Tuesday, 20 September 2016
Working it out with a pencil...
Last Friday was assessment day, the day when my temporary charges are put through their paces and demonstrate what a pointless existence I lead. My job is made more dispiriting by the lack of consistency in the education and training leading up to this point, the candidates having arrived via a variety of routes involving different timescales and a different succession of tutorial influences. It never fails to disappoint when, instead of eager, bright-eyed enthusiasts I meet jaded, confused and occasionally, slightly angry individuals.
By the time I get to meet them they ought to be more of a team – and to be fair some groups very much are – making my job one of applying polish and finesse. Instead I sometimes feel I have to spend far too much time correcting and biting my tongue. As my tongue dislikes being bitten, this inevitably results in the deployment of good old-fashioned sarcasm which, while some may consider it the lowest form of wit, invariably results in hilarity... at least for me, which is the important bit.
The main thing I notice is a lack of an ability to learn, unless you count being led every step of the way as learning. Where is the desire, the hunger, the willingness to go beyond ‘being taught’? Is this the product of our school system today, or has it always been like this? The notion of learning principles and then adapting those principles to practical circumstances is an alien concept to some, who want to reduce everything to a lengthy set of ‘how-to’ instructions, rather than hold a much simpler methodology in memory.
Imagine a recipe which, instead of instructing: “Cream the butter and the sugar together until pale, beat in the eggs, then fold in the flour...” went more like this. “Get the butter from the top left hand shelf of the fridge and put it on the counter. Then wait for it to warm up. Twenty minutes should be enough. Now get a bowl. You need one that holds at least two litres; it should have the volume printed on the bottom. Put it next to the butter with the open side upwards – if you are right-handed, have the bowl on the left of where the butter is waiting, or, if you are left-handed put the bowl to the right of the butter. Now unwrap the butter by unfolding the wrapping paper, one flap at a time and put half of it in the bowl. Not the wrapper, the butter. Use a knife to cut it in half. Consult this diagram if you are not sure what ‘half’ means...”
You get the picture... or do you need a diagram? For far too long the UK has been pursuing a child-centred education when what we need is a work-centred education. Even just a turning-out-useful-people-centred education system would be a step in the right direction. People say the idea of selection and discipline is turning the clock back but at least the kids half a century ago actually learned things, real things, things they remember to this day. When – as I did on Friday – you see a twenty-something using the calculator on his phone to work out an approximate value for (0.42 + 0.44) ÷ 4 you can’t help but feel that sparing the rod did indeed spoil the child.
Perfect, little, square, socialist sausages...
But help is at hand, in the guise of Labour’s latest back-to-the-future (if you’re in 1923) initiative. Momentum want to set up a ‘children’s wing’ so that they can
infiltrate the minds educate infants in how the evil
capitalists want to eat them all world of politics works by “increasing
children’s involvement in Momentum and the labour movement by promoting
political activity that is fun, engaging and child-friendly”. Not brainwashing
at all. On the good side, I’m guessing, I soon won’t
have to worry about my candidates needing a calculator for simple sums... they
won’t even know how to use a calculator.