Sunday, 1 February 2015

How to blame children for the failure of the economy...

We should remember that all this chat about international tables in education is part of their agenda and problem to do with the imperative of capitalism to compete internationally. So 'competition' between schools and between countries is simply yoking children in classrooms to capitalist logic. They call this 'realism' but we also know that the 'realism' of capitalism is built-in, inevitable financial crisis, inequality, slump, unemployment, slave wages, poverty and war.

So this is what they yoke children in classrooms to with this talk of international tables and Britain's position on them. Linked to this is also the blame culture: that is, Britain's own performance within capitalism as a whole goes up and down according to decisions made by politicians and big business e.g. in the decision to shift the emphasis of British capitalism away from manufacture to even more shuffling of money round the globe and flogging insurance, dodgy shares in futures etc etc (i.e. finance capital).

So we get all this bullshit about which micro-position English children are at - according to highly narrow-based tests, conducted as they are on different kinds of sample. But the effect of the talk about the tables is to inflict blame on schools, teachers and children for what are really questions of how English capitalism is run.

The times tables saga is just another chapter in this blame-schools-for-the-failure-of-English-capitalism routine.

Rote learning and the Puritans.

The Puritans 'discovered' that rote learning was essential and virtuous so that poor children could be saved from eternal damnation. They could be torn from their wayward habits of getting up and going to bed to fit in with lambing and harvesting, and made into industrious creatures (i.e. going to the mines and factories on time) who learned that we should live by the dictum of 'moderation in all things' and that 'self-sacrifice should be its own reward'. 

They also learned that the world is made the way it is, with the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate and we shouldn't presume to change our station in life. All is ordered as God intended. 

When learning how to read, the children should only read good and godly material, otherwise they might be led into sinful ways, becoming slothful, lascivious and gluttonous. That's why the children had to learn the right texts off by heart and nothing else. 

Any similarity of this with what this government has tried to do in education is purely coincidental.

Learning by rote - some will, some won't

A certain Geoff Leeson (I don't know him) posted this on my Facebook thread:

Some will learn by rote and will know what to do with it … 

some will learn by rote and not know what to do with it … 
some will learn by rote and then forget it … 
some won't be able to learn by rote ...

What would happen if knowledge were unhooked from testing, league tables and force academy conversion?

If we could free the question of knowledge from testing, league tables, and forced academy conversion, we could have an interesting, rational conversation about the balance between knowledge, aptitudes, transferable skills - or indeed any other models of what 'knowing something' actually means.

In that situation - and I stress it does not apply in the hothouse of micro-measurement for the government's testing regime - we could talk about the relative worth of knowing times tables, being able to punctuate alongside, say, knowing the difference between a bacterium and a virus, knowing how to bake bread, knowing how to read a timetable, how to spot a rabid dog, what is blood?, is it possible to tell if a politician is lying?, and how the building  you're in is standing up…etc etc. 

Meanwhile, we have to listen to the endless wittering of fairly ancient people coming on the radio and TV talking as if knowing times tables was self-evidently essential, using phrases like 'of course', and 'obviously' all the time. Well, folks, nothing in the world of knowledge, teaching and learning is 'obvious' or 'self-evident'. If it were, we wouldn't have been able to have scientific enquiry or the ability to change the world we live in. 

Times tables knowledge is for ministers to segregate

All knowledge in English education is linked to testing, league tables, academy conversion and the like.  In other words the question in front of us isn't really 'Is this or that subject or piece of knowledge more or less important for children to study?' but instead: 'Which form of knowledge will be the best means (for the government) by which to select, segregate, and divide pupils, teachers and schools?' With most primary schools refusing to convert to academy status, the government had to invent a new means by which to force them to do so. 

That's why ministers talk of forms of knowledge that can be micro-measured as right or wrong: times tables, punctuation, spelling. 

On the way, this kind of work forces schools, teachers and pupils to spend hours sitting still and learning things by rote. Though there's nothing much wrong with doing this sometimes - especially if you choose to do it, - what's wrong is that if you are forced to do loads and loads of it, hours and hours every day, what you are also learning is submission, subservience, bowing down to unquestionable and unquestioned authority. 


Friday, 30 January 2015

Helping pupils interpret what they're reading.

I've written this before, so ignore it if you've read it.
If you are interested in going beyond 'retrieval' and 'inference' with your pupils, students - or indeed with yourself, and you want to help anyone get into 'interpretation', here are four open-ended questions which you can use as a kind of core method:

1. Is there anything in this text that reminds you of anything that has happened to you or to anyone you know?

2. Is there anything in this text that reminds you of anything that you've ever read, or viewed as, say, a play, film, TV programme, etc.?

3. Is there any question that you would like to ask the writer or anybody or indeed any 'thing' in this text?

4. Can you answer any of those questions yourself?

In ideal circumstances, the best framework for asking these questions is small groups - with some larger group sharing. 

Each of the questions can have supplementaries - particularly for older students e.g. 'why do you think that moment in the text makes you think of that particular thing that happened to you/ or that you've read in that other book?' Those supplementaries will take students to close points of comparison and difference.
As a teacher or enabler, you have to be patient, accept what might appear as banal, or off-beam, in order that pupils and students can feel confident and entitled. And you have to have an open belief in the power of the groups and the larger group to debate and arrive at points of agreement and disagreement. In classes where there has been some tension between people, you insist on the 'respect agenda' i.e. 'do as you would be done by'. 

In an atmosphere, where this kind of process happens quite often, the teacher/enabler can offer his/her thoughts but it's always advisable to not swamp the pupils'/students' voices. The cunning use of 'I don't know' when pupils and students ask you for definitive answers can generate more debate not less!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Financial constraints - me arse.

Here's how normality works. 

On the Today programme we heard a woman from the NHS say: "...the financial constraints we're under in this country".

Then later we heard an item how "Apple put their profits in a tax haven…"

(In fact they borrow money against these profits (presumably at a very low interest rate) and buy bonds in their own company (presumably offsetting it all against tax)….search me, I don't fully figure that bit of the fiddle, but it 'saves' them millions, and takes it away from tax take in US, UK etc etc…)

If Apple are doing it, then so are others….

"Financial constraints…" - me arse.