Hands Down

Reading the Mail on Sunday while traversing the English Channel yesterday, I was lead to believe that Education Secretary Alan Johnson said I shouldn’t have students raise their hands to answer questions any more. I looked at the DfES website tonight and – whew! – what a relief – it appears this only applies to primary schools. It appears that the omniscient apparatchiks who feed Johnson the wisdom he’s supposed to share with us still find it okay have pupils raise their hands once they reach age 11.

However, before they arrive at big school, letting children raise their hand and give an answer to a question is damaging. Not so much to the hand-raiser, but to the “invisible children”. This does not refer to a belief in some sort of incorporeal presence of multiple learners – though there are loonies at DfES who might believe in such things – but rather to those who are not as eager to participate in the didactic process.

What the DfESians must not realise that a classroom teacher knows best what works for their groups. Most teachers do spend some of class discussion time calling on those who are less willing to volunteer. However, they shouldn’t take away from those who are more actively involved in the lesson. Otherwise you will just end up with lowest common denominator lessons. But I suppose that is the point of socialism: if you can’t pull everyone up, then drag everyone down. Equality is all that matters.

But it gets worse.

They also want the questions discussed in pairs before anyone answers. That way little Karl has a chance to get the answer off his buddy Friedrich so he doesn’t feel oppressed by bourgeoisie kids with their hands in the air.

And if that ain’t enough, our masters in Great Smith Street also want 30 seconds of “thinking time” before an answer is expected. Do you know how long 30 seconds is? I don’t mean it is 30 times the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom. Everyone who reads Wikipedia knows that. I mean in practical terms. If you are American, think of the Final Jeopardy theme tune. Can you imagine waiting that long for each question to be answered in a lesson?

If this ever does become the standard in secondary school – and believe me, I have no reason to think it won’t – the teacher-led parts of lessons will grind to a halt. After all, current wisdom only allows us to actually teach for between five and seven minutes in any lesson. The rest of the time is supposed to be taken up with pupil-led learning, i.e., attention-holding activities.

Pretty soon they’ll know nothing at all. But at least everyone will be the same.

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