Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

"It must be right; I got it off the internet..."

Remember the Canvey Island nativity play?
The “Christmas Tale” stars a pair of robbers, named Bob and Bill, who raid a jewellery store in broad daylight to steal a manger full of rubies and emeralds.
There's a similar theme at work in a grammar exercise recently given to primary school children across the Estuary in Sheerness. We know this because one parent was so 'shocked' that she was apparently obliged to go to the local press and have it reported, complete with carefully posed photographs.

In an exercise designed to test the appropriate use of the pronouns 'I' and 'me', children had to complete the following sentence:
Hand ..... the money before ..... put a bullet through your head.
Could it, perhaps, be part of the continued attempt to reflect modern urban society in the school curriculum? And, if so, can we look forward to the same thing emerging in, say, Maths,
If Liam and Kane steal £140 and divide it in the ratio 3:4...
Sayeed takes a BMW without the owner's consent and drives it into a wall at 70km/h....
or Biology?
How can Shanice and Amii use this graph to record the growth of their cannabis plants...?
Educational orthodoxy demands that work set should be as relevant as possible to the lives and interests of pupils - though it's not clear whether that would extend to a crime-themed nativity play in an area which had recently seen several armed robberies  - which raises some interesting questions about the test paper's provenance.

We do know it was downloaded from the generally respected Times Educational Supplement resource-sharing site. It's an excellent example of the spurious authority lent by the imprimatur of the internet; an unquestioning teacher seems to have handed it out without the proof reading which would have detected the rank illiteracy (or devious trap) of asking pupils to use 'I' or 'me' to complete:
When I asked the Scotsman if he enjoyed haggis, he looked at me and said ‘Och .....’ 
I doubt the 'bullet' sentence caused any lasting damage, though it does seem unnecessarily crass to include it in a grammar exercise for primary-age children. What concerns me more is the idea of teachers indiscriminately trawling the internet for off-the-peg lessons and homework with no guarantee of quality.

Over the past 50 years, the nature of education has shifted from imparting knowledge and skills to teachers being expected to keep pupils - or 'learners' - entertained. The result has been a desperate scramble for novelty while trying to satisfy the demand for constant exhaustive record-keeping - senior management and inspectors do love a brightly-coloured progress chart or graph! - and a corresponding lack of consistency in what some of us would call the basics.

Borrowing back a comment I left at Julia's place recently, on a post highlighting the effects of this degeneration,
Truly we have an education system at which the rest of the world can only wonder!


  1. Reading your post, it struck me again how important anonymity is if these issues are to be exposed as they should be.

    We all know it too, yet apart from certain issues the mass media don't do anonymity for those without serious power and even if they did, people would be mad to trust them. A lack of transparency and an intolerant attitude to even the most valid criticism is one of our major failings.

  2. Could one perhaps paraphrase Norman Douglas:

    "A detested government of Northern Isles unleashed against its citizens an education system whereat the nations stand aghast"

    Quite good, even I say so myself.

    Extra brownie points for any comment revealing what this was said about in its original form (without using Google, you toads!).

  3. Over the past 50 years, the nature of education has shifted from imparting knowledge and skills to teachers being expected to keep pupils - or 'learners' - entertained. The result has been a desperate scramble for novelty while trying to satisfy the demand for constant exhaustive record-keeping.

    Don't I know it. I watched with increasing dismay as firms such as Oxford and Longmans produced increasingly exercise-lite and pretty pictures heavy texts. For the exercises, one had to buy the "extension" book on top of the text, exercise book and teacher's guide.

  4. Please pleas please tell me this is a joke? If my children had come home with homework like this the teacher would have had it returned to them with a not so carefully worded note explaining my views.

  5. Sorry it's been quiet for a while - time, tide and exams wait for no man (or woman....)

    AKH, the teaching establishment has, for the past thirty years or more, assiduously weeded out anyone who questions or criticises current educational orthodoxy, thus depriving the profession (or at least the state sector) of many creative and original thinkers and ensuring that whistle-blowers are few and far between.

    WY, you had me stumped with that one, but it's a great quote! Now I've looked Norman Douglas up on Wikipedia, I see I've been missing out and shall do something about it forthwith - thank you!

    JH, to the extension book you can add the interactive website, activity packs, supplementary materials and conferences for candidates and teachers - there's gold in them thar syllabi.

    Oddly enough, the pupils don't seem to learn any more than we did from thick, hardback textbooks with the occasional line drawing for clarity.

    Kath, I suspect this is merely the tip of the iceberg. When report season brings us the unedifying spectacle of schools offering teachers help with apostrophes, it's easy to see why some might prefer to download a ready-made resource sheet from the internet rather than relying on their own shaky grammar.

    (Welcome to Newgate! I've spent the past few months arriving at other people's comment sections just after you and thinking 'What good sense - I wish I'd said that!', so I'm delighted you've dropped in here at last.)

  6. Dear Mcheath I can only apologise for my tardiness and not having visited you sooner, I always enjoy your comments but had not followed any link to your own page! I can be a bit stupid on occasions, but now I have found you be sure I shall return and with a frequency that may become irksome ;)