Outside Hampton Court a couple of days ago, at the gate into the forecourt, a cluster of junior school pupils (aged 9-10) being got into the zone by their teacher: ‘And as you were approaching that massive great gatehouse, what would you be feeling?’ Confused muttering. ‘What would you be feeling?’ Kids indifferent, gazing around at the river and at nothing. A girl offers something I can’t hear. ‘Yes, exactly, that’s a lovely word.’ Not clear that the others find it lovely.
It’s now standard practice to ask, instead of ‘Who was the first Tudor king?’, ‘How would you feel if you had to serve Henry VIII his soup without spilling any?’ But it’s evident that this newer pedagogy, if implemented, as here, in the same perfunctory and ritualised manner, is no more effective. That teacher doesn’t want to know how they’d feel, and they know she doesn’t want to know and there’s no point in expending the effort to satisfy her. Except for the same one or two there still is and always will be.
There are circumstances -- we all know them -- in which A can ask B ‘How would you feel if...?’ and it’s a real and legitimate question, one that puts you on the spot or invites you into interesting speculation. But questions that have degenerated into stock elements in a teacher’s routine don’t work like that. Devising non-routinised ways of eliciting kids’ engagement is a perennial problem for teachers, and one, it seems, as no nearer solution -- or even recognition -- than it ever was.
And how would you feel if you received the following response to your response to such a question?
‘How would you feel if you’d been stuck at home all day with crying kids and dirty nappies and I swanned in two hours after I’d finished work stinking of beer?’
‘Yes, that’s a lovely word, isn’t it! Resentful.’