My grandfather seemed really fond of me as a child, expressing it by praising everything I wrote, drew and painted, carrying extracts from my oeuvre around in his pockets, showing examples to people on trains. My other relatives thought he was eccentric. Praise was not usually given, the idea being that it was bad for children and would put them off trying to ‘do better.’
Early on in life I was set on a course of self-improvement, always hoping to achieve something worthwhile which might also have the effect of impressing people, who like my parents disapproved of me most of the time, to make up the self-esteem deficit. A balance of praise and blame would have been better, but I’ve noticed that there’s now a national outbreak of doting grandfathers; parents, teachers, vicars, foster-carers, workers in children’s homes, policemen, doctors all behave like mine, even towards children and adults they hardly know.
Kindly doctors won’t say you are too fat, vicars will not tell you that Christianity is different from pantheism, and teachers will not say you are poorly skilled. Apparently overwhelmed with approval they cannot be expected to objectively assess work, let alone criticise it. I found that ‘affirmation’ alone was required when I taught in further education, even in prison. Now that I take local authority and private art courses, I realise that teachers are not expected to actually teach at all, their once amusingly sarcastic vocabulary reduced to, ‘Amazing!’ ‘Fantastic!’ ‘Excellent!’
Art courses are not cheap. Payment is for the teacher just turning up. In a recent still-life class we were given a blunt stainless-steel 1960s teapot. I was amused that the, mostly elderly, ladies in the group drew great long spouts on them which just weren’t there. There was no chance of any banter about Freud, just the usual response of, ’Fantastic!’ ‘Amazing,’ ‘Excellent.’
The only way to deal with this is to pay even grander amounts for courses at private colleges, such as Heatherley’s in London, the only place to have a serious portrait painting diploma, nearly £20,000 for two years, or the Florence Academy, which has schools all over Europe and in the US at nearly a thousand Euros a week. Wealthy people happily pay through the nose to get a word of criticism of the sort my parents and elderly teachers used to dole out freely.
Paul Dacre, an old school boss, not known for giving out praise to his employees, was recently turned down for the job of chairman of the media regulator Ofcom. Normally taciturn he let fly with some stinging rebukes, calling his experience, ‘an infelicitous dalliance with the Blob,’ claiming that senior Whitehall mandarins were determined to exclude anyone with conservative views from any public sector role and anyone right of centre had more chance of winning the lottery than getting a job in the public sector, which certainly applies to teaching. As a history student at a university where our courses were based on ‘Marxist historiography’ I remember my friends saying they wanted to ‘get into education,’ not as teachers but as civil servants, so that they could influence and change the institutions of state from within, and forty years on, they’ve certainly succeeded.
We regularly see what schools are now about. This week, Holy Trinity Primary School, Richmond, ‘Together we Dream, Believe, Achieve,’ says their website, changed the names of their houses, replacing Winston Churchill and JK Rowling with black footballer Marcus Rashford and Crimean War caterer, Mary Seacole. They have kept the names of environmentalist hero Sir David Attenborough and Mrs Pankhurst who founded the militant suffragettes. This was timed to coincide with ‘Black History Month’ in October. Chairperson of governors Michele Marcus said, ‘The change was entirely driven and led by our pupils and they feel proud of having effected this change and knowing their views were heard.’
They are aged between three and eleven which perhaps that explains the basic ignorance of History displayed. Mrs Seacole, now celebrated as a black Briton, her statue outside St Thomas’ Hospital, London, and numerous housing estates called after her, never described herself as black and was never a nurse. She wrote a lively memoir which clearly states on page one: ‘I have good Scotch blood coursing in my veins,’ proudly describing her father’ being ‘Of an old Scotch family.’
Her mother was mixed race, and she ascribed her own ‘energy and activity,’ to her ‘Scotch blood.’ She referred to the, ‘Lazy Creole,’ and only one quarter African described herself as ‘Only a little brown, a few shades duskier than the brunettes whom you all admire so much.’ She referred to, ‘Good-for-nothing black cooks,’ a ‘Grinning black,’ and ‘Excited nigger cooks.’ Worse were her comparisons with roasted monkey meat. She also makes un-BBC references to, ‘Jew Johnny,’ ‘Craven Greeks,’ and ‘Cunning-eyed,’ Turks, ‘The degenerate descendants of the fierce Arabs.’
One can only be glad that they’ve kept Mrs Pankhurst there – an extreme right-wing Tory who wanted to extend the franchise but only to ladies with property, detested the working class, she wanted Britain to strive for ‘Race betterment,’ a keen defender of British Imperialism, and supporter of eugenics. The Labour Party always refused to have anything to do with her, but please don’t tell Holy Trinity any of that; in modern education ignorance is not just bliss, it’s a social and political requirement.