March 1st 2008


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The Australian economy a 'house of cards'

EDITORIAL: Timor troubles: the way ahead

CANBERRA OBSERVED: What remains to be done after saying sorry?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Brian Burke and Kevin Rudd cross paths again

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Economic policy-making in conflict

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Hysteria in the House / US election campaign / "Say sorry" segment / The economy

ISLAM: Uproar over Archbishop of Canterbury's Islam gaffe

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: Why Australia's Christian heritage matters

HUMAN RIGHTS: The 2008 Olympics and China's Communist regime

TAIWAN: Chen: Almost over, but not out

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Australia and Japan set to draw closer together

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Global warming? It's the coldest winter in decades / Capitalism's enemies within

Reality gap between words and action (letter)

Wentworth's vision for Australian railways (letter)

Thuggery at Brisbane pro-life rally (letter)

The struggling Rudds (letter)

BOOKS: IT'S YOUR TIME YOU'RE WASTING: A teacher's tales of classroom hell, by Frank Chalk

BOOKS: CAPTAIN BLIGH'S OTHER MUTINY, by Stephen Dando-Collins

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BOOKS:
IT'S YOUR TIME YOU'RE WASTING: A teacher's tales of classroom hell, by Frank Chalk


by James Gilchrist

News Weekly, March 1, 2008
Scandalous state of British schools

IT'S YOUR TIME YOU'RE WASTING
A teacher's tales of classroom hell
by Frank Chalk

(Wolvey, Leicestershire, UK: Monday Books)
Paperback: 226 pages
Rec. price: AUD$24.00

It's Your Time You're Wasting provides a revealing insight into modern education in the raw, consisting of an inside account of a year spent supply-teaching in London by a British teacher using the appropriate pen-name "Frank Chalk".

Chalk's bird's-eye-view is simultaneously funny, scathing and politically incorrect, and therefore unlikely to win any plaudits from educational authorities. In so doing, it provides a revealing look at not just the problems with modern education but the wider society and culture from which it is inseparable.

Violence, theft and profanity

Having once spent a very unpleasant four months in London schools myself, I was struck by the stark similarity of Chalk's experiences. It's all there: the appalling behaviour, meaningless punishments, apathy and obfuscation from authorities, wrecked classrooms, violence, theft and constant profanity - everything of course but actual teaching.

Chalk makes no secret of his contempt for this system in decay, and frequently derides those who support what amounts to a giant, expensive exercise in crowd control; from the vulgar families of the Cherry Tree Estate, through to the government, academics and educational elites who compound problems with their fanciful but impractical classroom innovations.

For the Australian teacher unfamiliar with the worst of British schools, such outbursts may appear unnecessarily cynical; but for those many hundreds of Aussies who have braved the London supply circuit, all this will make perfect sense.

After all, it's no fun to be verbally and/or physically abused on a daily basis and be completely frustrated in every attempt to do what you were trained for.

It should also be said, in Chalk's defence, that he offsets his teacher sarcasm with some genuine affection and sympathy for the little people who become lost in this system: the quiet student from a working-class home whose opportunity is destroyed by the unchecked thuggery and misbehaviour of his or her classmates, and the genuinely talented teachers whose bravery and brilliance against the odds are never really recognised or rewarded.

In fact, one of Chalk's most compelling and unfashionable contentions is that liberal education - in practice - has been counter-productive to its initial ideals.

It is actually harder for underprivileged students with ability to elevate themselves through this system than it was 30 years ago.

Their class time is eroded daily by undisciplined students; they learn very little and fail to achieve along with everyone else.

The tempo is dictated by the selfish and un-academic whose needs are pandered to by experts and psychologists, and discipline is rarely achieved.

In essence, as Chalk makes abundantly clear, the system is inequitable and unjust.

To his credit, however, he moves beyond mere lament and suggests many simple, worthwhile and practical solutions to improve the current school system, all unashamedly traditional. One suspects, if his real name ever emerges, that Master Chalk is unlikely to ever find himself in an educational leadership position.

More's the pity as schools both here and abroad could do with more honest and practically-minded leaders prepared to introduce much-needed reforms.


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