure) makes a decision;
(2) The decision is presented to the teaching staff – usually during the five-minute morning briefing – as a “proposal” for them to discuss in their subject/year team meetings;
(3) Subject/year teams meet to discuss the proposal (decision)… until they agree with it.
It never ceases to amaze me how readily teachers play along with this game of pseudo-democracy. The problem is, they perceive themselves as having no choice in the matter. It is easier (not to mention safer) to keep quiet and to play the game than to get all worked up fighting against something that is going to be implemented with or without one’s consent.
Any individual brave enough to voice their discontent at the point at which the proposal is introduced is publicly shot down in flames and told in no uncertain terms that this is not the “appropriate” time or place to air concerns. This is then followed up with a discrete (or not-so-discrete) word from a senior figure, whose job is to discourage the dissenting individual from disturbing the peace in the future, and to remind them to raise concerns through the “agreed” channels of communication; i.e., through discussion at team meetings, or by requesting an appointment with the headteacher to discuss the decision in the privacy of his or her office.
Consequently, teachers learn to accept without question all orders from their dictators. Although they may complain behind closed doors, very few have the strength or inclination to stand up in public for what they know in their hearts to be true. Children learn that they must place their trust in the hands of “experts” if they are to succeed in life. Thus, the sheeple syndrome is perpetuated.
THE 3-PERIOD TIMETABLE
I learned my lessons about the insidious effects of sheeple syndrome during my second year in the teaching profession. The headteacher of the secondary school at which I was working at the time put forward a proposal to scrap the existing 5 x 50-minute-period timetable in favour of a 3 x 120-minute-period model. Morning break would be removed and the lunch period reduced from fifty to twenty minutes. The argument given to support this proposal was that increased time spent in the classroom would result in “more focused and engaged students” (I kid you not). While I could follow the logic of two-hour sessions for practical subjects such as Science, PE and Art, the proposal spelled inevitable disaster for subjects such as Maths and French, for which the best approach is “little and often”. It was hard enough keeping students engaged and on task for fifty minutes, let alone two hours! And I could find no justification whatsoever for depriving students of their morning break. This was an invaluable opportunity for students to blow off steam on the playground, not to mention a rare chance for staff (when not on unpaid corridor “duty”) to relax with colleagues over a cup of coffee in the staff room.
In the lead up to the whole staff meeting scheduled for the end of the week, I approached as many members of staff as possible to elicit their views on the proposal. All without exception were in agreement with me. Friday afternoon arrived. I stood up and articulated my concerns. Visibly outraged and struggling to maintain his composure, the headteacher simply responded with, “I disagree. There will be no further discussion on the matter”. I looked around the staff room for support from my colleagues. Not one single person came to my aid. I sat down. The headteacher moved on to the next item on the agenda. At the end of the meeting the headteacher took me to one side and “advised” me to hand in my notice. I submitted my resignation the following morning.
THE “F” WORD
What was the underlying reason behind the lack of support from my colleagues in the above story?
Allow me to pose a few other questions…
* Why do so many teachers end up teaching to the test?
* Why are teachers in schools up and down this country prepared to work together in collusive conspiracy with their students to paint a false picture of their school prior to OfSTED inspections? How can we account for such reprehensibly dishonest behaviour from otherwise honest people? Why do these “teachers” not stop to think about the messages they are unconsciously implanting in the minds of children?
* Why are teachers, school leaders and local authorities so preoccupied with keeping up appearances – particularly in relation to paperwork and the provision of evidence – rather than serving the needs of children?
The answer to all of these questions can be summed up in one word:
They are afraid.
They are afraid because they are contributing to a system and a societal paradigm for living that teaches and conditions them to be afraid.
The (unconscious) thought process of the sheepled mind goes something like this:
“I don’t agree with this… but I must conform. If I don’t conform I risk losing my job. I have bills to pay, a family to support. It is safer for me to remain quiet. Besides, I want an easy life…… I will do as I am told.”
For sheeple, the purpose of education (and life) is to get (and keep) a job. To pay the bills. Safety and security is their number one priority, not Truth. To question this ‘framework of fear’ (which was schooled into them as children) would be to question the whole basis upon which their lives revolve. The Truth is just too painful for them to acknowledge. Thus, denial is the preferred option.
An important question to consider…
Is the habit of denying one’s truth something we wish to cultivate in future generations?
By contrast, here is the underlying thought process of the non-conformist, or truth bearer:
“I don’t agree with this. This makes no sense. To conform would be to betray my truth. Betraying my truth is too painful…… I must speak my truth.”
The purpose of life from the perspective of the non-conformist is to be true to oneself. The problem here is that being true to oneself means breaking one of the three unwritten rules for survival inside the system: YOU MUST FIT IN. (The other two are ‘Failure is bad’ and ‘The experts know best’).
We can see very clearly, then, that there is no place for the truth bearer within the school system (or any of society’s systems, for that matter). He does not belong. His very presence is a major threat to the masks of ignorance behind which his colleagues unconsciously hide. Thus, if he is to avoid being hung up and quartered by the sheeple handlers (i.e., senior leadership figures) – themselves, unwitting victims of sheepledom – he must find a way to live and operate outside the system. His purpose then shifts to the conscious creation of alternatives.
Welcome to my world.