Isn’t it interesting when one reaches that point in life where one finally feels comfortable with rejecting, at least in part, some of those ideas one held so strongly in one’s youth? Perhaps you have yet to experience that. Perhaps it is yet to come. I hope so.
I do not hold with the thought that says we must cling to the ideals of our youth. At least not all of them. The ones that are rooted in notions of equality and fairness of course are timeless and exempt. But the one that suggested ‘love’ would/should be a forever full-on rush of adrenaline? Pah. The one that said a rejection of adulthood responsibility and a ‘forever young’ approach would save civilisation? Gimme a break.
It can be painful to read the words of one’s youth. Well, perhaps not painful exactly, but certainly a cause for eye-rolling wonder and vague embarrassment. And that notion that I once pedalled about clinging to the selfish egoism of youth and the rejection of the expectations of adulthood is one that currently bemuses me most. At least in part.
I think the reason I am wary of supporting what I once believed is that I now see similar threads evident in UK society that I consider to be dangerous and ill-conceived. For it seems to me that as each year goes by there is a further escalation in the fetishisation of children/youth. In parallel to that increasing fetishisation and commodification of children has been a similar rise in the paranoia of protection; the combination of the two I would argue is far from healthy for our youngsters and hence for the future of our society.
Even Melissa Benn, who I otherwise hold in high esteem, seems capable of falling into this parent trap. In an interview with Peter Wilby in today’s Guardian she admits that she “really, really enjoyed school." But then adds that "there were elements that, as a parent, I wouldn't have been happy with. I didn't feel unsafe exactly but I knew there were certain toilets I shouldn't go into, and there were pockets of disorder, things that frightened me, skinheads, gangs and so on. As a parent, you have to be in favour of order. On discipline, I think the right is on to something."
For me, this is the paranoia of the parent at play. I would argue that those experiences as a youngster were crucial in developing her understanding of life and preparation for going out into that legendary ‘real world’. They didn’t seem to do her any real harm, did they? I don’t think a degree of fear is necessarily a bad thing to experience as a youngster. Fear is part of life outside of school. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. As school leaders and teachers we can, should and do strive to make our learning environments as supportive, inclusive and happy as we possibly can. That’s an incredibly complex set of challenges when dealing with, say, 1500 teenagers. But let’s be realistic and acknowledge that human nature and the influences of previous generations will make it next to impossible to eradicate the sense of fear that comes from mixing with youngsters from different backgrounds. As I say, for me that’s part of the learning process, and ironically, earlier in the same interview Benn herself asks “how do we learn about others if we never come in contact with them?” Well that’s as much about coming into contact with the toughs from the council estates as it is about contact with other religions and cultures. And yes, that can be scary, intimidating and emotionally challenging for adults as well as youngsters. But then no-one said life was easy.
The culture of cosseting of children needs to be overturned. On holiday in Spain recently we spotted a large poster advertising an art exhibition. The poster featured a painting of a naked child. You can just imagine the outcry if that appeared in the UK; the Daily Mail proclaiming that we must “ban this filth” and protect our children whilst running a fawning story about celebrity babies outfitted in designer baby garb and sensationalising ‘sexy’ young pop artistes as something to aspire to.
But then I’m not a parent, so what do I know? I’m just getting older.
People who know me are hopefully aware of my similar distaste for PowerPoint. In particular I despair of exactly those “fiddly slides consisting of flying text, fussy fonts or photo montages” that Bindel rages against. However to simply refuse to use the technology and rely instead on other tools with which you are eminently comfortable (Julie, if you are so against technology supporting your speech, try memorising it) seems at best amusingly old-fashioned and at worst downright lazy and insulting.
Yes, presentation software from PowerPoint to Keynote to Prezi can result in appalling visual assaults that can have the audience close to slitting their wrists. It’s not the software’s fault though. The software is just a tool; same as the person giving the presentation. Boom boom.
But a well designed presentation (PowerPoint is a product name, not a generic term incidentally) can be an enormously powerful supporting tool. Rather than simply dismissing it out of hand perhaps people like Julie Bindel and Matthias Poehm (founder of the Anti-PowerPoint Party) should invest some time in learning how to design and deliver good presentations rather than rejecting the underlying technology out of hand. I’d suggest hooking up with Garr Reynolds’ well established ‘Presentation Zen’ blog and books as a great starting point.
According to Bindel’s article, only 300 people have so far signed up to the Swiss party’s cause, which rather fills one with hope that the country is populated by people who understand the delineation between good design and poor use of technology. Perhaps Poehm should have formed an Anti-Comic Sans Party instead. I’m sure he would have achieved the required 10,000 signatures in the blink of an eye...
The Boy McIntosh takes issue with Eric Schmidt on his blog today. Not because he disagrees with the Google Chairman’s recent assault on the ‘UK’ education system (he doesn’t, and nor do I up to a point) but rather because Schmidt didn’t appreciate the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘UK’ education system. It is a fair enough point to make, but I have to admit that Ewan’s Scottish Nationalist tone of admonishment is what made me desperate to leave Scotland some twenty two years ago and that makes me continually put off plans to return, even for a few days (for which I apologise wholeheartedly to my parents and friends).
I’m afraid too that Ewan himself falls into the same trap as Schmidt and shows a similar degree of naiveté. Now I have no recent personal experience of schools in Scotland, but I am sure that just because “programming is a core part of [the Scottish] curriculum for excellence Technologies strand, from age 3 through to 18” it doesn’t mean that all Scottish youngsters are growing up with a secure grounding in computer sciences. Similarly, just because there is no requirement for programming or computer science to be taught in English schools, it doesn’t mean that all English youngsters are growing up without any concept of how computers work.
It always infuriates me when people with a passion in a particular area of expertise think that subject should be a compulsory part of a young person’s education (and usually suggest it should be so to the age of 16 or 18). Throw in all the suggestions from the media and politicians about ‘social’ responsibilities that schools ought to be teaching, and you get the impression that schools would need to be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with teachers and students alike boxed in like battery hens. Actually, when you put it like that, it sounds like something the Daily Mail would love for all public sector workers, doesn’t it?
The truth is that individual schools and teachers have always had a fairly healthy degree of freedom to deliver the kind of curriculum that individual youngsters need. Good schools and teachers respond to individual needs and give those youngsters supported guidance about what subjects they may want to begin to specialise in at whatever age is appropriate. But good schools know too that not every young person needs to know how to write computer code in order to use ICT creatively and productively; just as they know that not every young person needs to know how to strip down a gearbox in order to drive a motor car.
Now, who’s up for some compulsory bicycle maintenance lessons in schools? End of Key Stage tests would involve setting the indexing on rear derailleurs and winding handlebar tape. After all, we’ve all ridden a bike before haven’t we?...
Over on Cultural Snow, Tim Footman is pondering Rowan Joffe’s comments about setting his film of 'Brighton Rock' in 1964 rather than 1939: “...1939’s a very, very long time ago and it almost feels like a foreign country to a contemporary audience.”
I’ve always been fascinated by how we agree (or not) about when history becomes old enough to be like ‘a foreign country’ as opposed to when it’s simply something we root around in, searching for objects and reference points to unearth knowingly, all the while feeling comfortable that the threads connecting us to that past are not terrifyingly frayed. So is it really just the notion of a ‘youth culture’ that has repeatedly fed off itself since the late 1940s /early 1950s that demarcates that point of comfort? Is the reason 1964 doesn’t seem ‘foreign’ to a contemporary audience really just because they will be comfortable with understanding the cultural reference points of Mods versus Rockers fighting on the beaches? Do contemporary audience really identify more with cultural/consumer references than they do with narrative themes? Do they really need to have stories that explore notions of good/evil, devotion/betrayal and the role of religion draped in the endlessly recycled iconography of ‘youth’ culture?