If an elephant trod on your foot you would probably be impressed with its power and size, but you wouldn’t necessarily wish to develop a long term relationship. Visiting Rome can be very similar. The architecture is essentially bullying, bearing down on you with a decayed swagger, and the scowly old placemen whose statues survive, scaled up and heavy looking with muscly calves and thick necks, would, if invited to tea, wave an imperious arm and break the china before enslaving your daughter and kicking the cat. You find yourself resisting them in retrospect.
Let’s follow the logic of this. A student receives an essay title. They’ve attended the lectures and seminars, done the reading, discussing and thinking, so now they type out their thoughts in essay form and press SEND. A few seconds later, it comes back with a grade on it. The clever software has evaluated their work and decided what is right and wrong with it and whether it is excellent or just average. If the student doesn’t like the grade, they have to work out what the computer really wants to hear and resubmit it. This is the latest clever addition to the world of Higher Education from Edx, founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Differences and how we respond to them
Sherry Turkle is professor at MIT and author of The Second Self: computers and the human spirit. She took her 14 year old daughter to see an exhibition on Darwinism which included live turtles. One was very still and the other even less than active, in dirty water. Her daughter decided a robot would be better and other children in the queue agreed – “For what the turtles do, you don’t have to have live ones” – London Review of Books Diary p36, Vol 28/8, 20/4/2006
Can that be applied to teachers? If not, why not?
It is stating the obvious to insist that students are different to each other in various ways, and that any of those differences might affect the way they learn. But to apply that glaringly obvious statement to your teaching, you need to decide
what kinds of differences matter
how you get to know about them
what they imply for your teaching methods and
what you can realistically do about it.
‘Differentiation’ is a good example of a simple idea rendered complex by the number of ways it has been misrepresented. It is sometimes seen as something new, even as a passing fashion, when in fact the idea behind it has always been basic to good teaching. It is also particularly difficult to achieve in the FE context……
Enter stage right, trudging.
The moon rose on Ed Ormaloid.
Not that he’d been sleeping. Not exactly. He arose unsteadily from a tarmac surface. Fragments clung to his cheek and made small indentations, of which he was apparently unaware as he gangled his tall, unsteady self in the general direction of somewhere else. He did not know he had just arisen from a tarmac surface. He moved, but you could hardly call him conscious. You’d call him tall, and dark, and skinny. You could call him early middle-aged. You could call him Ed, as his friends might do, had they been there, but he wouldn’t hear your voice.
As so often in any context involving social interaction, there is no single solution to any problem, even if we had a single definition of what the problem might be. There is no role model to follow, no recipe to apply. Organisations are large colonies of complicated people. You might, for example, create a well-structured, essentially fair and impressively documented Disciplinary System, only to find that it is applied and interpreted with such wide differences, all of which are justified at length by teachers in different vocational areas, that it becomes essentially meaningless as a college-wide process. But that does not necessarily mean the system was faulty or the people are being incompetent. It probably means that fairness is context-dependent, and in fact has been achieved in many cases. You just can’t prove it very easily to Ofsted, but that is a separate issue, explored in chapter 3.
Likewise, good management, or effective leadership, or whatever you choose to call the thing you are aiming for, will only be achieved by flexibility and an intimate knowledge of the context. That is why models of leadership, and many training courses designed to provide leaders, sometimes seem irrelevant to over-burdened FE practitioners, who feel that generalised external solutions won’t really apply to their internal problems.
Short stories and poems in paperback and Kindle
Nostos, a gardener’s lament
It’s commonly believed that a little gentle gardening
Brings peace to those whose arteries are hardening,
Whereas, in fact, one learns to dread the spring,
And the Proustian moments petalsmell can bring.
My great maternal grandpa, Edgar Hand,
Lurks in the smell of wallflowers, which demand,
The immediate return of childhood wonder,
At gas light, pipesmoke, leather and gazunder.
His wife, the Guinness-guzzling Lydia May
Would send by steam train, annually, a spray
Of lilly-of-the-valley. Now they spread
All over my allotment, like the dead.
Bluebell and primrose summon like a knell
A Cornish wood my gran and I knew well
Whilst my father, to whom I gave my favourite rose,
Planted myosotis then turned up his toes.
When plants are said to tolerate some shade
That shouldn’t mean a ghost that’s just been laid.
One summer’s evening, led by smells anew,
I bent to the earth and mother-in-law poked through;
Hemerocallis, rockrose, Solomon’s seal,
Sea holly, miniature fir – the senses reel
When, after rain, a Canterbury Bell
Like Proserpine, pops up again from hell,
And intimations of mortality remain
When winter comes, and they all pop back again.
So, if you come to stay, don’t bring a plant.
It might recall some hairy-chinned old aunt
Who, thus released, will hover like a sprite
In the smoky air and the fading autumn light.
Or worse, when you shuffle off your mortal coil
You’ll take up residence among my soil.
And, wandering innocent before The Fall,
I’ll catch your scent, and hear the carrion call.
Nostalgia’s from the Greek. One should refrain
From nostos (a return) and algos (pain),
But a single leaf can serve to hold us fast,
Strong roots attach the present to the past.