One for teachers with zest

2012-11-14 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Zest: A Celebration of Good

Schools and Good Teachers

Mark Henning

Otterley Press

 

MARK Henning, eminent headmaster, vice-president of the World Confederation of Private Education, national director of the Independent Schools’ Council and member of numerous committees, is well-qualified to write a book on education.

His aim is to celebrate good schools and good teachers, which he does with great warmth. Regrettably, perhaps, the recipients of his tribute, while entirely deserving, are restricted to independent and former Model C schools, particularly the few he knows best.

Nevertheless, the teachers and heads he celebrates exhibit qualities that practising teachers country wide would do well to emulate: inventiveness, imagination, commitment, the ability to inspire and, above all, zest (a word which he borrows from Bertrand Russell). Effective teachers have an interest in young people and enthusiasm for their subject. Henning advocates balance (the Renaissance scholar is his ideal), and there are chapters on art, music and drama.

While much of the content is anecdotal, Henning also draws on a fund of pertinent references. Qualities admired by the writers he cites include: wholesomeness of character, compassion, social responsibility, independent thinking, academic rigour, and a willingness to admit imperfections.

One writer stresses the importance of early role models and the inculcation of ethics and another notes the success of schools possessing a core of long-serving, well regarded teachers who uphold a given school’s values.

Henning shares any sensible person’s dislike of “inimical” initiation and mentions Uppsala University as leading the way in developing acceptable forms of initiation.He endeavours to deal with the perennial issue of elitism, quoting Amy Gutmann (Democratic Qualities), who questions whether the abolition of independent education would in any way improve the quality of public (state) education. Independent or not, schools that offer an open, broad education, independent of sectarian or ideological interests, elicit Henning’s approval.

There are chapters on pre-primary and primary education, heads and governors, grounds and gardens, and rowing, but they are of limited interest. Much of Henning’s material would be valuable to heads and teachers if it could reach a wide audience, but its main appeal will be to the schools and teachers featured, with whom Henning has had close dealings in his long and distinguished career.

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