Wednesday, April 29, 2015

When did school mottos become 'mission statements'?

"We class schools, you see, into four grades: Leading School, First-rate School, Good School, and School. Frankly," said Mr Levy, "School is pretty bad...” 
There's a good adaptation of that book, Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall, on Radio Four at the moment.  Waugh was a cynic about most things, but schools in particular. It doesn't matter what the masters at Llanabba Castle do, in Waugh's world it's all about the boys and the boys will put any amount of energy into avoiding work.

That's obviously one extreme. Yesterday, on passing a school minibus, I got a glimpse of the other extreme. Beneath the name of the school was this motto:

"Igniting the spark of genius in every child."

I know no organisation every outperforms their aspirations and all that but, as Waugh would have said, WTF? The above sentence is not a coherent thought. It's a bunch of words put in a line and nudged in the direction of a sentiment. And because it's a pious sentiment, one of the kind we all theoretically buy into, everybody sits back and applauds when really they should pelt it with fruit.

Honestly, why is everyone from school governors to the people who provide dry cleaning services trying to tug our heart-strings by using emotive words like "genius" and "passion" when any rational being knows they have no part in what these organisations do?

Think back to your school days. However good, bad or indifferent your school was, there probably wasn't a lot of genius ignition going on. Where's the school whose motto is "teaching kids things"?

If there's one thing I thank my school for teaching me it was how to take a sentence apart and examine how it works or doesn't. I use that every day. In fact my old school should change its motto to "calling people on their shit since 1591." In Latin.


  1. Excellent. Every organisation or individual now claims to be "passionate" about cooking, banking, fixing cars or shovelling shit or whatever else they make a living doing.

    Why can't they just do a good job?

  2. Provocandi in stercore quia MDXCI

  3. So true.

    Every job advert now demands you be 'passionate' about what you're applying for. Being skilled, knowledgeable, experienced, hard-working, or reliable is no longer enough. Can you high-five and whoop? You're in!

    And, of course, the whole point of 'genius' is that it is rare and exceptional, and will not therefore be found "in every child". If it was, it wouldn't be genius, it would be the norm.

    Having said that, I do "believe in better".

  4. Provocandi in stercore quia MDXCI

  5. And when they fail, sorry that's an un-word.

    When the spark of genius is not ignited, it's not failure(another unword) it's deferred success.

    Is unword better with or without the hype-n? Oops, I mean, hyphen.

  6. Simon Hoggart's law of the ridiculous reverse applies to pretty much every mission statement ever coined.