Teaching Without Touching


Sometimes I despair of our unions, I really do. The Musician’s Union has pulled off a feat many thought impossible: they’ve managed to make our Secretary of State for Education appear level-headed, caring, liberal and progressive.

In case you missed it, here’s Diane Widdison, from the MU, explaining to BBC news why they have advised their members who teach not to touch their students:

Faced with an empty net, Mr Gove calmly slotted the ball home, for the easiest of goals:

‘It offends against common sense’. ‘Adults in any position of responsible authority now feel that they can’t have any physical contact with children without suspicion being aroused’. Mr Gove said the advice played to a culture of fear, and he’s quite right. I once sat in on a session where a couple of hundred music teachers were tying themselves in knots trying to work out how they could teach a child fingering without actually touching them. It was one of  the most depressing things I’d ever witnessed, and I felt nothing but sympathy for the poor teachers.

This culture of fear has arisen from years of lurid stories in the media, who are only too keen to put the fear of God into parents. The only way to reverse it is for all of us to challenge it, and argue for common sense as much as we do child protection.

It was that same culture of fear that saw a New York mother, Lenore Skenazy, who allowed her 9 year-old son ride the subway alone, become vilified by the media and lunatic fringe alike – she didn’t just do it – she blogged about it. Has she no shame?

But, perhaps things are changing, because Skenazy’s Free Range Kids organisation now seems to be winning the public debate, and she’s a much sought-after speaker. Whenever i work with teacher trainees I urge them to read John Holt and Paolo Friere – two great educators and writers who were not afraid to talk about loving the people you teach. It’s almost impossible to imagine teachers using the ‘L’ word today, such is the moral panic and fear we’ve created.

Full marks to Mr Gove for putting some common sense back into the discussion and hopefully the Musicians Union and the NSPCC will now revise their advice to their members.

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