Do Pens matter?

Before you go any further, let me clarify:

These are  not the rantings of a self-proclaimed philosopher asking the twittersphere their views on the abstract notion that plastic things may have feelings when you chew their ends off. No. This is a question about whether pens, in the possession of students, matter.

I’ve always had a sneaky feeling that they do matter.

Recently, I’ve seen a number of initiatives come and go, which attempt to wrestle with the issue of the ‘penless student’. I have heard colleagues, from NQT’s to experienced practitioners, argue that the pen is really no biggie, quickly get on and start the lesson, hand out the necessary tools to those who don’t have them and remember, as I was once told, some of the children cannot afford a pen.

I am not heartless. I am aware of the environments some of the students I teach exist in. I am also aware that many of these same students I have been told to take pity on, often have a mobile phone surgically attached to their palm that they would never forget to bring to school, or misplace between registration and period 1.

So, should we continue to sweat the small stuff, as Phil Beadle (2010) argued in How to Teach? I think we should, and I’m genuinely confused about the message we giving our students, which says loud and clear ‘School Tools, are not as important as your phone’.

Surely, whether we like it or not, we deliver more than just content information to students. We act as the first ‘institution’ outside of the family that young people experience. As we are not, generally speaking, nurturing Revolutionaries, we must equip students to exist in the real world, as it exists. And in the real world, pens matter, as do hard hats, uniforms, timekeeping and general manners.  Isn’t it also about expectation? A pen is not an unrealistic or unachievable expectation. It is the good parent expectation, like cleaning teeth before bed or changing pants! It is an expectation which clearly says: education matters, your engagement with education matters and our expectations of you matter.

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