Expelled from Eden

Myths are powerful.

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Since I’ve been part of Justice for LB and have come to know the other individuals or families involved, I’ve been increasingly struck by the similarities between professional attitudes to the learning disabled and to the old.

Mark Nearly and Sara Ryan point out how those with learning disabilities are regarded as somehow less human, so that their rights are seen as quite OK to overlook.

Well, I’m sorry to tell all you younger folks that it’s becoming worrying similar the older you get. Fear and dread of “care” is rife amongst my age group because, like the learning disabled, we oldies tend to have, or develop, complex medical needs. Older people are also seen as not worthy of certain categories of treatment.

I’d hoped that some older campaigning groups might see it politic to join forces in supporting the learning disability lobby, but possibly active Golden Oldies are too busy making the most of their lifetime’s Indian summer, or it’s just too uncomfortable to confront the realities of being vulnerable in the UK today.

Or perhaps, at our age, we just hope to be mercifully carried off before it comes to that.

When I was young I used to be part puzzled and part amused by my elderly Irish neighbour who used to pray diligently for “a good death”.

Now I find it horrific, that decades later, my generation should do the same, not because of lack of medical knowledge or facilities, but on account of a cruel, systematic downgrading of the rights of the vulnerable to decent, humane consideration.

And it is the cynical abuse of power by the authorities charged with our “care” that induces such disillusion and despair.

I can only liken it to being thrown out of Eden after eating from the tree of knowledge.

But, in our case, the knowledge we have sadly gained is of inhumanity and naked corruption where once we had trustingly believed to find honesty and a desire to serve.

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Lesson 92. The Slough of Despond

Lesson 92 on Disillusion

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After all the pressure and anxiety, then the overwhelming sense of relief, everything went flat.

Mr TopJunior’s reaction was to clear his room of everything to do with Ofsted.  Now the inspectors had gone, he felt free to say how angry the whole experience had made him.  The schedule for inspection had meant he had never been seen teaching his specialist subjects, and he had only ever been visited for partial lessons.

In vain I argued that he was manifestly competent, so there was no need for them to hang around.  He had experienced it as personally dismissive and disrespectful of his pupils for somebody to just walk in and out of their lesson without a word. And then, on the basis of barely 20 minutes observation, to pass judgement on them.

He couldn’t place any value their comments.  He cared so much about his work and invested such careful planning into it. He wanted his pupils to feel their efforts had been recognised. He felt let down.  He was an honest, positive person.  He’d never been cynical, but the inspection had soured his views.

It had been destructive of his sense of professional worth. He couldn’t feel he or his pupils mattered in the process. 

Harder than that to bear, were the negative comments contained in the detail of the report, to which he felt he had contributed.

The government’s pet priority that year was the importance of Standard English, so the inspectors had homed in on the use of local dialect in the classroom.  It had been critically noted that the staff had been heard to use colloquial words and phrases, which failed to provide a good role model for the children.

I had been furious about this. None of the inspectors had any expertise in the theory or practice of language learning, or of working in a multilingual environment.  They were simply toeing the party line. It was a politically required, shallow judgement.

The head just ignored it, and the rest of the staff weren’t too bothered either.  They hadn’t any intention of changing.  The general feeling was that the inspectors had to find something bad to say, and it could have been worse. 

The school worked in two languages, official standard English and the local vernacular. Different situations and contexts necessitated the use of one or the other. Words of comfort or reprimand were normally in the vernacular, praise in either depending on whether it was public or private, instructions in standard English, with a translation if necessary in the younger groups. Who on earth was going to be bothered about them saying “You’ll get wrong!” instead of “You will find yourself in trouble, if you carry on with that behaviour, young man!”

But Mr TopJuniors felt diminished by this slur on his background and professionalism.  It reinforced his suspicion that, despite his strengths, he wouldn’t ever fit the government’s approved teacher template.