What can teachers learn from musicals?

What’s your favourite musical?

This is a tough question for many people, especially as they consider offerings from both stage and screen and perhaps, even define what makes a musical. For example, before launching into naming any choices, is Jailhouse Rock a musical? To me, a self-confessed Elvis fan, it’s not, yet it appeared in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Musicals a few years ago (but then again so did an episode of Buffy, so maybe not the best guide!) However, to other people it is as simple a definition as action, interspersed with songs – but then, by that simple measure, surely almost every Disney film is a musical too?

But, here’s a different question. What’s your favourite musical – as a teacher? Is there one for you? This thought also links to this recent Edutopia blog about films that teachers should watch click here.

Now I’m sure that there are many laudable musicals that can be related to education and children’s development, or make comments on society and their place within it. The social context of Hairspray immediately springs to mind, as does the respective historical contexts of Oliver and Billy Elliot.

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Similarly, recent productions of Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also have clear messages that can be linked to education and learning. However, as with the multitude of other musicals where children feature, none of these automatically refer directly to education itself. Therefore, I offer an unconventional suggestion – after seeing it last week in half term, I believe Made in Dagenham, at The Adelphi Theatre, is perfect for teachers and should be seen by everyone who can!

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Now this is not to say that it is focused on education, clearly it is not. Nor are the children the main stars – although they are very good. No, it is because when I left I felt ready to storm barricades and stand up for a cause – the one in the production is equal pay for women, but mine is education. Never have I left a musical and felt so inspired to do something to make a difference. But it’s the something which is important!

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I know when I have left other musicals I wanted to go back and see them again immediately (The Jersey Boys, Buddy, The Rat Pack and Mamma Mia!), or felt emotionally drained (Les Miserables), but after Made in Dagenham I felt uplifted in a different way. Throughout, despite it not being a contemporary piece, I found myself fired up with the situation of the women (I fail to see how anyone could watch it and not be).

Perhaps I found myself more fired up than some because I have just read the wonderful Debra Kidd’s amazing book ‘Teaching: Notes from the front line’ and there seemed (to me at least) a wonderful link between this and what I was witnessing? Throughout the book Debra Kidd provides real evidence of things that should fire up all educators – an excellent review was written by @TeacherToolkit (here) who even says it’s a book he wishes he had written, praise indeed!

The more I watched, the more I was reminded of an anecdote I heard Sir John Jones deliver and is recounted in his book ‘The Magic Weaving Business’ where he links education to the American Civil Rights movement

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(This is all the more ironic as this is also the case in Made in Dagenham. “Did Martin Luther King ask for __% of equality?” is a common question throughout, as is the response, “You know they shot him, don’t you?”)

However, as Sir John Jones says, for ‘The Calling’ [teaching] then passion and wisdom need to be intertwined with righteous indignation, that is

‘A burning, simmering sense of frustration, anger even,

at the injustice and unfairness of life’.

So, beyond these links, Made in Dagenham has spurred me to ask, teachers, where is (y)our righteous indignation? Now, don’t get me wrong, I think there is plenty of [unrighteous] indignation in education. But, to me, this is to too many people’s benefit as things which should be afforded our outrage are glossed over in favour of more, tribal differences; thinking hats, VAK, Brain Gym, how to teach phonics, etc, etc.

Therefore, I wonder if, like the women of the musical we should not have more, unified, righteous indignation. Perhaps, we’re too tired, too blinded by other issues or just think we can’t do anything to make a difference?

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But I think that’s what is counted on! Far easier for small pockets of resistance to be quashed and a mantra developed against them (Michael Gove, Toby Young et al vs ‘The Blob’ anyone?) and so people turn attention and ire to more, mundane and unimportant issues. I know in the past I have found my day full of, incredibly, minor irritations – brightened by time within the classroom, but these have hidden the real ‘enemies’ I should be raging against. Those that want to change education, to tinker for no real good reason and certainly not for the benefit of the learners – despite protestations and (often) slick media presentations. Citing ridiculous examples (dealt with in full in Debra Kidd’s book) for us to follow, without realising that education is not an entity in itself, but is part of a much bigger picture (for example countries often cited for the UK as models to follow have much higher teen suicide rates! Should we copy that too?)

As Debra Kidd says, “We are, at the time I write this, in need of a revolution in education.” And I couldn’t agree more. As someone who went to school in the 80s and saw its effects, I don’t advocate the strike action pursued by the women in Made in Dagenham and demand ‘Everybody Out’, but I would love it if we could find more righteous indignation about the issues that really matter. For example Twitter is a wonderful place, great for CPD and sharing ideas, but too often sees disharmony – debating ideas is great, but open vilification? Hmmm!

For what it’s worth, I put forward the following:

  • Read Debra Kidd’s book
  • See Made in Dagenham at The Adelphi Theatre (be quick, it ends April 11th!)
  • Find your righteous indignation

Then do something about it, share, discuss and challenge at the very least – especially in this year of a general election, if not two!

About M Creasy

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