I think of Kevin Myers as a teacher, an educator, a challenger of received wisdom.
I value his contribution. It doesn’t matter all that much to me whether I agree with him or not. It’s sufficient for me that he goes into battle with conventional wisdom, and is afraid of no argument. There are too few Kevin Myers in Ireland.
However, he’s let himself down this time. He jumped on a bandwagon and taken sides with the lumpen majority. He’s come out against the teachers and written a piece entitled ‘Teachers are paid too much for working seven months a year’. As someone who flows with the tide, Kevin Myers is no good to anyone.
I better declare an interest. I was at school in Ireland and didn’t much enjoy it. I succeeded in education despite, rather than because of, the quality of the teaching. I’ve often found school teachers to be strangely over-confident and over-authoritative. They are too used to talking down to people for my taste. I don’t think I’d like to be a school teacher.
[to be continued… later today…]
So many opinions have been criticising teachers that I wonder if it’s been because too many teachers’ trade unions have been in conference at the same time?
Kevin Myers launches his attack:
Myers begins his attack using terms like "wealth-creating sector" and "the real economy". Tired clichés. Implying that education is a different beast… Pejorative language… Simplistic thinking, I’d say.
He goes on to urge someone to sack teachers in order to make them realise that we’re in the middle of "the greatest economic calamity this State has ever known". His target is the job security of teachers.
We are actually short of teachers.
Our children face being crammed into increasingly worse conditions. It is madness to go on against job security when the real crisis is that we face not having enough teachers.
Of course, poor teachers should be improved or moved out of the ‘profession’. But Kevin has let his mouth run away with his pen, I see.
He goes on about teachers working a "seven-month working year", as if teachers were some extraordinarily privileged lot.
But he says nothing about what teachers are expected to do:
- supervise students during lunchtime and breaks
- mark homework and prepare lessons after school hours.
If you add up all the hours that teachers work at home, what does it come to? I don’t know but I think we need to take all this into consideration.
I’ve looked at the OECD reports on education.
What Irish teachers do is not very different from other countries, like Belgium and France. If Irish teachers have better working conditions than some other countries, I don’t think it’s wise to dismantle these conditions: it may be that Irish people value education and hold their teachers in a relatively high status position.
But Myers makes a strong point that 23% of Irish school leavers are functionally illiterate. This is indeed bad and dangerous: there will be few jobs for functionally illiterate people soon. We better do something about this.
However, this problem will not be solved within the education system. If only it was a simple matter of improving teaching methods. And we all know this already. Illiteracy is a social problem, and demands a multi-dimensional approach. A national task force, with its leadership selected by rigorous and transparent methods is called for.
We need more respect for education throughout the community.
We won’t achieve this by circulating hyperbolic and scatter-gun attacks on teachers. Focussed and probing inquiry yes.
At the end of his article Myers writes of teachers …
" … the most important group of people in any society: for it is teachers who create, and who must therefore embody, the true civic culture of any civilisation…"
Surely the most interesting question is ‘How come teachers have been given Batt O’Keefe as minister for education?’
A gentleman who has demonstrated not a shred of education, nor a trace of understanding for the value of education so far, I’d say. A close personal friend of Mr Cowen seems to be his most obvious qualification. [I see Mr Cowen was guest at Mr O’Keefe’s daughter’s wedding recently.]
Kevin Myers on a bandwagon is a bore. I’d like to challenge him to be more interesting.