On the British Proposal of bringing the Armed Services into the School-system

In their article of 9 July in The Telegraph, the British shadow ministers for education and defence put forward the idea that the military (especially its veterans and reservists) ought to have a stronger role in the British education system.

While this may seem a rather radical idea, it does make some degree of sense. As the shadow ministers (equivalent to the critics in Canadian legislatures) point out, reservists already use civilian skills to do good in military contexts; surely ‘the reverse should also be true’. The armed services are built on the ‘values of responsibility, comradeship, hard work and a respect for public service’, ideals which are essential in helping children to become active citizens in our modern age. Other virtues of the armed services that make them well-suited to being involved in education, but which are not mentioned in the article, are their discipline, their respect for tradition, their custom of rewarding excellence and achievement, and, of course, their strong emphasis on physical fitness.

Whatever one’s thoughts on having soldiers teaching and interacting with children, the principle behind the idea is sound. As has been said on this blog and elsewhere, the time has come to search for creative ways to teach our children. Perhaps the military ideals of discipline and loyalty toward one’s peers and one’s superiors (e.g. the teachers) are just what some schools need to help to serve their students better. As with any model, however, it will not be appropriate for every school.

I myself was at first rather alarmed by the idea of having soldiers in schools, but as I’ve thought things through, the idea has grown on me; though, of course, I would not tolerate the presence of any firearms, or even the wearing of battledress. I do think, however, that, in underprivileged communities (which were particularly on the shadow ministers’ mind when they conceived the plan), the presence of authority in a nurturing role, rather than a law-enforcing one, coupled with the promise, almost unique to the military, of promotion through the ranks for those who work hard, could be precisely what’s needed to help students to rise to their full potential.

The shadow ministers’ suggestion, while creative, is controversial: one particularly impassioned  user on The Telegraph’s website went so far as to say that it was a ‘fascist [and] authoritarian’ proposal. What are your thoughts on this? Is it a troubling recommendation that would militarise our schools and society? Or is it a worthwhile, innovative idea that could help to improve education? Have your say in the comments section below!

On Pedagogy

I have known some teachers who, without realising it, saw their classroom as an accident of location. There is a classroom, in which there happens to be one knowledgeable adult amid a group of ignorant children. It almost goes without saying that these classes were as much of a burden to the students as they were to the teacher, and in them I learned precious little. By contrast, I have also known some teachers who consciously view their classroom as a place of relationships, in which there is a teacher in the midst of a group of students. These classes were a delight, and I carry much from those classes with me in my mind and in my heart to this very day.[pullquote]So essential is this deep thought and tender care to the teaching profession that it has its own name, that of pedagogy[/pullquote]

That which separates these two extremes of a poor experience and a very good one is this: the first teacher acts as though ‘teacher’ were merely his job (or, worse, his burden); the second acts as though each relationship between him and a student is significant and important. The former does his work grudgingly; the latter, with much thought and care. So essential is this deep thought and tender care to the teaching profession that it has its own name, that of pedagogy.

As a student of language, I cannot help but go in search of the root of this word. It is, in fact, the Ancient Greek word for education, and is formed from the two root words παίς, (pais, a child) and ἄγειν (agein, to lead); thus, it may be said that one who practices pedagogy is one who leads children. Similarly, the word ‘education’ comes to us from the Latin verb educare (to raise a child), which is itself from the verb educere, to lead forth. So a good education involves being led … but whither? The answer is sweeping in its implications, for he is being led into adulthood, and into the future.

Marcus Cornelius Fronto (tutor to Marcus Aurelius)

In his classroom, a teacher demonstrates love for his students and for his field; a teacher demonstrates thoughtfulness in reading as well as in writing; a teacher demonstrates honesty in academics, and in life generally. In short, in a world that has the technology we have, and in a world that relies as much on skills (as opposed to knowledge) as ours does, it becomes imperative that the teacher be more than a mere transmitter of information. It is crucial that the teacher model how a scholar and a human being thinks and behaves. For it is becoming increasingly clear that all of the planet’s resources are finite, and that there is no way that the cutting-apart of our home will cease nor that poverty and violence will be acted against unless the academics, activists, politicians and citizens of the time to come are filled with passion and compassion, with thoughtfulness and honesty.

This, then, is the great and noble work of the teacher: to lead, with deep thought and tender care, the young ones entrusted to him into the future with the skills and moral resources they need, that they may play their part in the betterment of the human race and of the little planet they inhabit.