by Tim Middleton
Many years ago, there was a wonderful account given of a dreadful play that was performed in London; the play was doomed to last one night, and even barely that, until one moment in the second half of the play, which changed the course of theatrical history.
The audience was so dulled and bored by the play that one spectator eventually shouted out something that brought roars of laughter from the others. As a result, others joined in with their own comments and the play went on to run for months, purely because people went to watch it so they could add their own witty comments. On one occasion, the aged playwright, who desperately wanted the melodrama to be taken seriously, shouted out in desperation, “Order! Order!” In response, someone bellowed out, “Two gin and tonics, please!”
We may well be familiar with the famous lines, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances”. We probably do not know where the quotation is to be found but our standard intelligent guess of Shakespeare would on this occasion be correct (from his play ‘As You Like It’). It may be instructive to adapt the quotation to say that the educational world is a stage (as you like it) and if that is the case, we may consider our thoughts of what is happening on the educational stage.
Some of us may view education and what happens at schools as if it is a ballet, in the sense that we have absolutely no idea what is going on but are clearly impressed by the graceful movement, easy transitions and expressive actions. It all seems to be going smoothly, people seem to like it and those involved are not uncomfortable in their roles. Many parents might struggle to understand what on earth is happening in school nowadays but accept that it is what it is and must be good.
Others might view education as we might view opera. We might find that there is a lot of noise, mostly grand; there is a lot of song and dance, which does not always seem natural but it all seems to end up positively, and there is plenty of passion. Again, we might not be too sure or familiar with what is going on in schools and classrooms and sports fields but we are impressed by it all.
For others, the educational world might be seen as a drama, made up of lots of different scenes and acts. It is all well rehearsed, disciplined, structured, laid out; it all follows a clear script with a definite end in sight. There are no surprises, no ‘ad libs’, no deviations. We might even consider it like a Shakespearean play, divided into various acts, which may be delineated as the exposition, the complication, the climax (form four), the resolution and finally the denouncement (upper six). Depending on the results that come out at the end, we might view the educational stage as a tragedy or as a comedy (distinguished simplistically as the former ending in deaths, the latter ending in marriages). The script or rather curriculum is closely followed and the message is clear.
For some, that is too serious an approach and they may see the educational world as a pantomime where it has all the elements of the dramas mentioned above but it also encompasses and indeed encourages audience participation, with its endless, mindless, argumentative claims of “Oh, yes, he is” to “Oh, no, he isn’t” as well as “Look behind you!” Some parents today might appear to be more comfortable with such a view of education.
Others, it has to be said, might view the educational stage as being like a one-man comedy, stand-up show; it is seen as simply entertainment, amusement, popularity. It is a comfortable, easy, charming way to pass the time and to feel in better spirits by the end. Seán O’Casey, a celebrated Irish playwright, claimed that, “Laughter is wine for the soul — laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness — the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living” and the same could perhaps accurately be given as a description of education.
All of the above mentioned analogies look at education from a different perspective and seek to offer a fresher understanding for the children. Seán O’Casey also picked up on Shakespeare’s theme once and declared that, “All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” We may well have a similar feeling towards education. School is a dress rehearsal. As you like it.
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.