Before I start rambling on in this blog post I would like you to watch this clip of Billy Connolly talking about Algebra and how much he hates it (Warning - it does contain some what the BBC would call "strong language"). I am not going to be talking about mathematics but the point is still valid. www.youtube.com/watch.
In case you didn't know this - my favourite subject at school was English. From what I can remember the lessons seemed to take the same format - learn bits of grammar, write stories, read books, daydream, repeat process. Luckily, when it ame to my GCSE's. I wasn't deemed clever enough to have Shakespeare pushed into my brain - or it might have been a different story.
However, I am starting to feel really sorry for the children who are going through school these days.
If we leave the arguments about the standard of teaching regarding grammar to the so-called "experts" - I am sorry but I grew up learning two languages from a very early age (English through school and Dutch through my parents) and I feel I got on better without having to worry about the rules of Dutch very much because the rules of Dutch are nowhere near as confusing as the rules of English - I will be a lot happier.
The one rule in English I have the most difficulty with is that horrible "i before e - except after c" one. In Dutch the placement of the i and the e (when they appear consecutively changes the pronucuation of the word. "VrIEnd" is pronounced to rhyme with the English "Been" whilst "EInd" is the first part of "Einstein" but with a 'd' where the "stein" bit goes.
However, what concerns me about the recent reports on the subject of how English is taught in schools relates to something which is very close to my heart - Pressurised Children..
Apparently the Government is worried about the fall in the amount of children who leave Primary school able to read and write to an acceptable level. What they don't say - as I have been reliably informed by Nathan Constable (who is a parent of a child who sounds like she is a 10 year old whizz at reading - "will read anything you put in front of her" - I may be paraphrasing here) when he tweeted that his daughter has had at least a year knocked off her reading age - is the Reading Ages have been tweaked to the point of being useless.
(I have just seen another tweet from Mr Constable saying he has scored 5 out of ten on one of those "Mini SATS tests" - His response??? He is not to worried about that - "I am off to command Firearms Incidents".
What worries me the most are two things which are not being given nearly enough attention by the Government or the Mainstream Media.
As you may know I love reading. I read for a variety of reasons - to educate myself, for pleasure, and for survival. I don't mean I scrutinise every warning label I come across - I am not talking about that sort of survival. I am talking about being able to escape into a book or a magazine (or even Twitter, Facebook, or the sidebar of Blab) when what I really want to do is stand in the middle of the fast lane of the M1.
Children being forced to read (particularly about subjects they are not interested in in language they find difficult to engage with) at school is a recipe for disaster when it comes to them reading for pleasure.
When I was at Primary School (back in the Jurassic Era - or so it seems) we started with the Rainbow reading books (colour codd in the colours of the rainbow), progressed to a series called "Jumping Jack", and - somewhere along the line - we had "Silver" and "Gold" reading books. The infants got a tobacco tin of flash cards to help them learn to read. We had to read to the teacher in every class as well (at least once a week). We also got spelling tests. The last class before we left Primary School had to write Book Reviews. In fact, my only complaint was the fact we had to do Dictation.
What we did not have was tests coming out of our ears.
In fact, I can only remember three sets of exams in my entire time at school - and they were all in Secondary School. The first one were at the end of the first year to find out which sets we would be in for certain subjects. The second was the "Mocks" (Scottish humans would know these as "Prelims"), then GCSE's. (Now I come to think of it - I have a vague memory of some kind of exams at the end of the Fourth Year of Secondary School.)
There is a twofold danger with the amount of testing the students seem to be subjected to nowadays - losing interest in the subjects they are studying - and bullying (especially when the child has difficulties - either with the way the subject is taught or because of a disability or Learning Difficulty).
There are certain subjects which I was forced to learn at school (one of them was a compulsory GCSE) which I could never see the point of - PE being one and RE (or RS) being another.
However, there is one subject I wish I could have taken a GCSE in - and I feel this subject should be a mandatory GCSE subject from the start of Secondary School.
We got a slight "dusting" with Personal And Social Education during the GCSE years but (to be totally honest) it was useless.
Writing a "Personal Statement" and a Curriculm Vitae (especially when you haven't got anything proper to put in it) is a complete waste of time and energy, as far as I am concerned.
The things I learned at school - which were definitely not on the curriculum but which were the best things I learned were as follows;
How to survive bullying.
Independence - as in "if you want something doing - do it yourself - otherwise it won't get done".
Cynicism - If someone says they are going to do something to make your life easier don't believe it until it happens (I still haven't forgiven Mr Kirkman for reneging on his promise of a computer to make my schoolwork easier).
How to deal with people who are different from you - different races and disabilities (without being as nasty to them as they are to you).
Self-containment - the ability to be happy in your own company and doing things your own way if required.
And - last but not least;-
Daydreaming can be a lifesaver in the right circumstances.
We need to allow the children of today to grow up being confident in their own abilities - no matter what they are. They start life as individuals with their own hopes and dreams - we should encourage that individuality. It might just save their lives at a later date.
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