The stereotype considered at the end of the previous chapter – the teacher as shrill disciplinarian and as compliant subordinate – is one that is discomfiting to teachers, however much their working lives might sometimes conform to it. Such a stereotype can have a practical value, however, as a reminder of what teachers have all too often become, and still become, and from which their deliverance will invariably involve continual challenge and struggle. The point at issue here – the necessity to give imagination a vital place in teaching and learning – needs to be put into sharper context. A lively way to do so is to review a characterization of teachers that is both coherent and forceful, but which is even less complimentary than the stereotype just mentioned. This is George Steiner’s characterization in his much acclaimed and much criticized book Lessons of the Masters. Steiner depicts the mass of secondary school teachers as follows:

In actual fact, as we know, the majority of those to whom we entrust our children in secondary education, to whom we look for guidance and example in the academy, are more or less amiable gravediggers. They labour to diminish their students to their own level of indifferent fatigue. They do not ‘open Delphi’ but close it.1