Discourse

What we learn about what isn’t said tends to say as much as what has actually been said, don’t you think? Those liminal spaces where ‘others’ inhabit. Twitter has lit up with Nicky Morgan’s assertion that all pupils should know their times tables by the end of primary school. Now I haven’t seen the interview, only the fall-out, so I don’t know her exact words. Apparently, heads should roll – well, Headteachers should be sacked if 100% of pupils do not succeed. But wait, 100%? ALL pupils?

Way back in 1978 Dame Warnock produced a report that stated that about 2% of the school population will require help over and above what would be expected in an ordinary classroom. The Warnock Report was the catalyst for inclusion in to mainstream. Some students should have a statement of Special Educational Needs to set out and fund extra provision. How do these children fit in with Nicky Morgan’s ‘all’?

Statements and special educational provision heralded in a new era of education, some LAs closed their special school and moved pupils into mainstream. Mainstream was the buzz word, all children should go there. Some children moved en-masse with their peers and their special school teachers into their local schools. Now we’re seeing the next generation, statements are phasing out and the all-singing, all-dancing EHCP is phasing in.

But discourse, what role is that going to play? When Nicky said all children, did she actually mean all? If pinned down, how would she define ‘all’, as surely all means all doesn’t it? Could ‘all’ carry a different definition? How about a conversation hubby had with a work colleague some time back, it went along the lines of:

“I hate Black people, send them home”

“But what about [man who works at the same place]”

“Oh no, he’s ok”

“Well what about [another bloke who works there]”

“No he’s fine”

So what Black people did this work colleague mean? Presumably, all Black people that he didn’t know, so now we have a different definition of ‘all’. ‘All’ means those who happen to spring to mind first.

Of course there are various discourses weaving about, not all are spoken. A few years ago I was going to do a Post Grad diploma in Equality and Diversity, but I got side tracked by Mental Health Studies and a 2nd degree in health & Social Care. Anyway, I had arranged to spend some time in a Yr 1 class locally. The teacher was fairly newly qualified and outwardly she was very good, but let’s take a walk back into one of those liminal spaces of discourse.

A young lad had ADHD & was always in motion. During carpet time he was made to sit right in front of the teacher, so she could keep watch on him. For him it was probably great as he got the front row seat for book reading & the like. For the rest of the class his constant twitching and attempts to point pictures out or narrate the story was distracting and irritating. What was being learned by his classmates during these times? The lad was akin to being placed under a panopticon, every eye was on him, every action noted. The teacher may have been teaching literacy, but the discourse was how to separate and alienate ‘those’ kinds of children.

“Kids like that shouldn’t be in a school like this”

Oh how often I heard that in the school playground. Of course they didn’t mean my child, so which children did they mean? Like ‘not that Black person, but those others’. Was my child not included because they knew me? Their prejudice was learned from somewhere, was it back in Year 1?

So does Nicky Morgan mean all children? I get the feeling that although Dame Warnock was one of the movers and shakers behind inclusion, it didn’t trickle down into Nicky Morgan’s classroom. The idea that there are children out there who may never learn the times table, that even some may barely live long enough to graduate from primary school, simply isn’t on her radar. Instead, like the enthusiastic Yr 1 teacher, she is adding to a discourse. This discourse is one of failure by teachers, by schools, by parenting, by lazy children. Not by politicians of course, they’re perfect.

We all hope that our children will grow up to be adults. Let’s teach them to ditch the exclusive discourses in favour of positive, pro-active inclusive ones.

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