Simon Says…

Credit where credit is due…. Rayleigh Tory councillor Simon Smith has a busy life, having to combine council work with being a schoolteacher and also attending education conferences. He’s now gained a lot of attention following a recent teacher’s conference speech he made. As the Evening Echo reported it:

Children should not be encouraged to be “clever” at school because it is uncool, a Rayleigh teacher has told a national conference.

Instead, youngsters should be told they are “successful”, in an effort to encourage pupils to try harder in lessons without the stigma of being the teacher’s pet.

The bold statement was made by Sweyne Park School teacher Simon Smith during his speech at the Professional Association of Teachers conference, in Oxford.

Mr Smith, who is also a Conservative councillor on Rochford District Council, said: “I am sorry to say that at the moment a culture has developed that mocks being clever.

His views weren’t totally popular on the BBC website:

As ridiculous as this is, there is a point – it is not seen as “cool” to be “clever”. Surely, though, this is the cop-out solution? Rather than arguing semantics, why not address the problem and make being clever cool? Reward high-achievers, rather than hiding their talents from the world and rewarding mediocrity instead!
Ben, Loughborough, UK

Sorry to tell them, but ‘cool’ is not a cool word anymore.
Al, Southampton, UK

My sons have been bullied throughout their schooling for being “boffs” (the term used in our area for those of above-average intelligence). Merely changing the language used by teachers will not resolve the problem.
Angela, Wallingford, England

However the Independent quoted support he received on this from other speakers:

Wesley Paxton, of the East Ridings of Yorkshire, said achievers and Nobel Prize winners were never considered to be celebrities. “Some so-called self-made men can be almost proud of not having done well at school,” he said. He cited Sir Alan Sugar, Sir Richard Branson and David Beckham. “Where are the 21st century versions of Brunel, the Stephensons, the Wright brothers, Faraday, Rutherford, etc?”…

….Delegates overwhelmingly backed a motion “regretting it does not appear to be ‘cool’ to be clever”. Peter Jenkins, a former chairman of the association from Sheffield, said clever pupils were often bullied “to make their work less good than it actually is”.

Simon’s comments have also been quoted by websites as far away as Kazakhstan!

If you want to see the full text of what he had to say – rather than the bits the press picked up on- we’ve copied this from the PAT website:

6. Conference regrets that it does not appear to be cool?to be clever
Seconded by: Simon Smith

I think I am now sufficiently old enough to be nostalgic about my school days.

I remember that I used to admire those that did well. I held in awe the ability of those who coped easily with subjects I found difficult.

In maths I would always try and sit next to those who could do equations in the hope that their skill would rub off. In other subjects I was envious of how quickly friends had done homework when I had spent ages on it. In languages I never picked up a real understanding of tenses. I just thought I don’t like the French ?if you shout at them they will understand and they can speak English anyway! Well some things don’t change?

Beneath all that is that I thought that being clever was certainly something to aspire to!

It’s not the case today. With a few exceptions, including sport, academic prowess is in many eyes not cool?

I have talked to various pupils from years 8,9,10 on this subject in the run up to conference. I got the message that yes?they would like to be clever but it was expressed in the same vain as yes I would like to win the lottery? Not as something they could or would change by being in education. It was something you were or you were not.

And in true pupil style, being clever meant that you were boring, lacked personality, were a teacher’s pet and other things not polite enough to mention in company such as this.

We need to change this, perhaps by changing the language we use. Clever suggests to me a pure academic ability, passing exams at A grades. This is how pupils see things.

If we were to use the word successful rather than clever we could all achieve it at our own level and in our own way.

My belief is that we here as educators are responsible for the valves that children hold in this area, so we should do something about it.

I am sorry to say that at the moment a culture has developed that mocks being clever. We should fight against it. Change the language we use; change something.

We can take people and make than bright, make them clever and it’s not a bad thing to be!