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A School Carol: The Tale of Eduneezer Scrooge - Day 3
By Alex and Rachel Ford
25 Dec

Education Yet to Come

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.

"I am in the presence of the Ghost of Education Future?" said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed towards the ghostly apparition of a building through the dense fog. Scrooge moved towards it. He recognised the place, but the building itself seemed unfamiliar. Walls of glass and concrete stretched upwards into the gloom and he could soon make out the electronic sign above the sleek doorway, which read “A Marley and Scrooge School.” He quickly realised that he must be back at that same school which he had visited before.

"Ghost of the Future!" he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?"

It gave him no reply. The hand pointed straight before them. Together they moved through the walls of the building into the brightly lit interior. First they came to a monitoring room where two members of staff observed each and every corridor and classroom on screens. A woman with a red lanyard was monitoring some digital staff files, marking each of those where the teaching license was due to expire within the next year. The whole place hummed with an electronic sound. On one screen a young teacher could be seen failing to issue the mid-lesson test in a timely manner. The woman made a note in red on the staff file.

Scrooge moved on, out of the strange room with its humming noise and down a long corridor with classrooms on either side. In each of the classrooms he saw row after row of children, each sitting face down, staring at a glaring screen whilst the teacher patrolled the rows, stopping every-so-often to ensure that the requisite video for the lesson section was being observed. Each and every glass wall he passed seemed to reveal the same scene. Students silently taking digital tests, or plotting their progress on specially designed charts, or watching dumbly a procession of slides. In three of the classrooms the students were watching the very same slides. On one level Scrooge was impressed. He thought back to his attempts to create such conformity in his own school and how much more advanced things were here. Yet at the same time, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss, a loss of those things the spirits had helped him find once more.

Presently he found himself standing in a classroom with a familiar face. It was Mr Cratchitt. Older now for certain, greyer and more tired, but Mr Cratchitt none-the-less. Scrooge’s spirits lifted somewhat as the man stood to commence his lesson.

“Oh yes Spirit,” he said. “A fine teacher here, I will enjoy this lesson.”

Still the Spirit did not speak but pointed to the figure at the front.

“I understand you,” said Scrooge, “I will observe and remember how education can be about more than targets and Ofsted grades.”

But as Cratchitt began, it was not to weave his tales of great battles or of long lost civilisations. He issued but one instruction and the class, in silence, began writing the pre-digested notes from the electronic screens around the room. There was no talk, no excitement, just silence punctuated by the occasional instruction for the students to move to the next exercise.

As the lesson neared its end, Scrooge noticed a boy in the back corner. The Spirit’s bony hand indicated for Scrooge to pay heed. It did not take long for him to recognise the boy from his last visitation. Here he was now, some five years older. But he was different, the spark had gone from his eyes and the fire of interest was dulled. He mechanically swiped each screen on his tablet computer, displaying each new task in turn, but his mind was elsewhere, on the world outside the school gates where he was free to think and question and learn.

“Oh Spirit!” Scrooge exclaimed, “Must it lead to this? That the love of learning has been taken away from this child?”

Still the Ghost said nothing. A buzzer rang. Cratchitt pressed a button and each child’s tablet flashed their score for the lesson, along with their rank in the class. Finally a chart appeared showing their progress over time and predicting their future progress to the exams at the end of the year. He thanked them for their time and made a note of those who would need to return in the evening session to be retested. Silently the students rose and filed out of the room.

As before there was a knock at the door. This time a young woman was stood there. She was dressed in a smart business suit like every other teacher in the school, but her face begat an intelligence which not all he had seen possessed. She hurried inside, struggling to control her excitement. It was the first time Scrooge had seen any sign of human emotion in the building since his arrival. Cratchitt, her mentor, looked up as she shut the door quietly behind her. Finally it became too much for her and she suddenly blurted out,

“I don't know much about it either way Bob. I only know he's dead.”

“Who’s dead?” Cratchitt responded cautiously, clearly taken aback at her seeming glee at such misfortune.

“Just today I believe. Maybe it’s a sign that things will start to change. Go back to how you told me it used to be. You know… before.” Cratchitt still looked puzzled, so she slid her tablet computer over the desk to him. He scrolled down the page before giving a wry smile.

“Maybe,” was all he could manage to say. But the other would not be deterred.

“Everyone knows about it now I think. The old union reps are organising a party for tomorrow night to celebrate.” Cratchitt looked concerned.

“I think I will give that a miss,” he said. “To take joy in someone’s death just leads to the same issues of division and entrenchment that have plagued this profession for too long. Only time will really tell if we can change things for the better. This was never the work of just one man, we played our own part too.”

“Still,” she retorted, “I thought you of all people would be over the moon.”

Their conversation continued, but Scrooge was no longer listening.

“Oh Spirit,” he said to his mute chaperone, “of whom do they speak? From the death of which unfortunate wretch do they take so much pleasure?” Again the Spirit did not reply, but motioned to the tablet.

“Before I draw nearer,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?”

Still the Ghost pointed downward to the tablet by which they stood.

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the screen of the glowing tablet

“Secretary of State for Education, EBENEZER SCROOGE, dies at his London home.”

“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!”

The finger still was there.

“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “Tell me it’s not too late! Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.”

“I will honour the spirit of education, the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
Clearly I have taken some liberties with the story here. But as we reflect on the year that has been, I think we should take a moment to ask if still we remain grounded in the principles of good teaching for the sake of education. To question whether or not we are still connected with the ideals that first inspired us. Or whether, like Scrooge, have we lost our way. There are many issues in the education system at the end of 2014, and these will need a whole community effort to solve. However I do not think the situation is beyond hope by any means.

Dickens finishes the original Christmas Carol with the following passage.

Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; …and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us! 

I think there is a really inspiring message to take from this. We may feel that education has progressed down a road that we do not always agree with. Perhaps sometimes, we feel there is little hope for change. That targets and level descriptors will dominate education forever. But the lesson from Dickens’ Christmas fable – whatever version of it you read or watch - must surely be that there is always hope of a fresh start. So, let’s enter into 2015 with the same hopeful attitude that Scrooge entered into Christmas morning – knowing that change is possible and that we can be the agents of it.

Merry Christmas and a hopeful New Year!

Alex and Rachel Ford

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