Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Broadening Horizons

My absence has indeed been dictated by my gallivanting, but I don't want you to think I was doing nothing *but* gallivanting. Travel is after all supposed to be educational, broadening the mind and all that. Here are some of the things I learned while away.

1. It doesn't matter how comfortable the shoes are when you try them on in the shop, you must then wear them around the house for several days or you will regret it. Yes, I know, I've learned this lesson before but apparently forgot it or at least thought it wouldn't matter since we were only going a couple of blocks. And back. In hot weather. Ow (for several days). 

2. Gay Pride Parades are a lot of fun. This is really one of those self-evident truths which we hold to be etc etc but I have finally seen it for myself. I have actual evidence, to wit this photo: 

3. When drinking cocktails, it is advisable to attempt to keep count. Especially when other people are just catching the waiter's eye and indicating 'another round' with a simple swirl of the fingertip. An alternative lesson before sitting down with people who do that is to start on lime and soda, but that won't be nearly as much fun. 

4. Coffee with an interesting person trumps a lecture on an interesting topic by a bad speaker every time. And sometimes a lecture by a good speaker, though it depends how quickly the coffee goes cold. There's probably a mathematical formula for it. 

5. Americans clap at the end of a patriotic film in the cinema. Who are they clapping? Themselves, for having stayed awake for the whole of a film or for being part of such a patriotic nation? We saw Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Argo during our trip (plus Hitchcock, though they didn't clap at the end of that, presumably too many Brits in it) and while I will acknowledge that the tension in places was excellently constructed, leading to a sense of relief despite knowing the actual outcome in my head, it still seemed strange to applaud Affleck et al. But then I have known for a long time than American patriotism is a far more overt beast than British patriotism, which tends to loiter in the corners of self-deprecation. 

6. Not all Texans are gun-totin' Bible-quotin' Republicans. As the ship had started in Galveston, there were quite a few Texans on board and yet we had only one really awkward moment at dinner, which wasn't even over the Second Amendment. Our Pennsylvanian companion was critical of the Texan congressman who had complained about Federal relief funding after Hurricane Sandy had swept up the East coast, but who was then very quick to ask for Federal relief funding for those affected by the blast at Waco. I don't know if our Texan companion was related the congressman but boy, did he get upset! We'd already covered the failure to pass the amendment relating to universal background checks, without Texan explosions, so it was actually quite a surprise. I quickly changed the subject... 

7. Russell Crowe can't sing.  

8. Ginger tea doesn't taste of ginger if it's drunk in the proximity of peppermint tea. It's as if the peppermint has taken the ginger out back somewhere and kicked its gingery little head in. It's entirely possible that ginger tea *never* tastes of ginger, but I haven't taken that risk yet. 

9. For all those Scots/Welsh/Irish folks who resent being called English when what was meant was 'British', there's at least one American out there somewhere who thinks that Ukraine and Macedonia are part of Russia.  

I probably learnt other things too, but unless I made notes fairly immediately, chances of retaining the information were slim. Here's hoping for more enjoyably-acquired lessons!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Education education education

After a password-induced delay (for which, read: memory-fail-induced delay), a brief blog update.

I see in the news that there is distress about the slimming down of the curriculum, particularly the speed with which it is being introduced. According to the BBC, teachers in secondary schools are perfectly happy with the curriculum as it is. I find that pretty hard to believe, though perhaps it's not so much the curriculum as the sheer workload that teachers have to endure. Whether you have a marking-heavy workload at the upper end of the education system or a preparation-heavy workload with the younger children, all teachers work crazy hours that have nothing to do with finishing at 3 and 'enjoying' long holidays.

Which is why my experience this holiday has been even more distressing. As a private tutor, I tend to see children who are finding things harder, or whose parents think they are finding it harder, so perhaps I'm not speaking from the perspective of a fair sample. But of the four children I have been working with over this Easter break, three have effectively been told by their teachers that they're not good enough.

It's hard enough for teachers to get respect from difficult parents, the government and resentful workers who only see the official hours worked. When there are members of the profession who undermine the rest of us, calling their pupils 'stupid' to their faces or suggesting that 65% in an exam isn't good enough because some people will get 75%, it makes it impossible.

I don't know whether the syllabus should be changed or not; I grew up in Gove's 'fact-rich' environment and as the saying goes, it hasn't done me any harm. I don't know enough about the current curriculum in secondary schools to be able to say how useful it is. But this style of learning and examining doesn't suit everyone and I doubt that employers need their future employees to know the names and dates of accession of the English kings from William the Conqueror onwards. Even future history teachers need to be able to read and write. And telling children who can't jump through an inappropriate hoop (and yes, exam system, I'm looking at you here) that they're going to fail so why even bother trying, is unprofessional.

Just don't get me started on the schools' league tables....