The topic presented to our drama group for this piece of coursework was education. A topic which we ourselves as pupils have much experience of, education plays a central role in modern society ultimately preparing each generation for adult life. Yet the educational system we experience today in the UK is profoundly different to the educational systems of the past and indeed, the educational systems of third world countries such as Africa. To explore educational issues and some of the similarities and differences of other educational systems in relation to our own, we were given a variety of stimuli, and it is these I will discuss. We looked at several different views of education from several different time periods, and explored them through the medium of drama.
The first stimulus was in the form of a talk from our drama teacher. Her experience of education was from the 1960’s and from a Catholic convent. A key difference which I noted between her education and our educational system today was the level of discipline enforced. Another important difference was the level of respect for teachers, and indeed other pupils. As our class discussed the issues raised from the talk, we decided bullying was an important issue raised from the discussion.
To explore the idea further, we experimented with the technique of having a conscience alley. The idea behind a conscience alley is to have character’s inner thoughts and insecurities spoken as they walk past. This technique gives the audience a real insight into the characters emotional state. As a class, we first used the character of a victim of bullying, and then of a bully. For the victim, we reinforced their sadness and lack of self-esteem by saying phrases such as ‘useless’, ‘ugly’, ‘you’re nothing’. For the bully, we tried to explore the reasons behind his behaviour, and the possibility that he was doing it because of his own insecurity. I found this an extremely useful technique, particularly for unearthing to the audience a characters inner-feelings.
Our second stimulus for this unit of coursework was a series of songs, most of them written around the 1960’s. We were given their accompanying lyrics, which we were able to follow and contemplate whilst listening to them. To give us a broader perspective of different attitudes towards education, the two songs were written from two different points of view. Whilst the first song by the Smiths contained the attitude of a dismayed pupil, the second featured a desperate and harassed teacher. The first song is entitled ‘The headmaster ritual’ and was written by the Smiths as an uncompromising attack on the brutality present in Manchester schools.
It portrays teachers as sadistic and malevolent, describing them as “Spineless swine’s”, “belligerent ghouls” and even “Bastards”. I think the attitude of the head teacher in song is in many ways reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ caricatures; sadistic teachers, the victimisation of pupils and the consequent impoverishment of a child’s education. The listener is reminded of the dark side of education, the side where teachers abuse their position and power for their own gratification.
In stark contrast, the second song featured the attitude of a harassed teacher. Written and performed by Morrissey, the song demonstrates just how much of a problem bullying in the classroom can be, and how this is not necessarily restricted to just pupils. It is entitled ‘The teachers are afraid of the pupils’ and leaves us with a good idea of the trials and tribulations teachers have to regularly face. Contrary to the record released by the Smiths’, the lyrics of the song suggest that the educational system is far too favoured towards the interests of pupils: “Say the wrong word to our children and we’ll have you”. This inability to enforce discipline inevitably results in the escalation of bad behaviour, often in the form of violence or threats towards the teacher. For example, he “receives a nail through the staff chair”.
To further explore these stimuli, we devised in groups a series of still images. This forced us to use gestus, a Brechtian principle that involves the use of exaggerated physicality in order to convey the particular attitude of a character. The still images were very much focused towards the reversal of power, showing the profound contrast between the attitudes present in the two songs. We started out with the idea of militant and tyrannical rule in the classroom, working in pairs within the group to produce three scenarios of bullying. The particular one I was involved with was the beating of an absentee from a gym lesson.
Playing the part of a sadistic teacher, I used large arm movements and tense facial expressions to convey my unquestioned authority and malevolence. Each of our still images designed around the teachers bullying the pupils then morphed into new images of the pupils bullying the teachers; this was reminiscent Morrisey’s song. Not only did this exercise help explore the contrast between educational attitudes, but it also increased our discipline as actors. This was due to the fact that we had to promptly change our gestus in order to convey the attitude of an entirely different character.