Three Wannabes

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And Three Brieflys

The Rink – Aaron Kent

In a world of uncertainties, it is reassuring to feel reasonably confident that Kent’s own poetry publishing press is named after the closing two words of this chapbook’s opening poem Ice Skating, Garden of Eden, 1998.

That the ‘Eden’ of the poem’s title is ironic and apt within a set of poems about being anxious and finding ways to express aspects of this is also reassuringly certain.

In a blurb-stated anxiety about nuclear war, lines like

‘We are three bombs away from night time pressing
halos into the rearview mirror.’

[I Have Eaten The Moths And Now My Mouth Is Soot]

convey a lyrical paradox in the poetic expression of beauty and destruction which is potent.

In the sonnet Moving My Family Into A Den In The Corner Of The House, Kent is playful with language echoes like

‘It is there we can cower less, coward less, courage
lest…’

and then finds the killer lines [pun intended]

‘…Our daughter’s too fresh to fully
understand the difference between a soul set aside
for the ripening and nuclear devastation.’

These poems address a range of apprehensions in a personal world of trying to find stability in the old traditions of home and family, but disruptions from the other dangerous ones interrupt. New poems placed on old ones and other found reminders of others’ [a magic three of intended puns] different realities make this a fresh and at many times haunting reminder of what does not change,

‘We forget we are working class / We are disposable.’

[Amnesty International Workers]

Poem, A Chapbook – Timmy Reed

Do you want to feel love? Then this chapbook is for you.

But first we hear about ‘dudes’ and an absence of punctuation – ‘This book contains no periods’ – and I like that surprise.

The fact a question mark is in the next poem could be another surprise, but to be fair, Reed didn’t say punctuation, just ‘periods’. Be careful what you extrapolate, I always say.

However, Reed’s playfulness is more engaging than mine. Of the question mark, he writes,

‘That last one was a question mark
It looks like a period on fire
A lump of coal
Releasing a plume of black smoke
Like a flag above it
But it isn’t
It only denotes an interrogative
Something that needs an answer’

This is as intense as it gets, by the way, and I am making a point about an intentional lack of intensity.

There is counting in these poems – if you want – and dudes that come and go. Reading newspapers is the art of setting them on fire first to make this ‘urgent’, and exclamation marks are

‘A period with a knife in it!’

The narrative thread is playful, like having an ice cream [I mean in the enjoying sense], and the manifesto is about writing in ‘the realist mode’ but with a healthy caveat of reserving ‘the right to take liberties’.

With Reed as we read we are poeming, and that is entertainment, especially in approaching the poem’s simple but bold declaration of ‘LOVE’.

Lou Ham: Racing Anthropocene Statement – Paul Hawkins

This world tour of cut-ups appropriated from what is found, actually, or in computer searches,

‘but as you see
from my posteriors
how this is web experienced’

is a narrative as disjointed as it is connected in the sheer amount of information we can all access and understand/not understand.

It deserves being seen as it is on the page, so here it is,

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Climate change and globalisation and ferrari worship are all proverbial snapshots in this collection.

There are also the occasional verb appropriations that engage for their surprises within other linguistic surprises,

‘suggest you
cormorant that
lou
this is not even eyewash yet’.

There is a discourse here about conferences and management and advertising and car racing and computing and calculating and purchasing and gymkhanas and lou

to name a few.

I will call this baited poems.

Enjoy the catch.

These three with free p&p for just over a tenner. C’mon. To find with others, visit here.

UK Students School Global Strike

Well done to all those UK students who take part in today’s school global strike, making a protest about the effects of climate change, especially on their lives and the lives of their children/that further generation. Also well done to any schools and/or those teachers who support them and let it be known it is right and proper to stand up and be counted on issues of such colossal importance, and issues of far more significance than one day of attending lessons.

I hope those students taking part – and those who want to but for whatever reason are prevented from doing so – understand fully they have a right to express an opinion and to make that statement in a public and demonstrable and notable way. It is a right of self-expression and self-protection that they have for a lifetime and should use whenever desired and needed. No establishment has an equal right to diminish, quell or silence that.

Job Knowledge

As I expressed in a recent posting on the Hirsch ‘knowledge curriculum’ affair, I am not opposed to knowledge: having it, teaching it, valuing it.

I am against it dominating/leading an approach to teaching and learning.

My educational views are primarily focused on how this issue impacts on my subject of English, but I will focus here a little more specifically on English Literature.

At an academic level I believe in the reader-response approach to study – so much of this posting is going to be summary; soft-touch: it isn’t a thesis – but I do also think, for example, knowing about an author’s background, their expressed personal thoughts and feelings, the cultural, social and historical frame in which works are written, and so on, will matter. This can be an important part of knowing about a text.

At A-level this would apply to a degree, maybe more-so in some cases, but I’m not going to quantify how much here. Not that I could anyway.

At GCSE, my main area of experience both as teacher and examiner, such ‘knowledge’ can be a very dangerous possession [not that this would be my main objection for caution]. The commonest example of GCSE students’ unnecessary use of such knowledge would be in the reference to ‘biographical’ details – not so much the detail itself, but the over-use and over-reliance on it at the expense of the work itself.

Worse still is the regurgitated use of ‘received’ knowledge about texts and their meaning. That which has simply been fed to them, and I think this feeding is very much a part of the Hirsch mantra/model. One gets examples of this when marking GCSE English Literature examination responses.

A quick side-track on this point: I did read recently a teacher – obviously an acolyte of the Hirsch methodology – bemoaning the fact students in English didn’t get taught/research enough themselves about knowledge in this subject, but especially English Literature. Her singular reason was in referring to the ‘dreadful’ responses she encountered from students as an examiner herself. She clearly meant most/all students.

I don’t ‘get’ teachers who lead with such negative, sweeping assertions about students. It was withering in its generalised disdain. That’s not the kind of teacher overview I would ever hold, endorse or like. Call me snowflake if you will [an aspersion about which some knowledge of its origins and prejudicial application would be useful…]. More importantly, as a GCSE English Literature examiner of at least 35 years, this is not and never has been my general experience and impression. Quite the reverse.

What I do dislike, when happening, is the students’ increasing over-preparedness in their exam responses, this delivered by their teachers and perhaps students accessing the online ‘knowledge’ guides when they revise. Teachers obviously do this for two main reasons: one, admittedly, a misguided trust in the value of spoon-feeding [also known as a Hirschian model of rote-learning], and second, the fear of results judgements, target setting and league tables. This latter phenomenon of cause and effect most evident in more recent years out of my 35 examining.

But the absolute worst of this ‘knowledge’ about literary texts has been the proliferation of students being taught and regurgitating language/linguistic references. I mean at the grammatical and similar level – notions of knowledge about language and writing that has come directly from the English Key Stages 1, 2 and, when it existed, 3 SATs, these truly dreadful and invasive [because statutory and school target related] forms of assessment and therefore teaching.

Such an overall notion that this is how writing operates – a notion avidly supported by schools minister Nick Gibb who takes his ‘learning’ on this from the likes of Hirsch – is simply wrong, and infuriatingly so. Passed on by the sheer force of its persistence in teaching and assessment throughout the primary years into secondary, this so often corrupts the students’ appreciation of what literary works are all about. It usurps exploration and interpretations, and it usurps the acceptance of being ‘wrong’. With the move to Writing study [and some elements of Reading] that deals in ‘finite’ answers – yes, this is ludicrous – the direct and indirect precedence given to this ‘knowledge’ is destructive.

But I’ll stop on that thread. This too is a bigger argument than I want to indulge here [but it has been addressed throughout this blog by me over previous postings/years].

Back to the title of this posting.

I mean the Book of Job from the Old Testament. Having read this or been introduced to its Christian propaganda about the good of suffering [well, you have to know it to be so critical] is, I readily admit, an important piece of knowledge if students are to understand much about our Western culture and its politics [e.g. how austerity is ‘good’ for the country…] and our literature. I was disappointed so few of my A-level students had any ‘knowledge’ of the Book of Job, or more importantly the Bible as a whole text. So I would supply that ‘knowledge’ in a number of ways, valuing it. In teaching Waiting for Godot to my mixed-ability GCSE groups, I always arranged for students to explore differences of reporting/expressing detail in the four gospels of the New Testament, and yes, supplied summary ‘knowledge’ about it to support their ‘discovery learning’ on this.

Like I said at the start: soft-touch. A snapshot.

It’s not a question of the value of knowledge and its relation to learning/education – though it is about types of knowledge –  but the way in which we as teachers endeavour to convey this. Too much of what I have read, and am continuing to read, in the Policy Exchange produced Hirsch pamphlet Knowledge and the Curriculum makes me weary of how knowledge acquisition is being interpreted by those in the UK. These postings are me working aloud to unravel my fullest understanding of all of this, and as with this particular posting, making clear I am not simply anti all of it.

 

I gotta stop reading this here book. And it ain’t even got no pictures

I really must stop. I want to watch some TV. Something with little substance that has no pretense to having substance.

So I am being extra brief.

I won’t say more in summary of Prof [sic] Chris Husbands’ article Which Knowledge Matters Most? [see three previous posts] apart from the fact he posits that there are three major educational ideologies/influences for the second decade of the twenty-first century in North America and the UK:

One – that represented by E D Hirsch and taking its lineage from Matthew Arnold [poet and school Inspector] which is all about enabling knowledge acquisition

Two – that represented by John Dewey and the progressivism of child-centred learning

Three – that represented by employers on the importance of skills and application for the world of work

In promotion of the Hirsch model, Husbands writes,

Hirsch is, without doubt empirically correct to observe that the elites of American society are characterised by their possession of high levels of cultural capital expressed through knowledge.

e.g. President Donald Trump [my example].

Yeah, right.

Abb.

That’s abb. for ‘abbreviation’ – the abbreviation for ‘abbreviation’ – though many will prefer/insist upon abbr. which makes more sense to me and no doubt any other actual pedants out there, but that would make my aside that it doesn’t stand for ‘abhorrent’ less tellable, accepting, obviously, that the abbreviation for ‘abhorrent’ would/should be abh.

And you think that is ridiculous? Well how about this:

When my 3-year-old boy looks out of the tube window at St. John’s Wood, he will often say, “Saint John’s Wood, S – T for saint, not street.” And I will respond, “Yes, that’s right. And what do we call shortened words like this? Ah… bree…”, and he will continue, “vee…a…tion.” “That’s right,” I say. “Abbreviation, repeat after me, abbreviation.” “Abbreviation, mummy, yes, abbreviation.”

Eventually the time will come when he will look out of the window and say, “S – T, abbreviation for saint.” The public will look on at him in wonder, as they often do now, thinking, my goodness, how is that little boy so clever? And I will want to explain to them that he only knows these things because I told him. He isn’t a genius. He didn’t discover this knowledge inside his soul. I just told him, over and over again, and eventually he internalised the knowledge so that it seems to be part of him.

That’s Katharine Birbalsingh’s opening two paragraphs from her contribution How Knowledge Leads to Self Esteem to the Hirsch celebration Knowledge and the Curriculum [see two preceding posts].

Two quick things before advancing: [i] I don’t believe the public will look on her son and think what she thinks they will think, and [ii], in the interests of being accurate, which KB seems to be quite insistent upon, isn’t that ‘self-esteem’ with a hyphen?

As for He didn’t discover this knowledge inside his soul. Well, if I was told this I would be looking quizzically again [I’m being polite] because that wouldn’t be anywhere near what I might have been thinking about any aspect at all of learning and knowing and understanding.

Honestly, I’m not trying to find drivel to prove my point on this issue. I am just reading what is there. Then you happen upon gibberish like this:

It is the same in a classroom. Ask a child a question when he doesn’t know the answer and disruption almost always occurs. They either attempt to shine the spotlight on someone else, or depending on their character, they might try to embarrass or distract the teacher. The last thing they are thinking about is what the answer is. They are too busy being humiliated, a feeling that will remain with them the next time they are asked a question. Similarly, ask the whole class a question that a child doesn’t know and he will do everything to avoid being asked. In this moment, he is deafeningly quiet, desperate not to be picked on, hoping that the teacher doesn’t notice him. Is he thinking about the answer? Of course not.

This isn’t a classroom scenario I recognise after 30 years of teaching when a student cannot answer a question. When I fell about on the floor laughing hysterically whenever a student didn’t know the answer to my question, the response would, yes, often be a little piqued.

But of course I never did that. It is as absurd an idea as the assertion she makes in that paragraph I have just quoted.

Birbalsingh’s article [I am being polite] ends by returning to her inspirational touchstone about abb., abbr., abbrev., abbrvtn.:

If teachers don’t tell children what they need to know, then it is left up to the parents. But what if the parent doesn’t know what abbreviation means? Discovery learning prevents children from poor backgrounds from succeeding in part because it doesn’t impart knowledge and in part because it kills the motivation to learn. Our job as teachers is to help enable social mobility by imparting knowledge and by inspiring children to want to learn it. That is why at Michaela, despite many people insisting that our methods are too old-fashioned or lacking in creativity, we make no apology for teaching our kids a vast amount of knowledge, help-ing them to build an armour of intellectual resilience so that they can take on any challenge in life. That is the lesson we take from Hirsch, and we are determined to make it succeed.

Let me tell you Hirsch, you have a lot to answer for.

For which to answer.

Much [not a lot] to answer for.

Oh f.i.

The Horror of Hirsch

It is all becoming clear.

Before shining a light on this illumination [do see my previous posting] I want to state on the one hand I was keen and pleased to have my instinctive prejudices confirmed, and on the other, I did actually pause to reflect as objectively as my deep-rooted educational antibodies would allow and question whether I was too quick to confirm.

No, not too quick.

The healthy instant signals were in Gibb’s article from Knowledge and the Curriculum where, in addition to himself, he cites supporters of Hirsch’s views as Michael Gove – well, that’s the first nail – and then a person who he describes as one of a ‘new generation of British educators’, Toby Young! Yes, that’s the journalist who resigned from a position as non-executive director on the board of the Office of Students because of his offensive tweets.

It only takes two big and nasty nails some times.

Without feeling any need to justify/qualify, that is enough for me. I have listened to/read plenty from people like these over many years to abhor their views on education and the positions of influence they have held in which to wreak damage because of this.

More broadly, Hirsch’s knowledge-based curriculum is clearly the influence for content and direction in the recent Ofsted Curriculum Workshops where for the English curriculum in particular a ‘Big Vocabulary’ policy is being promoted and, for example, touted with Hirschian zeal by Bradley Simmons HMI, Regional Director, South West. Hearing him speak was quite enough to alienate me.

It is, quite simply, a ‘more is more’ philosophy: more knowledge leads to more everything; more vocabulary leads to more everything. If you are a Tory, this will clearly appeal as a fundamental desire.

Having just re-read Gove’s ‘anti-Mr Men’ speech [here] again, I didn’t find Hirsch mentioned, but there are numerous self-serving and obnoxious references to content and knowledge – carefully selected and in many cases probably made-up – that show where the influences come from. Again, I acknowledge my prejudices, but surely the most judicious and objective read will spot the rhetorical machinations over evidence this tirade delivers?

Oh, and by the way, no, I am not saying knowledge isn’t important! Don’t be so stupid.

What I am against is making knowledge the legend upon which the mythology is written.

So, for example, what do I mean by the preceding comment and its seemingly clever assertion? I am playing primarily with the term ‘legend’, linked obviously to ‘mythology’, but I use it more as its implication of inscription and wording on a map – signposts to something. Knowledge of that definition would help unpick my satire and suggestion. But there are ways to arrive at that knowledge, and that is the ‘problem’ of a curriculum, as I see it, perceived from simplistic notions of ‘knowledge’ by Gibb and other numbnuts.

Yes, it is much deeper than this, both my embrace of what ‘knowledge’ is and why we need that, and the other of the other knowledge junkies.

So much of what Gove and Gibbs and others like them see in their knowledge-led curriculum is the teaching of something that can be easily tested and then measured. Oh yes it is. And in that simplistic drive, skills and creativity and other aspects of learning are pushed aside.

Oh yes they are.

That’s my knowledge.

SPaG CFRO

But there is another factor that he [Alex Thomson of the University English association – my note] and others believe has played a bigger part in putting students off English. And that’s what is happening to the subject in schools, where spelling, punctuation and grammar (referred to by the acronym SPaG) have, under the core knowledge curriculum championed by schools minister Nick Gibb, come to dominate. Education consultant Myra Barrs is among the critics of what she calls a “new formalism”, in which content and meaning are sacrificed to a recipe-type approach (take an adverb and some wow words, add a pinch of unusual punctuation …) You don’t have to be against the traditional staples of grammar or Shakespeare to see the pitfalls of this, or the constricting effect of the enormous importance placed on GCSE grades.

This is from Susana Rustin’s article Why study English? We’re poorer in every sense without it in yesterday’s Guardian here.

Her argument is more expansive than this – and do read – but I have highlighted because SPaG and similar is a critical presence across the English curriculum and assessment at all ages [and therefore teaching, naturally] and it is something I have continually attacked on this blog.

The diminishing of experience in the English curriculum imposed by the philistine Michael Gove as then Education Secretary also continues its negative impact. Then there is the target culture that hasn’t disappeared, despite suggestions of it waning.

I am now making my way through the document Knowledge and the Curriculum highlighted in the opening paragraph and will no doubt become increasingly enraged. It may not be so much the theories of E.D. Hirch [though these undoubtedly will] but the endorsement of that other Tory educational moron Nick Gibb* who has the audacity to make this prerogative for himself

No single writer has influenced my thinking on education more than E. D. Hirsch. Like any book which becomes seminal in one’s intellectual journey, I distinctly remember the first time I encountered Hirsch’s work.

where this self-claim to being cerebral – as well as about education – is so often patently obliterated by the stupid things he actually says, for example, when making defenses/explanations of English Key Stages 1 and 2 testing.

*Nick Gobb, Schools Minister, who gets this apt re-naming because the letters ‘i’ and ‘o’ are next to one another on the keyboard, so this genuine error and accident of meaning [as in the creativity of being found] makes more sense above and beyond the ‘knowledge’ of his actual surname.