To be honest, it would be easier to give up thinking about the question.
There was brief mention of having a philosophy of education during teacher training and one job application form asked about the applicant’s philosophy of education (I didn’t get invited to attend an interview), but most of the time I just get on and try to do my job and leave big questions to other people.
In my days of parish ministry in the Church of Ireland, I certainly would have often asked the question, “what is the church for?” But, approaching my sixtieth birthday, I am too old to be someone who can make any difference in any school.
But what is a school for?
High Ham Primary School was for teaching us everything the teachers could possibly manage. English with spellings that would confound many adults. Maths that included long division, fractions and percentages. History that stretched from the ancient Sumerians to the Apollo space mission. Our teachers had qualified in the 1930s, a decade before the 1944 Education Act, in the days when the school was the only education a person might have.
Most of my secondary education was spent at a school on Dartmoor which was for making the best of the few dozen sick and delicate boys whose local authorities had sent them there. Two boys had died in the summer holidays before I had arrived. Keeping us fit and well was a priority, any exams we might pass were a bonus.
Standing on the other side of the teacher’s desk, I try to recall the commitment of those who taught me, hoping I can recapture something of their enthusiasm for learning and possess some of the breadth of their knowledge.
The weeks of lockdown have caused an unease. Schools exist ostensibly to serve their student populations, to facilitate their learning, to support them in their personal development, to equip them to become the best people that they can be.
Schools talk about “closing the gap” between the disadvantaged and the affluent. They acknowledge that the weeks of closure have most severely affected the students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Yet the teaching unions have sought to throw up obstacles to every proposal that schools reopen.
The science may say that children are not vulnerable, that they do not carry the virus. The science may say that the closure of schools was not a major contributor in the reduction of the spread of the virus. But the response to every statement has been to oppose it.
Children out of school are more vulnerable to neglect, abuse and physical danger than children in school are vulnerable to Covid-19.
What’s a school for? Listening to the teaching unions, they don’t seem to be for the children.