Zen Corridors

At an art gallery/bar/all round wonderfully pretentious East London venue, a left-leaning friend of mine asks me about my new school. I describe some features of the knowledge curriculum. I then mention the silent corridors to her. Her response is shock, close to moral outrage. She uses terms such as ‘creating robots’ and cruel’. I have never seen her so aggressive.  This got me thinking; why is she so outraged?

So many of our educational views are deep emotional reactions. Things with which we have negative associations. Things we think we should think, in line with our political tribe. I wonder how many of my own views are just deep emotional reactions rather than me looking at what is best?

A big problem with the current  educational debate is that what sounds nice, is not always what is the best policy. Progressive child-centred education, with loose rules, sounds really fun and lovely. It is a much easier sell. Traditionalist educationalists, by contrast, have a harder sell. It does not help that tradition is associated with conservatism and the Tories are seen by many as the ‘nasty party’. The problem is however what sounds nice is often not what is best for children.

Maybe my friend’s idea of school corridors is one of ‘Fame’, with children creatively dancing between lessons. My associations, from experience, are less ‘Fame’ and more ‘Zombie Apocalypse’. Many school corridors are simply unsafe. I have seen in my old school blood on a year 7 child’s head from being pushed against a wall. A teacher, knocked over by a group of children, had an eight month leave to recover from a serious head injury; and she could have been killed.  I know I am not oppressing children by making them walk single file, purposefully, and  in silence between lessons. I know it is the kindest thing to do; but to many it does sound oppressive.

I had an epiphany, (educational not religious), whilst on holiday visiting the San Francisco Zen Centre. On the first day I was informed that we should walk in silence down the stairs to the meditation hall at 5am. I asked why, and was told it was in order that we might prepare to focus. The students need the same. To arrive at their lessons on time, calm, focused and ready to learn (no need to worry about being cool or make conversation) silence is key.

In the future I will say that we are learning from the age- old wisdom of ‘golden silence’ at Michaela. Creating a space of ‘mindfulness’ in the corridors is really important to us. Mindfulness is the latest buzzword.  That got me thinking that traditionalist teachers need some better marketing.  Traditional education often does not sound like the kindest option, but often I firmly believe it is. I hope that we (me included) will all try to see the best policy and not judge ideas as whether Gove endorsed them or if they do, or do not, fit with the latest educational fad. Until then, when I speak to my progressive friends, I will never again say I teach in a school with silent corridors, I will simply say Zen corridors.



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