At the chalkface: The New Year

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:
Ian Whitwham
The Times quotes Garry Kasparov: “Remember these words from Tsar Nicholas II’s diary: ‘The year ...

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“I was going to hit this guy, a very little guy, so hard his head would spin, he wouldn’t know what the hell happened,” he opined at a rally. Ah, the nuances of Socratic debate.

A new year and the lurch to oblivion looms. Unless he blows up, blows us up or otherwise implodes, Donald Trump will become US president on January 20. Yikes! With few exceptions, Europe is drifting to the ugly right. And the UK, well England, could go Trump-lite. Paul Nuttall and his Kippers might see to that.

How will this toxic discourse, this blizzard of hatred, effect our classrooms, our playgrounds? One shudders. Who can defend the children from it? Teachers? On the frontline yet again?

This pernicious nonsense is now mainstream. Acceptable. “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere,” says our leader in a craven, calculated dog whistle sort of way. There are still about 75 languages in my old school, a myriad of nationalities. Dear me.

We seem to have slipped, lurched back into the swamp, to pond life. It’s as if the Enlightenment never happened. England’s full of poisonous name-calling, the BNP and EDL are not disavowed. Meanwhile Trump takes a very dim view of Mexicans, Muslims, Blacks, women – and small persons.

“I was going to hit this guy, a very little guy, so hard his head would spin, he wouldn’t know what the hell happened,” he opined at a rally. Ah, the nuances of Socratic debate. Barking out the first prejudice in your head is now considered “passionate, honest, authentic”.

Well, in my day it was considered just plain bad manners. Discourteous. Unkind. If we aren’t going to be kind what terrors will follow? Or am I being unduly paranoid, alarmist? Elitist? It’s increasingly exhausting being a member of the middle class, metropolitan, metrosexual, moisturising, multi-cultural, London, yoghurt-knitting, tree-hugging, elite. The liberal agenda is shot.

Education, of course, always used to be the answer, the way out of these restricted codes. But I’m not sure anymore. We seem to be tilting at windmills. The omnipresent social media kicks in. The trolling and twittering deal mostly in gibberish – post-truth, post-fact, post-evidence. Teenagers in Macedonia “fake” news and flog it to Fox.

Maybe we should ditch grammar and argument and just teach our pupils the art of constructing compelling internet memes founded on sheer fantasies, countervailing lies. Orwell’s satire seems to have become fact: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. There is no irony anymore. Whatever else this lamentable nonsense is, it’s very poor schoolwork. It would do very badly in an exam. It’s a “Speaking and Listening” fail. It’s a “Writing to Persuade” unclassified. But for how much longer?

The new year looms... have a good one.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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The Times quotes Garry Kasparov: “Remember these words from Tsar Nicholas II’s diary: ‘The year 1916 was cursed: 1917 will surely be better’”.
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