Do No Harm

I am a Brown man who has lived most of his life in the UK, and I proudly exclaim that I am a ‘teacher’. What does this mean? That I am charged with imparting knowledge from my brain into the brains of willing receivers. That is part of our wonderful profession, but I arise to a conversation around free speech in the classroom on this cold weekday morning.

Free speech is a right; This got me thinking about the power we wield. Aside from the intricacies of the argument, the crux boils down to is the right to free speech more important than the damage we wright. Should we have to take a ceremonial oath when receiving a QTS certificate? Three simple words:

“Do No Harm”

The care of our student should be a priority, actually the priority. Our actions impact their physical and mental health. The way we educate may ameliorate minoritised groups’ journey through health inequities and to early death.  Yes, premature death. (Bernard et al 2020)

What is Harm?

There are two facets to this prism of ‘Do No Harm’. The first being the present. How do we change the quality of life for those around us at this moment? What are the possible actions to improve the life chance today, and the other is how we take steps to ensure the scores of folx that follow are not held down by our legacy and by the same toxic prophecies.

What is diversity in schools? In the curriculum, workforce and narratives? Diversity includes every facet of school life. Move away from what you have included, and analyse who you are omitting.

Do your curricula include the world as it is? are 40% of the people you teach about women of colour? How many fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella? Look at the workforce who in it holds power? Who is allowed to sit and the table, speak and even speak at the table? (From the Poetry of @Hyfreelance and @thebrownhijabi)

Schools are like homes. Schools are like families and at the heart of every family is ‘belonging’. A place you are safe to be, and I believe that many organisations create a beautiful inclusion environment. Is inclusion belonging? My metric for belonging is ‘how much of your authentic self do you have to leave outside when you enter. 

Looking at yourself through the eyes of the dominant culture can cause a myriad of issues. It is our job to create belonging in our classroom in which all pupils reject this internal dissonance. Yes, include pupils but embrace them for their cultures and differences. Inclusion means that these differences are often accepted but through a hierarchy. Students are being forced to remove ceremonial religious artefacts, have their culture criticised, told their natural hair is not school uniform and their home language banned. The most significant impact on students is not the immediate sanction but the schizoid state of double consciousness this creates (W.E.B Dubois). I will return to this blog at some point and detail the harm wrought by our system, but today is not that day. Let’d all just reflect on our role.

Making Change

Where does real work start? We need to think about how We make change to our system.

Yes, impart (in part) this includes classrooms, but it also consists of the structures that we all inhabit.

Our society is based on a hierarchal system, a pyramid of people, and like a concrete architectural building, every layer depends and is held up by the layer below it being more extensive than itself. 

Success is measured in many ways, let’s look at cold hard cash. In our world, if you work harder, you will earn more money. So, to make the system fairer, we could give every person on the lower layers, double what they earn now. That would redress the balance!  Well. Remember that society is built in the shape in which it is necessary to have a fixed minimum number of people in each layer. If the monetary wealth is increased for the majority, then inflation would redress the balance and keep those people in their place. Which is the way it works. I often hear fellow teachers talk about being there for these [insert protected characteristic] students, and they are making a difference.

The Whole Picture

When looking at the whole picture:

“Teachers make no difference.”

That statement may be as controversial as it is true. While we may enable some of our students to jump into the upper strata of the pyramid’s structure but by the system’s very nature, we simultaneously hold back the same number of students back while we elevate the few.

In supporting those who are othered, we conterminously hold back more others. The solution is to move away from social mobility and towards a social justice model. Shuffling the deck of card to redress the balance doesn’t serve the layers at the bottom at all.

Do no harm, can only exist if we build a world in which the harm does not propagate. Social justice starts with the enlightenment of the practitioner, followed by the awareness of students. Adapting our aim from the transmission of knowledge to creating a generation who can critically evaluate and democratically promote and resist their interest is the step that needs to be made.

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