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When You Were Young

October 6, 2009

Generally speaking, I avoid talking about politics — I respect everyone’s right to think and speak what they wish, as long as they don’t expect me to agree with them all the time. But sometimes, a politician will say something so completely wrong, that I have to speak out… the shadow schools spokesman, Nick Gibb, is such a politician.

Monday’s Guardian carries a report with the headline: Tories pledge return to rote learning and sets in schools. I’m sorry, but which world are they trying to prepare our children for…[1] because it certainly isn’t the one we’re moving into. According to the report:

More Mindless Copying

More Mindless Copying

Gibb said that young people ought to be able to automatically recite the times tables, and “you have to know the map of Europe. It’s the routine bits of knowledge that set you up for later life.”

He went on: “I believe very strongly that children are of different abilities and need tailored education. Some children can’t cope with academic lessons and flounder and misbehave. Other children become bored.

Quite apart from the irony of the Tories stating that “…you have to know the map of Europe“, they are obviously not too sure of the abilities of our young people. I can guarantee that my oldest boy does not know his times tables ‘automatically’, but he does know how to use a calculator… and he routinely carries at least two with him… and one of those can make phone-calls as well… and can access the internet to look up the countries of Europe… In addition, he is a dab hand at Scratch and is currently teaching himself Japanese so he can read and see Manga/Animé in the original Japanese…. I wonder if that will be a skill that will serve him well in the future? Not the speaking Japanese bit, but the willingness and ability to go out and find the learning he needs for himself?

As to pupils being bored, I would hazard a guess that bored pupils are the result of boring lessons… Strange, my memories of boredom at school all involve some kind of rote learning…

Actually, I do agree with Nick Gibb when he says that children are of different abilities, but that is the very reason that rote lessons, and hankering for the past in a “well-it-never-did-me-any-harm” [Though, he is a Tory — Q.E.D.?] sort of way is so wrong. Jeff Utecht has the right idea as he points out in his latest blog post: 1500 Students, 1500 Ways of being intelligent. Jeff is reflecting on his time at the International School of Brussels (ISB), and is thinking about the benefits of 1:1 computers, and the reasoning behind choosing the right tech at the right time — and sometimes the right tech is a pencil! For me, one of the key points that Jeff makes is that:

At some point we need to stop trying to learn it all and learn how to learn what we need when we need it.

Rote learning had its place, but the ability to go out and find things out for yourself is a much more valuable skill. To paraphrase the old “Teach a man to fish…” saying:

“Teach a child by rote and (s)he can pass a test, teach a child how to find information and (s)he can pass through life…”

BACK TO POST: Actually, why is it that the Conservatives keep hankering back to the 50s as some sort of Golden age? According to my dad, who lived through them, they were pretty dire in many ways. Actually, they were 50 – 60 years ago… when I was growing up, that would have meant hankering after the 1900-1910 era… ie: pre- TV, biros, sliced bread, the Somme… er…

4 Comments leave one →
  1. teachtechy permalink
    October 6, 2009 5:57 pm

    Great post. Although I think a small amount <5% maybe, still needs some wrote learning ?

    I remember some songs from Pry. school that helped me learn stuff.

    Design needs free thinkers and creative thinkers so roll on open tasks, not just in D&T lessons.


  2. October 6, 2009 7:08 pm

    Another good post with useful quotes to hurl in the form of virtual darts at my SLT and local Tory candidate!

    We can’t teach the kids of today using the methods of yesterday for the world they face tomorrow to paraphrase a great educational thinker whose name will, I’m sure surface in my brain eventually…8-)

    Rote learning has a minor place as did all those funny little rhymes we learnt (Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain?) but as you say above, there is so much to learn that the kids will have to literally dump unwanted info from their brains and replace it with what they need for their next job, then the next and the one after that etc etc.

  3. October 7, 2009 10:42 pm

    Pupils are bored by the things that bore the rest of us – boring teachers, worksheets – that kinda thing. The “it never did me any harm” is patronising codswallop born of seeing pupils as a race apart. But then many politicians are incredibly dull speakers, so maybe they just don’t know any better. Now, why does that not surprise me?

    In the late 50s, I had a history teacher who handed out banda-ed notes (spelling?) and then made us copy them verbatim into our notebooks. Can you imagine a more soul-destroying occupation? I gave up history after S3 (we made our choices a year later in those days) and remain woefully ignorant about any period which has not featured in literature I’ve enjoyed.

    Did any of you youthful lot learn lists of words from Schonell’s Spelling List? Shudder …..


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