At the chalkface: Are you mediocre?

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Good will be just good which will be the average, or less, which will not be good enough because average will no longer be good enough, and the above average will therefore become average, which isn’t good enough...

Don’t we all sometimes feel a bit “mediocre”? With the Not Top 8th year on a wet Thursday afternoon?

What a creepily vague word! What exactly does it mean? Time for a little pedantry. Pay attention at the back.

It’s from the Middle French “médiocre” or the Latin “mediocris” meaning “ordinary, mean, average, inferior” – or literally “half-way up a mountain”, from “medius”, “middle” and “ocris”, “jagged mountain” (cognate with Greek “okris”).

Okay? Is that you? An old goat stuck half-way up a mountain? Not much cop? Average? Mean? Lacklustre? What a dispiriting appellation! Could it sometimes describe your chums sunk over there on staffroom sofas, burned-out, battered foot soldiers, clapped-out idealists?

Or sitting on hot desks, glazed, wired, knackered, gazing at another bloody spreadsheet, hatching another pointless action plan, failing another chimeric target, after yet another 18-hour day. You might just feel “mediocre”. If you don’t, Ofsted will soon pop in to persuade you.

Real life can also contribute – a baby teething, a landlord threatening, a romance collapsing. All irrelevant of course. You’ll deliver or you’re toast. You’re “mediocre”. 

We seem to be once again in the world of Kafkasemantics. “Mediocre” seems to be the new “satis” as in “unsatis” – or the equally treacherous “average”. 

We may recall the Great Gove’s fabulous stricture: All pupils must be above average. Marvellous – like a goat on the lower slopes of the mountain nibbling at Level 1 Numeracy. Can anyone top this?

The prime minister runs him close. “This party is clear,” he schmoozes, “just good enough is, frankly, not good enough.” Read that again. “Clear?” Semantic murk! I try to make it mean something or anything...

Good will be just good which will be the average, or less, which will not be good enough because average will no longer be good enough, and the above average will therefore become average, which isn’t good enough. It is mediocre. Still with him? It’s vertiginous gibberish isn’t it? Isn’t he grazing on even lower slopes than the old goat Gove? At best it’s worse than mediocre. No matter. 

Soon Government Hit Squads will storm your “average” and “good enough” lessons, cart you to a windowless room – and put out of your “mediocrity”.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.

 


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