Monday, 2 September 2013

Rote Learning Frees the Mind and Humankind , allegedly

Rote Learning Frees the Mind and Humankind , allegedly
There is no limit on the domineering Gove's pretentions towards supremacy yet it is sometimes hard to credit his frequent bleatings. In a speech, “In Praise of Tests” he declared rote learning to be responsible for the advancement of Jewish people in America.
The opportunist Gove is The Great Liberator. He will create a society where young people are judged by their ability to remember things he thinks important, rather than think for themselves or be judged by the content of their character. Learn poetry by rote, he says, and you understand how to be a poet. Copy great artists and be a great artist – pass the tracing paper someone. How hard can it be?
The advancement of Jewish people, and all ethnic minorities I guess, goes like this. Learn old poems by rote, learn the 12 times tables and recite a list of British monarchs and you will be good at exams. Exams are culture neutral (really?) are a pure test of intelligence (gulp) and examiners are free from the bias shown by teachers who mark coursework. Obviously, Mr Teacher inadvertently discriminates against Saul Ezra when this student writes history coursework on the Rise and Rise of the British Empire. He terms this, “The soft bigotry of low expectations.” However, they can’t show this prejudice when marking the same student’s exam script. Not like the exam marker can read the names of examinees? Exams will set you free, Monday is Tuesday, Peace is War, Freedom is Slavery and other stuff like that, apparently. This week in the UK parliament Gove wanted to bomb a tyrant in Syria. Colleagues who disagreed with him were, “a disgrace” and according to Mrs Gove, “cowards.” Best not to argue with soft bigotry, especially when there’s two of them.
Only the very safe are certain of right and wrong, who’s to blame and who to bomb.
 I write endlessly about the decimation of education that Gove is driving. This summer some of our schools show record exam results; results we developed by simply not lying down in front of Gove's runaway dogma. When he said that, "more children will fail exams,” he failed to realise the consequences. He just thought kids would fail, know they deserved to fail and submissively take their place on zero hours contracts, aware that education and opportunity is for their betters. He had a dream all right, but how patronizing to equate his class driven nightmare with the US Civil Rights movement. All the “driven” references allow me to repeat that the myopic Gove failed his driving test on six occasions, spurring no doubt his opposition to exam resits.
Gove didn’t allow for the tenacity of teachers. We plotted and planned in cadres of like-minded counter-reactionaries, many connected to the twilight force that is PiXL We entered kids up to three times for Maths exams. Yes we changed some of their courses from modular (which he hates) to linear (which favours the seat-of-the-pants students) Yes we took up the private schools’ IGCSEs, and yes we entered some kids a year earlier. The students came in for extra evenings and holidays and we practised and practised.  Our school sued the government and signed up for the Us and Them oppositional pugnacity. We gave them chocolate and the kids done great.
At the same time (see previous blog: “This is not education this is potty training...”) education is in free-fall.  Practise for tests and learn by rote, whilst stamping on creativity like some state-centred tyranny. Nationally results went down again this year, driven down by the regulator, Ofqual whose job it is to see that each year’s results can be compared and valued against each other. What, even when you artificially alter pass rates?
Now to the subject of this blog: Furry Animals of the Less Than Super Variety.
I am certain that some of you can recall the childlike self-satisfied grin of the inoffensive, anonymous, but sort of cuddly Stephen Twigg when he beat the widely tipped future Tory leader, Michael Portillo in the election of 1997. Did anyone think this seemingly nice man would be an effective opposition leader on education? Would he be the man to refute tenaciously, reject and condemn the attacks on education we now face? There are two possible reasons why he couldn’t fulfil the role. Either the Labour Party has no interest in protecting and nurturing our children and teachers or Stephen Twigg is a squirrel.
While the vandal Gove rampages there is a Labour Opposition in parliament presented with fantastic opportunities to stand up for children, families and education. So when Gove promotes Free Schools with enormous unnecessary indecent waste, Stephen Twigg will not allow any new Free Schools. Instead Labour will encourage parents to open their own schools.
When Gove meandered into the quagmire of fast tracking army disciplinarians into our schools, Twigg will open military-style schools. When Gove endlessly drools, rigour, rigour, rigour…. like some self-flagellating metronome,  Twigg mumbles, rigour is good and we will be rigorous, perhaps mistaking it with the rigor mortis of his thinking. Labour gave up the debate on education because their sole concern, therefore an obsession, is the pursuit of power. They forget that Tony Blair was elected on a mission called, “Education, Education, Education.” He was savvy enough to know that it does win votes, but only if you have a clue what you believe in. Twigg will be sacked soon and we will get policies from Labour next year because there’s an election in 2015. But do they know anything about education, or care?
A clever little employment scheme is afoot in  the UK, called Zero Hours, and it has mainly young people sitting at home waiting to be called into work by their employers. They are employed, without contracts, without hours and therefore they may get some work and pay or they may not – sort of depends if your face fits I suppose. When my neighbour recalled the London dockers lining up to be selected to work, or not, I remembered the lines of Irishmen waiting outside The Crown in Cricklewood in the hope of a day’s work. Who would have thought we would put the Shadow Education Minister on Zero Hours? Or is he squirrelled away in some year round hibernation.
As a Londoner  I used to take my daughter to Valentines Park where we would feed grey squirrels. They seemed inoffensive, guileless and harmless and they didn’t seem too demanding. That image of Twigg at his election victory returns, as a squirrel given nuts by kind, unthinking London voters. The original Labour Party embraced socialism and were called “reds” by more conservative critic. The lefties have been driven out to be replaced by a bunch of grey men in suits. Just like the red squirrels in England were eradicated by the grey squirrels I used to feed.
I feed them no more. When the squirrels squatted in my loft, making a mess and scratching hideously a nightly pandemonium, I poisoned them.
We feed birds here in the countryside but the squirrels are too lazy to find their own food and steal from the little green and yellow things. So I have a gun now.
I am not advocating assassination of Labour Party politicians but unless they get off their backsides and start protecting working families, they will remain fecklessly in opposition.
 Dennis O'Sullivan

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