Good teachers are great liars. They create all sorts of untruths, weaving a whole tangled web of deception on a daily basis in order to trick children into learning, despite their best intentions to the contrary. They lie. They cheat. They deceive. They hoodwink. And they have their own language of deceit too. ‘Let’s imagine…’. ‘Let’s pretend…’. ‘What if…’.
In order to go through the artificial process of teaching children about things that aren’t there (volcanoes, poverty, desert islands, molecules, God…) they have to act as if they were there.
Lies, all lies.
To make the lies work, that is to say to ensure they remain invisible, the duplicitous teacher must also ensure the learners join in the deceit too. ‘If you were a poor abandoned dog, how would you be feeling at this moment?’ is a question whose structure guarantees that children have to join in the lie in order to respond. ‘But I’m not a dog!’ won’t help. ‘But if I were a dog, I’m sure I would be too cute to be abandoned’ is better. Just.
This is what good teachers do. They create alternative possibilities, different realities, ones that are enticing to young minds, ones that lure children in. Teacher as Child Catcher.
(Poor quality teachers, on the other hand, think there job is to impart knowledge, dry facts that are as real as that volcano they are studying on the other side of the world and remain just as distant.)
Children may learn real facts about real volcanoes but they will absorb and remember everything there is to know about made-up volcanoes that could erupt at any time in the corner of the classroom. In the science of memory, context memory (real-life learning) trumps content learning (‘”Fact, fact, fact!" repeated Thomas Gradgrind.’) every time. Deceit is what is used to make it real. Want them to know about the truth? Start with lies. Works every time.
Hywel Roberts’ pants are usually on fire. He is a master fabulist, a weaver of complete and utter nonsense (flying machines, talking dogs, mad women on supposedly uninhabited islands…). His ability to make lies out of facts knows no bounds. Whenever he sees something real he likes the look of – a photo, a story, an object, a toy - the question first to his treacherous mind is this one:
Where’s the curriculum in that?
In other words, how can I exploit this discovery and turn it into a fantasy to trick children into learning? This is what Oops! is all about – the ability to pluck the curriculum from the environment, wrap it up in a tissue of lies for the classroom and trick children into learning about it. Oops, I just taught you something while we were having fun and making stuff up. Oops, I just learned something and I came to school today determined to repel all assaults on my ignorance. Damn you, Mr Roberts!!
Drama is a great way of lying to children but, although Hywel draws from his experience of using drama to help children learn well, this is not a book about drama in the classroom. Far from it. This book – best read in a Barnsley accent wherever possible – is full of ideas and activities to bring the learning alive in many, many ways and will seriously challenge the nature of your teaching.
So, read this book, seek out the curriculum that is found all around you, take it, then turn it into a big fat lie with which to trick your children into learning everything there is about it.
And may God have mercy on your soul.