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He thinks too much: such men can be dangerous.

So yet again, it is being proposed that there should be more tests for children.

Something to fill in that wasted gap of three years between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, when presumably at the moment teachers have no idea what their pupils are achieving academically.

No doubt, once more national tests are introduced, we can then look forward to more published league tables when we can see, converted into one figure, the whole educational experience a school offers.

I was struck by a far more revealing illustration of the effect of education on young people in conversations I had with children of family and friends over the festive season about Christmas presents and their dark shadows, the advertising of Christmas presents.

The children were impressively able to analyse what vanities and basic desires advertisers were trying to tap. They knew to what pressures they were susceptible and what might attract others.

It is this type of connection from the academic to our daily reality that shows the true mettle of education at work.

It is possible to test children by asking questions about a particular advertisement but far more relevant to see what they actually buy and why.

If parents want to understand what schools are working on with their children, ask them what they think when the adverts come on the television - and look at their Christmas list.

English and humanities teachers are engaging young people in intellectual vigour through close language work, asking them to analyse words, motivation and argument.

The success of their work is not shown by the test but if, as adults, today's teenagers can tear to shreds the shoddy sound bites and emotive language fed to them by power-hungry politicians and money making shop keepers.

Brutus and Mark Antony's speeches at the Forum to the Roman people after Caesar's murder are wonderful examples of what many teachers use in this context and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is a text enjoyed by young people in the first few years of secondary school all over the country.

Brutus, against advice, but out of a sense of fairness and honour, allows Mark Antony, the murdered Caesar's closest ally, to speak to the crowd after he, Brutus, has spoken. Brutus explains movingly his own motivation; Mark Antony damns the murderers through faint praise.

Teachers will explore any number of issues from this text. How does Brutus win the horrified populous round? What devices does he use? Do Saatchi and Saatchi do the same?

Antony swings the mood of the people again. Why are they so easily persuaded? Where does the truth lie? Who is right and who is wrong and who is most successful in achieving their ends?

English teachers use texts such as Julius Caesar to sharpen young people's thinking, in part to prepare them to challenge clever people who may try to deceive in their own futile lives.

As well as raising awareness of how we use language, such work also involves a moral debate.

The real "test" of education in this respect is not what can be churned out in a one-hour examination but what creativity and moral integrity is seen in marketing policy in ten, 20 years' time and what is the quality of literature today's young people will want to enjoy as adults.

Schools are not about quick fixes.

Everyone in education knows how, with enough money and some playing around with figures, statistics can show wonderful leaps, if that will justify a particular establishment policy.

Intelligence and moral integrity need to grow together and the roots of both need time to hold. Caesar says of Cassius, "He thinks too much: such men are dangerous."

How dangerous are we prepared for our young people to become?

Sarah H Evans is headteacher at King Edward VI High School for Girls.
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Author:Evans, Sarah H
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 20, 2000
Words:638
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