A few confessions. First, I’m not a punk. My only connection to punk culture is a school friend who had two chinchillas called Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious. Second, I’m a little unsure about how to review this book. I’d hoped it would be inspiring and enjoyable, and I could recommend it without any reservations. Not what happened!
Before reading a word, I cringe: the font; the layout; the fact that it’s landscape, not portrait; the mock-stained pages; the overall desperate attempt to appear anarchic and edgy . . .
Surely this can’t be punk? But who am I to say. I enjoy reading gnostic gospels in the bath whilst listening to Enya’s Orinoco Flow. So, I’ve decided to write a non-punk’s punk review about punk learning.
This is not going to be easy. My default position is “polite”. So before I get all punky on you, I thought I should politely point out what is good. There are some helpful tips on fostering creativity in the classroom. There is a passionate call for more student ownership and ideas on how to make it happen, and how to engage teachers in more creative continuing professional development. But none of these is particularly revolutionary or rebellious, despite Coles’ claim that: “Punk learning will eliminate all traditional methods of teaching.”
Perhaps I don’t find them particularly radical because I work at a school that is secretly run by punks (our headteacher has a picture of Joe Strummer in his office and we don’t grade lesson observations any more). Also, I’m pretty sure Ofsted would love Coles’ lessons and training sessions – they seem to be heavily centred on learning and, according to Coles, they’re highly effective.
Thing is, I hate Ofsted. We all hate Ofsted. But Ofsted don’t seem to care anymore about how you teach – they just care about student outcomes. Sir Michael Wilshaw has continually stated there is no preferred teaching style. If punk learning is about teaching how you want as long as learning takes place, then the message is not punk. It’s coming from Ofsted.
The rather sparse book is punctuated by arty pages, some of which you’re invited to rip out and throw in the bin, because this is punk learning remember – hell yeah!
One page asks: “If you were to pass this book on to somebody else after you’ve read it, who would that person be? And what would you say?” “My A-level students,” I thought. “I would ask them whether they thought it was a clever parody or a genuine book.”
Another page is essentially blank with the title “This page is your new lesson plan proforma” and at the bottom it states: “Structure is the restriction of your creativity”. Surely the opposite is true – the entire history of art and music (and the universe) is testimony to that. Artists often work within the restrictions of a commission or a particular sociopolitical context. And these restrictions demand a creative response.
According to Coles, “the whole philosophy of punk learning is that the students get the opportunity to take complete control and ownership of their learning”. But, this is not the spirit of rebellion. Rebellion is context dependent. And our particular epoch calls for rebels of a different kind. Rebels that aren’t chasing complete autonomy. Rebels that have discipline, humility, compromise. Rebels that reject individualism and value the restrictions of commitment, longevity and selflessness. Everyone is punk, that’s why it’s not punk anymore. Even John Lydon is advertising butter!
This book certainly unleashed some kind of rebel in me. But not in the way that I expected. Perhaps that was the genius intention. Coles says we’re either “glam rock” (Ofsted sluts) or “punk” (Tait Coles). But I’m with Sir Michael on this – there are loads of styles out there, working in secret. I know it’s not cool to agree with Ofsted on things. Perhaps I’m punk after all.