What teaching philosophy teaches me: Planned Obsolescence

This year I have been asked to teach Philosophy. I’m definitely not qualified. The only reason behind this decision was that I was the only member of staff that was interested. So with only reading some set texts in the summer, I have started my career as a part time teacher of Philosophy. These posts will be about what I have personally learnt and how it might relate to teaching and education.


Im worried that those in power and influence within the world of education are turing into the new Phoebus Cartel. The original cartel was made up of a number of different lightbulb firms that colluded to control the manufacturing and sale of light bulbs through the 1920’s and 1930’s. They worked to lower costs and standardised the life expectancy of the light bulbs to 1000 hours, significantly less life then they should have. They even went out their way to fine each other if someone made a lightbulb that lasted significantly longer than this. Before the cartel existed, companies made things to last. The Centennial Light in California is an incandescent light bulb that was manufactured back in the 19th century. It is world’s longest lasting light bulb and it still shines today, uninterrupted after a century of use. The cartel, for their own selfish financial gains, have been accused of preventing technological advances in the lightbulb industry.

Or perhaps those who lead education in this country subscribe to the Alfred Sloan approach who brought in the ‘Annual Model Change’ at General Motors through the 1920’s to 1950’s. How do you get people to give up their perfectly good cars? Why by bringing out a new range with different body, tail fins and colours. It wasn’t about fundamental changes that made the car better, it was just rebranding of style that lacked any real substance. Sloan called it “dynamic obsolescence.”


Planned obsolescence is a policy that a product has a planned artificial limited useful life, so it will become obsolete. With a lot of current policy decisions in education at the moment is does feel like we teachers are being planned to be made obsolete. If not this, then not to have a long and useful shelf life and be replaced by a newer sleeker model before our time is up. The extension of the retirement age and changes in pension. Performance related pay. Unqualified teachers, who come into the profession, tell us how we should be doing our job and then leave after three years. Constant changes in school policy. Exam reform after exam reform. The rise in power of the parent. An unhealthy obsession with work scrutiny and marking policies that make no sense. The latest fad pushed on us by people that probably have never been in the classroom. Chronic increase in workload. Lack of support from SLT. Ensuring you cover your back in a culture of blame, rather than one that sets you free to use your professional judgements. A constant review process that at times sing about your professional development but an easy way onto capability for those teachers who don’t fit the mould. Decisions being made by people who have no real understanding of what happens in a school.


I’m not saying I’m against innovation, forward thinking, raising standards and looking to improve. However it becomes increasingly difficult to keep this outlook, when bogged down by all the rest of the things that don’t have a direct impact on our practice of teaching and impact that it has on the learning of our students. Constant change, especially when it is a pastiche of a pastiche of something that has happened before, can be soul destroying. This is even more so to teachers who have been in the profession a lot longer than I have. Not every teachers who is in their third of fourth decade of teaching are experts of the profession. However there is probably a good reason why many of these teachers are still working and still being successful. They’ve learnt things along the way. T.S. Lewis who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia talked about The Deeper Magic Before the Dawn of Time. New teachers and those who lead education may have great ideas, but those who have been teaching for a long time have deeper knowledge. We must try to ensure that we listen to them, learn from them and ask their opinion when bringing in change. We need to ensure that teachers stay in the profession, so they have the chance to apply their ideas, develop deeper knowledge and practice their craft. We need to ensure that the policy makers and decision takers are not, inadvertently, creating an environment of planned obsolescence of teachers.

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