In describing the visit of selected edubloggers to Ofsted, Tom Sherrington drew parallels with the visit of Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard.
“Scarecrow has a brain!” concluded Tom, and it certainly seems that the bloggers have done good work in pulling back the curtain to reveal the mere mortal presence behind the intimidating smoke and mirrors of the spectral inspectorate.
For me, the stories of Oz have a resonance in my classroom, and in particular with the presence of Fiyeros in the student body. For the uninitiated, Fiyero is a character in the Geoffery Maguire novel Wicked, adapted into a wonderful Broadway and West End musical by Stephen Schwartz, telling a revisionist story of the origins of the witches of Oz. In the musical, Fiyero is a handsome prince whose introductory number is Dancing Through Life, where he lays out his simple philosophy:
The trouble with schools is
they always try to teach the wrong lesson
Believe me, I’ve been kicked out
of enough of them to know
They want you to become less callow
But I say: “why invite stress in?”
stop studying strife
and learn to life “the unexamined life”
Dancing through life
skimming the surface
gliding where turf is smooth
life’s more painless
for the brainless
why think too hard?
when it’s so soothing
dancing through life
no need to tough it
when you can slough it off as I do
but knowing nothing matters
it’s just life
so keep dancing through…
How many Fiyeros have I taught? These are the students who will take the path of least resistance – “why think too hard?” It’s so soothing to ignore the challenge of the difficult path, shrug it of and not bother. The Fiyeros I teach will in fact expend huge amounts of energy and effort in attempts to avoid engagement with the academic challenge of the classroom, some of them to the point of being kicked out.
In the musical, Fiyero ends up (spoilers) being transformed into the brainless scarecrow we recognise from Baum’s original Oz stories, his lifetime of sliding away from challenges rewarded by an adulthood of ignorance. As we know from the 1939 MGM film, however, this destiny is far from the satisfying “ignorance is bliss” existence imagined by Fiyero:
Many young people will look at the challenges of the lessons we teach and sigh “if I only had a brain…” before giving up. How can we make them see the frustrations that adults feel at wasted time and effort in the classroom? How do we persuade the teenager intent on avoiding trying that, one day, their attitude will be a source of regret?
It comes down to the culture of the classroom and, by logical extension, the culture of the school. Opting out of challenge cannot be a viable route. Effort and engagement with learning should be so ingrained into the fabric of the building, the expectations of students, teachers, parents, leaders and governors, that the consideration of swerving it should be at least unattractive and at best impossible. All need to understand that difficulty is normal, that being daunted by a challenge is healthy, and that perseverance, resilience and determination are the essential ingredients to a healthy growth mindset.
With this culture in place, it’s my hope that I can help young people to have an attitude more like Elphaba: “unlimited – my future is unlimited” – and defy the gravitational pull of inactivity.
They’re never going to bring me down!