Could this be the new normal diaries? 28th June 2022

A normal where although the pandemic is not over it feels less of a threat than before? A normal where we watch aghast night after night at what is happening in Ukraine and feel helpless? A normal where the poorest countries in the world teeter on the edge of famine and food poverty is a term that has entered all our vocabularies?

I can’t say it’s that cheerful. Yet despite the disaster which is the UK government, the lurch to the right by so many countries including my own, there is something about long light evenings, about wild flower meadows, about blue skies and chilled white wine that mitigates the gloom. It’ll be a different story in December.

I have been enraged by Sheffield Hallam University’s announcement that it will suspend its English Literature degree course on the grounds that graduates do not swiftly move Ito high end high status highly paid posts within eighteen months of achieving their degrees. English Literature is apparently a low value degree. Oh yeah? Tell that one to the marines. Since when has education been valued by the salary one earns?

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 29th August 2020

It’s not so much autumnal as wintry. I have just closed my bedroom windows tight shut. Last night I was very aware of the chill wind blowing around my ears where I had left the windows slightly open. I’m in long sleeves, long trousers, socks and slippers. Goodness me. Well it is a bank holiday weekend which is often interpreted by the rain gods as a summons.

I have been thinking about education for several reasons. One, the most important, being the death of Ken Robinson. During my time as a teacher (actually does one ever stop being a teacher even when not working as one?) there were two giant thinkers in education. The first was Ted Wragg, and like many I cried when he died, too young. He was sharply intelligent, funny, supportive of teachers and passionate about education. He got me and many other educators through some very bad government initiatives through the clarity of his thoughts and by making us laugh. Then he died, and overnight it seemed Ken Robinson appeared. Like Ted he was wry, witty, and passionate about education. I don’t know if the two ever met, but if not there’s a play to be written where we imagine the intellectual and intelligent conversation that would have been free of pomposity and self-indulgence. Who will be next? It would be good to see a woman educator, a black educator coming to the fore.

Ken Robinson’s talk about schools and creativity has been widely viewed. But those of you who have missed it or want to see it again, here it is.

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The Importance of History

When the Normans conquered England back in 1066 the leading members of Saxon society, anyone of learning and influence, was killed, and history was rewritten. Or perhaps written would be the more apposite word since Saxon England had been an oral society, stories had been handed down by word of mouth, not ink on page. Centuries of culture were dismissed and for even more centuries that period was called the Dark Ages; a time of an inward-looking, backward society. The Normans weren’t stupid. They knew how to use propaganda. They weren’t going to go about praising the previous administration, reminding people that women had had more rights, that craftsmen thrived, that the class system was a Norman import.
Only discoveries like Sutton Hoo and more recently the Staffordshire Hoard have begun to reveal the extent of all the Norman disinformation and misinformation.
It’s a big lesson in why we shouldn’t let governments control what we learn. Since the introduction of a National Curriculum in the UK successive governments have tinkered about with what children should learn in schools. In the last few weeks the current minister for education, one Michael Gove, has been outlining what he wants children to be learning about in history lessons. It made me think about the Normans a lot. Gove hasn’t killed off historians who disagree with his views, but he so obviously disdains them, and his colleagues in the Department of Education, a place he dismisses as the Blob.

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