Is Everyone Here?So there I was, tucking into my once-a-week lunchtime pizza, bathed in glorious sunshine, and sitting on the steps of Grey’s Monument in the centre of Newcastle. The smooth sounds of a highly talented musician (whom I’ll refer to as a ‘busker’ for convenience) was putting everyone in a good mood – or at least all those who had managed to dodge the charity workers multiplying like the city centre pigeons.

And then.

A column of blue entered my vision from the right as, penguin-like, a class of primary school children filed in front of me, two-by-two. Straining to be heard over the busker a middle-aged male teacher proceeded to lecture those children who could hear. His subject? A Brief, Boring and Rather Inaccurate History of Central Newcastle.

The children, meanwhile, did their level best to scribble down some ‘notes’ on flimsy pieces of paper with a blunt pencil. One lucky soul had obviously been a very good boy the week before and was snapping away using a disposable 35mm film camera. I was frustrated on their behalf.

When the busker realised what was happening he stopped playing and waited for the school party to move on. Had he not, the whole experience would have been an even more spectacular fail that it already was . The children were impeccably behaved, but the members of staff were so concerned about them following instructions that they didn’t even realise the courtesy the busker had shown them.

Walking back to work I realised that I’d just witnessed something I hadn’t experienced for twenty years. Back then, however, I had been on the other side as a child myself. Whilst in 1991 it was, to some extent, forgivable to run that kind of trip (it at least got us out of the classroom) in 2011 such practices are anachronistic and give schools a bad name. It was evident there had been no pre-trip use of online mapping tools. And why couldn’t all of the children take photos with their mobile phones (or school-provided digital cameras)? Why did they have to line up in twos? Why did they have to struggle to write on scraps of paper? Who’s trip was this?

Doing something for its own sake can be damaging and, as someone who has run school trips, there is absolutely no excuse for what I witnessed today. Conformity is not an end of education, but inspiration certainly is.

Image CC BY-SA Wm Jas