How technology works is a mystery to me, the thing I do understands that radio, television and the internet are like having a huge library at the touch of a button. I read the programme notes and a word or two catches my eye, well maybe more than two words. The words in question are: John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson both Presidents of the United States of America. This is recent history, the 1960s, I was a young adult, so in the wider sense it is the history of my time. I was pretty much involved in the job I had, I was teaching in a junior school and discovering day by day that I had a great deal to learn about teaching and life. I was aware of President Kennedy, the leader of the free world, I watched television and read the Observer, but honestly the dramas of daily life in the classroom loomed large in my mental energy.
The programme on PBS America explained in some detail how the Civil Rights Acts were passed in 1964 and 1965, it was not a simple process, many senators in the South were very hostile to African Americans being considered an essential part of the democratic process, L.B.J. was the President who understood that this inclusion would be best for all Americans: for a peaceful, prosperous and civilised USA.
I would like to see an analytical and clearly expressed programme on the BBC which explained the British parliamentary system as clearly as this PBS programme. Democracy always needs a strong, informed defence as we can clearly see with the situation in Venezuela .
Yesterday I watched the Documentary Of The Week and it really cheered me up. (Its not often that you can say that about a documentary.) It was ‘Old People’s Home for Four-Year-Olds. It was full of charming children relating to old people, most of them in their eighties. This age group is of particular interest to me as with luck on my side I will soon be one of them. The narrator mentioned that many of these senior citizens suffered from varying degrees of depression, also that they spent many hours sitting in a chair,( has someone been spying on me?) The narrator went on to say that the less a body moves, the less it is able to move, of course absolutely true and the second plain statement the less one engages with life, the more depressing and lonely an individual will feel.
A group of young extremely alert people had the brilliant idea of putting together two groups of people at opposite ends of the age spectrum. The children were then given simple tasks to do and encouraged to find a partner amongst the older age group, very few adults could resist the smiling face and polite request of a small boy or girl. Even the most reluctant adult was after awhile persuaded to join in. There is hope for us yet.
Yesterday by a stroke of serendipity I pressed a button and a most appealing group of programmes appeared, ‘ The Adventure of English’. I have little specialist knowledge but the magic that words carry with them as if they were casting a spell, has been with me from that time long ago when I learnt to read. ( I was too shy to speak very much ). The person introducing the programmes is Melvyn Bragg, I’ve tuned in to many of his programmes and read some of his books, so in the media sense we are old friends, although I know more about him than he knows about me. To be blunt he knows nothing about me, I have never made a television programme or had a book published. Life is just so unfair!!!
This morning while having breakfast I listened to the radio; first part of a church service from South Africa and secondly, ‘A Point of View’ by Adam Gopnik. Now to be honest I am a fan of Adam Gopnik, or should I rephrase that I am an ardent admirer of his work. I read it in the New Yorker online of course. Thanks be to the BBC.
He began by talking about a painting of a white staircase which is a particular favourite of his, it is titled, A Staircase in Sunlight, by John Singer Sargent. I am not sure whether Gopnik is in England or indeed still at a Literary Festival in Capri. He apologised for talking about a painting which his listeners cannot see, to my knowledge I have never seen it. I am aware that we live in a visual age, television and the internet bring us the most beautiful pictures of the world as it is and show us Great Art while explaining its most remarkable properties. I have seen pictures of fields, mountains, forests and rivers of England filmed through amazing lenses much sharper than my own eyes. Another aspect of this amazing technology is the range of vivid colours presented to us, and I haven’t even mentioned the iPhone! Indeed the brilliance of colours is one of glories of the 21st. century, Gopnik dwells on the brilliant whiteness of the staircase and the fact that a staircase is worthy of a picture which indeed focuses on it and nothing else.
This Tuesday morning the sun is shining, I have some time to do something for me. Written language has always fascinated me since I learned to read a very long time ago, the fact it reaches out to people I don’t know and will probably never see, in the way that authors I have never met connect with me. Their words go on living long after the physical body dies, a kind of immortality. The digital world makes the reaching out easier.
Secondly the world is changing with astonishing speed, some changes are good, I live much more comfortably than my parents did, due principally to political changes which have taken place in my life time; the Welfare State, free secondary education, pensions,and that wonderful achievement of Aneurin Bevan the National Health Service. The NHS looms larger in my life than it used to. There was one occasion in my late teens when I had my appendix removed at no cost to my parents and I was able to continue my life freely and happily. Tragically in the twenty-first century the idea has developed that the NHS is too expensive for a wealthy country like Britain to afford this is a question of putting the cart before the horse. The huge expense of not having a health service free at the point of need would create a very divided society and a very unproductive one. Only that very small percentage, the 1% would be able to afford health care when they needed it.
I’ll come clean , I believe in the Welfare State it isn’t a cost to society it is a benefit.
The news is full of sorrowful tidings and painfully stupid decisions, testing children constantly instead of putting into operation the policy that ‘Every child matters’. In countries where this policy is put into operation for example , Finland, this country is always in the top ten of the OECD list of the most educated, happy and economically successful countries. It is no accident that those three attributes go together. Finland is a difficult country in which to make a living, the winter is harsh and long as it is so close to the Arctic circle. So the people look to their greatest natural resource, one of these is timber. But the greatest of all their resources is the adaptability and intelligence of the Finnish people; like all the Scandinavian countries Finland has an excellent welfare system and an education system based on the philosophy, Every Child Matters. Teachers are extremely well educated and looked upon with great respect, in the way we regard doctors and engineers. Teaching is an intellectually demanding job where many different skills are required. It is not a matter of educating the few who learn very quickly and easily, it is a cooperative effort to make sure that every child can read and write and understands mathematics. In most classrooms we are grading the children from the top to the bottom, very pleasant for the few children at the top and constantly dispiriting for the majority who are told that they don’t measure up to the standard expected. If instead cooperative behaviour is encouraged maybe the disengagement of many pupils who are struggling would disappear.
There are a differences in the speed at which individuals learn, of course our strengths vary in a number of ways; what is damaging is the feeling of failure. In recent times the constant grading of children is very disheartening, more especially when very little actual help is offered. A much more cooperative attitude in the classroom would be of enormous benefit to everyone: to the children who are struggling to learn and to those who learn quickly and easily. If one group helps the other they both gain in understanding and bullying will not gain a foothold because the learning has become a shared experience. Bullying is in large part based on jealousy, which often comes from a member of staff who tacitly encourages some children to pick on a very talented child. I have experience of this happening to my son, he loved reading and his use of language was not typical for a boy of 12 years. One teacher in particular tacitly and openly encouraged the children to bully him. Holding the view that bullying is something trivial and they will grow out of it. Unable to see the lasting damage that was being done. We know that some adults indulge in this kind of behaviour, usually those who are very dissatisfied with the lack of success in their own lives, some go on to physical violence, as we hear so often in the news.
Just as young children are reprimanded when they kick , bite or scream until they learn that his behaviour is unacceptable. As early as possible bullies should learn that their behaviour is not acceptable and they will be punished for it.