A deep and dark Govember…….Last chances and opportunities.

Coming soon. Our 3D printers for community use are getting a real buzz going with the pupils.

Apologies to Simon and Garfunkel for the misquote in the title but a friend recently had to give in to distaff pressure and shave off his blooming Mowvember ‘tache , got me thinking about November puns.  In the current media feeding frenzy about what the BBC should or should not have done much seems to go unremarked, not least the continuing, perhaps growing rumble of discontent about the direction of education policy.  If you have any feeling for creativity in education and you have not already found the link please take a moment to visit  http://tristramshepard.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/all-sign-please/ and follow the link to sign up.  While you are there have a look at some of the other posts from All Change Please, I am sure you will find much to enjoy.

At the lighter end of the scale we have been very fortunate to secure some funding to run a project with some of the new generation of affordable 3d printers.  The plan is to engage the large pool of design talent in the area and to offer an experimental resource for small scale 3d printing.  By the way, the term is a little clumsy isn’t it?  Aside from calling it a replicator which is quite a popular idea with some of my pupils what are we really going to end up  calling this technology?  The project really speaks to our vision for economic growth based on creative digital design and technology in this part of the world.  The idea is not new, anyone who has come across the MIT Fablabs will recognise it, it is just that the economics have changed a bit since we first started looking at it.  Of the many available we settled on The Cube, cubify.com/cube/index.aspx   They really are heading towards the home appliance level now and this one looks cool.  As you can imagine there are some more serious reasons for selecting equipment but they are in the country and we expect them to arrive with us at any moment.  I will keep you up to date with developments.

Unfortunately there seems to be no let up in the ability of the government to shrug off informed criticism.  A recent Analysis programme took a long, cool look at the educational landscape and, although I had my tongue in my cheek when I labeled the curriculum vision of the secretary of state as a pub quiz education it seems I was not far off.  Not only had researchers unearthed recordings of Michael Gove as a contestant on University Challenge but several of his advisers and favorites also appeared.  This programme introduced me to the work of American Professor of English, E Hirsch.  It seems that he has provided the theoretical underpinnings of the current governments educational philosophy.  For a cruelly short introduction check this out, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROIujiY1uZU    The fundamental argument is that to be culturally literate everyone needs to share a body of knowledge, a collection of facts that might reasonably be expected to occur in serious books and articles.  For Hirsch it is the failure of schools to teach these that has lead to the decline in literacy across America.  Recognise the thinking?

I am reminded of the character Steerpike in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast  novels who, in order to ingratiate himself as a social climber determined to learn a little about almost every subject so that he could converse credibly. A kind of facile and utilitarian education.  Perhaps it is true that what Hirsch outlines is happening, it does sound plausible after all.  Or is it the case that his list of facts that every child should know, (yes he really has proposed them apparently quite unaware of how like a Victorian book he sounds), is in reality a sort of intellectual credit card that can be drawn on to confirm membership of the educated classes.  Is it perhaps that the defining culture by which he lives is not the one that most Americans subscribe to?  Is it perhaps the case that his only definition of culture is a literate one and ignores every other aspect of the culture of the country.  I find it odd that a teacher of English, who must surely have read texts in which classical references were not familiar, who must at some time have had to use footnotes to grasp the full meaning of a Shakespearean epithet, who perhaps has encouraged students to use a dictionary when confronted by an unfamiliar word, should find himself compelled by his argument.

Can we seriously be expected to believe that teaching a specific body of cultural facts will unlock the door to intellectual and economic growth?  Well seemingly a country can run education policy on this basis.   As a young teacher I found myself one summer in a remote part of Dartmoor engaged in acting in an outdoor production of a new translation of a play by a Latin author.  In need of a haircut I paid the local barber a visit.  It was a fascinating experience;, he ushered me into what would have been the front room of his house, carefully peeled off a pair of wire framed glasses whose lenses resembled the bottoms of old fashioned glass bottles only to replace them with an even thicker pair, sat me down in an old armchair and set about me.  He conversed freely about Latin dramatists, the difficulties in translation and several other erudite topics but it was the worst haircut ever.  Perhaps it was the glasses or rather his eyes.   There are so many more strands to a culture than simply the literate ability to converse at the level of the ruling classes.  We cannot afford to let our education system become the process of educating everyone to attend dinner parties, although arguably that has worked for Michael Gove .

The fight for a broad and balance education goes on.

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