My only country
Is six feet high
And whether I love it or not
For its independence.
‘Patriot’ By Norman Maccaig
If I told you that I regularly buy The Observer what would you think? If I said that I loathed the current coalition Government and harumphed quietly at Newsnight and ranted at Question Time, would that add anything to the picture? I listen to Tom Waits and The Smiths. I liked The Wire. I wear dark rimmed specs, have a kindle and enjoy a latte; I feel slightly sorry for Ed Miliband and wish he was better, but loathe Tony Blair. What would you think? Some of you will recognise ‘my type’; others may empathise a little more. But some of you already have me tagged don’t you?
The recent media frenzy over Scottish Independence raised a few questions about polarisation for me and how comfortable we are in our own belief systems. When you filter something down to the simplicity of a Yes/No answer then you often fail to connect with the real issues.
In our daily lives, we like to read newspapers which we know will reflect our world views. We read books we think we should be reading. We befriend – both in social media and real life – those who are similar and ‘unfollow’ those with whom we disagree; because it is easier. It makes us feel that we are correct in the way we live our lives and that our views are sacrosanct. I’m no different. It’s just that it is beginning to worry me. When we become so entrenched in how we live our lives, how then can we expect empathy to thrive?
And it’s the same in Education, isn’t it? We hang out in the staff room with those who share our outlook and educational beliefs. We avoid those who may not see it the same way. Thus, we avoid the real conversations we need to have because it is deemed unprofessional to rock the boat. It might be controversial but I think we also tend to share our creative ideas with those who we think will be most receptive. An easy audience.
We then create a polarised education system; for example, those who like the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland and those who don’t; those who like Glow and those who don’t; those who think change is good and those who don’t. When people disagree with something you fundamentally agree with, how often have you taken it as a personal slight? How often has it been intended as a personal slight? Perhaps we need to toughen up and do better.
I think Teachmeet can really help here, especially the smaller, trimmed down, Teachmeet 365. I recently proposed a ‘Teachmeet plus partner’, sending the audience into a frenzy as they pictured prospective ‘significant others’ sitting alongside them at the next one. What I meant was a Teachmeet where the entry ‘fee’ was to bring one other person from your establishment who had never been to one before. Maybe then we can start to encourage others to join our conversation.
Teachmeet is often a pebble in an ocean. A pebble which starts ripples but, perhaps, only small ones. By sticking to our own beliefs we miss great opportunities for learning. We won’t always be able to reach out, but a little bit of empathy perhaps goes some of the way. As long as I don’t have to read The Daily Mail.