Why did punk happen? #1 Blame the teachers.

It’s hard to imagine that anything like punk could happen nowadays. Schools are too regimented, too led by exam success.

But the 1970s was a very interesting time in education. Schools were staffed by a motley crew of mavericks on very diverse agendas. And it was the clash between teaching ideologies played out in schools that encouraged punk to happen.

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There were still teachers from the 1950s, when most schools produced workers for the local factories. For this, young people needed to be docile and able to follow instructions. Increasingly like today’s teaching, the emphasis was on basic skills, rote learning and tests.

Other teachers were in the profession because it gave them opportunities for contact with young people. Retrospective court cases may be rare, but stories, accusations and suspicions about the showers after PE, the art cupboard or the residential trips are rife.

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The other group are what’s become known as the ‘trendy teachers’. Those who trained in the early 1970’s encountered a whole range of new philosophies and theories of education, linked with the idea that they needed to do something different in schools because we no longer needed millions of factory workers.

“For the first time in history, education is now engaged in preparing
men for a type of society which does not yet exist.”

Unesco report: the world of education today and tomorrow; 1972

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With no national curriculum or OFSTED, individual schools and groups of teachers could develop their own ways. Drama lessons, group work and long-running arts projects were regulars. Disaffected kids were re-engaged by gardening, metalwork or rock music by sympathetic long-haired blokes. A major educational theory of the time was that of ‘Deschooling Society’ .  This calls for an end to schools since, it claims, most people learn better outside of institutions. Alongside this, many experimental schools existed across England, which tried out various ideas to give pupils freedom and equal status with the adults.

The anarchic experimental schools of the 1970s

So how did all of this create punk?

My theory is that children grew up witnessing some school staff trying to lay down the law in an authoritarian way, whilst other teachers openly discussed with pupils the nature of freedom, the right to challenge authority and the importance of pursuing interesting creative projects and ‘finding oneself’.

If you want to see whether you agree, and you have 50 minutes spare, watch this Panorama documentary from 1977.

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