Why teaching is a great analogy for the state

'Chess' / Dustin Gaffke
'Chess' / Dustin Gaffke

Of all the analogies ever put to paper on the nature of ‘the state’, the teaching environment seems to be the least obvious one. Yet that overlooks one of the sharpest, even if it does lack the romantic imagery of a ‘leviathan’ or hypothetical power plays with red phones.

Consider for a moment the structure of the teaching schedule. For most of the working day, let’s call it half, you’re in a room with 20-25 students and you do your own thing. Another quarter is likely consumed with administration documenting what you’ve done, with the final piece of the puzzle being preparation. And repeat.

This might not be true for all. Nevertheless, for a significant portion of the day a teacher spends their time in crew quarters with colleagues. An enclosed, probably stuffy staff room, that never seems to sit still, save for at the end of the day. Hustle and bustle, papers and books, some desks clear(ish) and others a decimated war zone.

On top of this, there’s a clear dichotomy in the day: the free control of a classroom and the admin tasks which are both monitored and enforced by colleagues with whom you may be close, casual or officious. Whatever grouping teachers fall into, all of them share administration duties that require keeping an eye at lunchtimes or locking classroom doors.

Consider the situation: Autonomy versus forced interaction. Teachers are never wholly autonomous because of monitoring or paperwork requirements otherwise no one would ever know what they did. Admin tasks have to happen otherwise nothing would ever get done for the school at large. Indeed, communal administrations are probably the only ties that bind to ensure staff speak to one another professionally because of such different timetabling.

In this, we have a perfect example of the modern state. Individuals, going about their own thing, and a society that consistently tries to bring them together for fear of losing one other into a great mass of anonymity.

Politics is perennial because it is the only true fact of the human spirit. Competition can begin, animosities can brew and passive aggressiveness can exist in all the subtlest forms invisible to the outside eye. There are allies and enemies, routines and habits and constant analysis. Someone’s look can breed the most introverted rage or melancholy and words can be double edged blades soaked in plausible deniability. Staff rooms can be spectator sports, conversations jousting. Victories and defeats with an army of thoughts can be fought and one on silent plains with no a flutter of paper or a drop of a pin. Such is life, even if it is not called politics as such.

Salaries are worked for and opinions are cast. Classes like lives in the modern state are free to conduct but not without limits and guidelines. If some admin task is not performed when others feel they have to pick up the slack, then judgements will be cast, surreptitiously or publicly.

We all covet validation, are defensive of what is ours and worried about the future. The plethora of competing interests, from tutors to teachers, parents to pupils is realpolitik in motion. Can there be any more valid, or wonderful or psychological a playground than the workplace to understand how it works on the grand scale of statehood?

In any case, there is something wonderfully meta about a university professor perhaps using his own professional relationships or his own timetable to analogise the teaching of political theory.

The question is, would they dare do it?

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Alastair Stewart 260 Articles

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and mentor. In 2013, Alastair founded DARROW, Scotland’s only dedicated forum for more than 200 up and coming writers. The magazine works predominantly with 16-35-year-olds to give them the tools they need to share their ideas, hone their craft and thrive as writers, journalists, and storytellers. He regularly writes about politics, history, and culture for magazines across Europe.

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