Friday, 13 February 2015

Tories, tax-dodging, election, hopes

Tories desperately hoping that three messages can get out about tax dodging today:

1. Everybody's doing it - therefore it must be OK really.
2. Trying to track down who's doing it is so damned hard, it's not really worth it.
3. Labour are hypocrites.

Ideally, this should make us all
a) not vote Labour 
b) let the Tories carry on.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Football manager puts hand to player's throat: 'strange' say commentators.

At one level, this is utterly trivial, at another it's kind of sinister. There was an incident in a Premier League football match yesterday where a player fell over and rolled over on the touch line, falling into the manager of the opposing side. The manager then kneeled down on the player and put his hand to his throat. The player got up, did not retaliate and tried to get back on to the pitch. The manager hung on to him preventing from doing so.

All the comments I've seen (e.g. on Match of the Day) or in the papers have refrained from saying that the manager behaved in some kind of outrageous and absolutely out of order way. Instead, they've described it as 'strange' or that he has 'questions to answer'? What is this mealy-mouthed crap about? If it had been a dust-up between players, the commentators would instantly have denounced the player doing the holding and threatening and approved of the red card etc that would have been administered.

So why the double standards? Is it because some person in authority has behaved like this? Do they know something that we don't know? Why wasn't the manager sent to the stands?

Ironically, the manager of the other team received a ban for doing a kind of head-butt against a player last season. On this occasion he pleaded with the manager doing the threatening to lay off.

At one level, it's all silly boys' stuff. At another, it's about how the hierarchy of a professional sport deals with its hierarchy. This probably tells us something about all hierarchies, I suspect.

Monday, 2 February 2015

On re-watching 'Shoah': 'managing' the Warsaw Ghetto

I watched the last hour of 'Shoah' (dir. Claude Lanzmann) last night. On previous occasions I've watched an hour here or there and have yet to see the whole thing.

I find myself being very interested to hear from the perpetrators' side. There's an interview with the deputy commissioner of the Warsaw Ghetto. Lanzmann tries to get him to see that this guy 'doing his best' was in fact part of the process of genocide. Instead, he says that what he was trying to do was create a system of 'self-management' by Polish Jews. Lanzmann says but people were dying at the rate of 5000 a month in the Ghetto. The deputy commissioner agrees that this was awful and terrible and people should have had more food. But what about the idea of a 'ghetto'? Lanzmann asks, Well, says the Dep., there have always been ghettos….and so on and so on.

When people say, how are such things possible? I would show them this particular interview. This is a 'good man'! We learn that he had a Ph.D in Law when he was doing this job and after the war he ran a magazine on mountaineering. He loves the open air and walking. He was doing his 'best' and in no way sees himself as part of the genocide.

How to run an education system

How to run an education system:
"We found a child who doesn't know his 12 x table.
Therefore your school 'needs improvement'.
Therefore we're making it an academy.
We have no evidence that this will help that child but we'll do it anyway.
Vote Tory.
Thank you."

ps research on why altering 'school type' does not improve pupils' attainment:

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.