Heather and I have been drawn into “Jamie’s Dream School,” a program on one the networks that apparently is not BBC. (Who knew there were such things here? There’s good coffee now, too, which definitely also did not exist when I was coming here in the late 1980s.) The “Jamie” is celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who had a lousy time in high school, and wanted to create a school that could energize students who have run into the kinds of problems he had as a kid.
The program is fascinating, in part because he’s been able to draw in some very famous people to serve as teachers (actor Simon Callow, classicist Mary Beard, historian David Starkey), and because the students include some astonishingly badly-behaved, no-filters, unselfconsciously revealing, and deeply undisciplined kids. Which is not to say that they’re bad people, nor that they lack potential; but it’s often hard to tell what’s underneath the bluster and distraction.
I keep thinking, “What they need is a meditation teacher.” The kids spend a lot of time chattering, texting, distracting themselves, talking over each other– keeping a running non-commentary of noise that makes it hard for them to hear teachers, each others, or themselves. I don’t get the sense that they all enjoy being this way (by episode four, some of them are definitely showing impatience with each other and their own lapses), but it’s not clear that they have a lot of knowledge about how to behave differently– not in the sense of being from bad backgrounds and not having role models, but in just not knowing how to be silent and present and mindful. Knowing how to still yourself is a pretty fundamental, and profound, form of self-control, and particularly in a school is important.
(Indeed, it may be that one of the great virtues of regular church-going was that it introduced people to spaces where ritual silence was the norm. Indeed, is there a religious or spiritual tradition that doesn’t treasure silence? Are there practices that see the divine in chitchat (I think things like speaking in tongues don’t count– while it can’t be understood, it’s a sign of holy presence), or distraction as a form of divine possession? I think not.)
The show is also worth watching to get a sense of just how challenging good teaching is. When you see someone as talented as Simon Callow struggle to get kids interested in acting, you begin to appreciate just how much craft knowledge and intelligence is necessary to teach well. The idea that those can’t do, teach, is such utter bullshit.