Wouldn’t it be convenient if all the groups society agonised about were compulsorily cattled together for 35 hours a week?
Obese patients. The Biggest Loser could become a national programme. The depressed and the anxious. Dose them up with an SSRI, a meditation course, and silent reading sessions of a book on cognitive behavioural therapy. The unemployed. 9 am to 10 am: Guardian jobs. 10 am to 11 am: CV formatting. People having unsafe sex. Show them pictures of gonorrhoea on gonads, and load them up with condoms on their way out.
It would be so easy. We could solve all of society’s ills. (Apart from when they went home of course. But that’s OK. At that point we could blame the people they live with.)
The structure of school – where the vast majority of the population of a particular age are put together for 7 hours a day – means it is dangerously susceptible to this form of thinking. Something wrong with the under-16 population? Schools seem like the perfect arena for an intervention.
There’s just one problem: what this intervention takes the place of. School pupils are little people; they broadly have the same range of problems as big people. They get fat; they get ill; they get sad; they make bad decisions. And even where they don’t, they’re future big people. They might not have a gambling problem now, but let’s get in the PSHE sessions when they’re 13 to save them in a decade’s time. Soon we end up with a school curriculum like the TES’ media crowd-sourced timetable.
Schools become the place where we fight terrorism, tackle obesity, address mental illness, perform social work… the list goes on
School is not a holding pen for children to test out policy initiatives en masse. We must not be shamed by arguments about caring, or blinded by the novelty of intriguing initiatives. An aim can be worthy, and teachers can care about it, but it doesn’t follow that school time and teachers’ energy should be used on it.
School is for making people smarter. We must preserve that. Anything that doesn’t serve that purpose must be batted away at the school gates.