Step up Jamie Oliver! Only two episodes into this series and already I am predicting that this show is going to demonstrate exactly what I'm talking about. The premise appears to be that the way to inspire a group of teenagers who, in the words of David Starky "did not get the magic five!" (GCSEs at C and above) is to sign up a truck load of experts in their various fields to be their teachers. Seems to make sense. You could call it the 'horse's mouth' method. If you want to know about about politics, get it from the horse's mouth (no offence intended Alistair), if you want to know about shakespeare, visit Simon Callow's stable, and so on. The problem here, well one of them at least, is that the Horse's Mouth Method (now in capitals as I have officially invented it) presupposes that knowledge is what these young people need. That what differentiates them from their 'magic five'-getting peers is not knowing enough stuff.
Of course not knowing stuff is a only by-product of one or two more pressing needs for these young people and others in their position. So, acknowledging that school can only do so much, here are few examples. Self belief, the real stuff, not the bravado on display in each lesson so far but a genuine, authentic and grounded belief in their own capacity to fulfill their potential. Trust, in the institution of education, in their teachers and most crucially, in themselves. A sense that they are people of value who can produce things (products, ideas, opinions etc) of value, and finally a positive self-image. For almost all these young adults there is a veritable Grand Canyon between their ideal selves and their actual self-images. Ultimately they don't believe they can amount to anything.
The futility of expertise has been demonstrated beautifully in every lesson so far. Most notably by Mr Starky. Can there be anyone who knows more about history than him? Could you hope to find a more decorated and qualified man to teach the subject than he? Unfortunately his expertise lies in the wrong area. Give me an expert on relating to young people and a history textbook every time. You see you can find out what you have to teach, and if you know a little about teaching you can plan ways of learning. But if you don't understand children and young people you're wasting everybody's time. Fair play to the Cambridge Prof, he came back and dug deep and it was better in the next lesson. What did he do that made it better? He built a bridge with the child he insulted. There it is.....relationship.
Mr Gove is conspicuous by his absence from this series. Can you imagine how his stock would have soared if he had stumped up? 'New Strategy - Education Secretary Tries Actual Teaching.' Based on his current rhetoric though I'm guessing he'd have cut his lesson plan from the same cloth as Professor Starky. But, no doubt he'd have shown similar resilience too and eventually realised that his White Paper (subtitled "It never did me any harm!") needed some revisions. Sadly, we can only hope that one day one of his successors has, or is prepared to seek, some experience in the everyday world of the teacher.
I have every confidence that things will get better at the Dream School, after all, what would the producers do with all those 'things are getting better' music clips and over emotional vox pops if they didn't? What a waste that would be! Things will get better, and Dream School will no doubt prove to have been a useful leg up for some of the young people ('s celebrity careers - harsh?). But when the dust settles and Jamie starts thinking about his next mission (Middle East?) the only conclusion can be that time was the crucial factor. And what happens over time? Relationships develop.
Teaching and learning is intersubjective and it is dynamic. The art of the teacher has relatively little to do with what you know, unless what you know is how to steer that tricky path between being the pupils' friend (not your job) and being an oracle (also not your job).