31 December 2008

On a (miserable) new year

Obviously, best wishes to all readers for a happy, healthy, harmonious and even prosperous 2009!

While it has to be admitted that things are not looking good on many fronts, I am dismayed by the glee with which the media and commentariat are talking down the outlook. Not only is "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable." according to J K Galbraith (sorry about the sloppy referencing...), but of course the financial world is the primary habitat of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

In such a climate I keep returning to Noel Coward's wonderful "Ode to Depression" (1952, full lyrics, both domestic and international, from the heading link above). Here's a sample from the international version, which is not quite as clever or funny as the British version, but does not rely as much on taken-for-granted background knowledge...
Verse 1
They're nervous in Nigeria
And terribly cross in Crete,
In Bucharest
They are so depressed
They're frightened to cross the street,
They're sullen in Siberia
And timid in Turkestan,
They're sick with fright
In the Isle of Wight
And jittery in Japan,
The Irish groan and shout, lads,
Maybe because they're Celts,
They know they're up the spout, lads,
And so is everyone else.
Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!
Trouble is on the way.
Refrain 1
There are bad times just around the corner,
There are dark clouds hurtling through the sky
And it's no use whining
About a silver lining
For we KNOW from experience that they won't roll by,
With a scowl and a frown
We'll keep our spirits down
And prepare for depression and doom and dread,
We're going to unpack our troubles from our old kit bag
And wait until we drop down dead.
Sadly the only performance I can find on the web is the one below by a certain Robbie Williams, which is pretty abysmal, although it does pick up a little in the last minute: (if the aspect ratio of the video itself is distorted, my apologies, but it is beyond my control)

To my mind the definitive version is that of the King's Singers (1975).

Have a great new year!

23 December 2008

On Christmas Greetings

Have a great Christmas and may the New Year bring all you hope for and none of what you fear!

On bad arguments

I'm a bit slow on picking up on interesting material from Times Higher Education this week, but I was struck by this article on bad arguments. It's an interesting teaching device for one thing, but for another, it contains;

As long ago as 1985, an Australian philosopher, David Stove, ran a competition to find the worst argument in the world. In his marking scheme, half the marks went to the degree of flaw in the argument, half to the degree of its endorsement by philosophers.

He awarded the prize to himself, for the following argument: "We can know things only as they are related to us under our forms of perception and understanding in so far as they fall under our conceptual schemes, etc. So, we cannot know things as they are in themselves."

What is wrong with that? (Apart of course from the difficulty of knowing what it would mean to "know things as they are in themselves"—or is that the point?) And it does have precedent...

20 December 2008

On structured reflection

Mike Arnzen's "Pedablogue" (I wish I'd got that name first!) has an interesting review of Reflective Practice in Action: 80 Reflection Breaks for Busy Teachers by Thomas S.C. Farrell. (I've not yet read it, so I can't comment directly on it.)

As the title suggests, it is about structured exercises to promote reflection. Read my comment on the blog post assuming Mike decides to publish it. And if you have any ideas about the second point I make I'd be really interested to hear them!

Labels: ,

13 December 2008

On the devil in the detail of teaching practice

I'm not generally a great fan of over-hyped Malcolm Gladwell, and the overall starting point of this article— that by culling the worst 10% of teachers school standards in the US could be greatly improved—is contestable to say the least (although "instructional quality" does come out with a high effect-size in Hattie's meta-analysis of educational variables).

However, here he does offer a very accessible discussion of the problems of judging the "worst 10%", and his eavesdropping on a panel assessing teaching skills on video is fascinating and informative. Assuming, of course, that the panel are focusing on significant behaviour.

07 December 2008

On writers' rooms

No comment—it's simply fascinating. Be sure to click on "show captions" before you run it.

06 December 2008

On reflection on reflection

Meta-reflection? I have been entertaining the idea of taking on a part-time "job". I have several sessional contracts, but there is very little continuity to them, so I applied for a fixed-term proportional post at another university; as I write I have no idea whether I shall be offered the post, or whether I shall take it if offered. That's not the point of the post; the point is an epiphany in the interview.

I knew that one standard question would be, "why do you want this job?" And my response would be, "To keep my hand in..." But later, working through the standard litany of questions, the panel came to; "What do you think your professional development needs are?" They qualified that at once by acknowledging that as a semi-retired academic, it was probably otiose to ask that of me, but unexpected as the question was, I had no doubt about the answer; "practise" [sic.]*

I found myself explaining with reference to this blog and how it has changed over the (few) years of posting. I'm not going to do the analysis—only recently have I bothered even to tag the posts— but clearly over the past year, since I stopped doing much teaching, they have changed. The post before or after this one (I'm not sure how it will turn out), is on photos of writers' rooms. Interesting, I think, but at one level simply padding—it's merely a second-hand link, and at another an instance of "mission drift". There's nothing about learning and teaching, and precious little reflection.

It doesn't of course "matter". At the last count only nine people had signed up to the RSS feed anyway! (Scroll down to the "Atom" link at the bottom of the right side-bar if you would like to join this exclusive club.) It's merely illustrative that reflection cannot exist in isolation...

*Oh dear, pedantry wins again! I did indeed mean "practise" with an "s", as short for "opportunity to practise".

02 December 2008

On Yorick

The news story today concerns the use (or not) of a genuine skull in the graveyard scene opening the final act of Hamlet (Shakespeare c.1600). The skull was bequeathed by a concert pianist, Andre Tchaikowsky.

I knew him, Horatio! No, actually I didn't; but one day in October 1972 I was visiting a student on placement at one of the world's most amazing therapeutic establishments for young men, Finchden Manor. Do read this site. I was not quite 28 years old; two years older than the oldest resident in the establishment at the time.

I was ushered into the presence of George Lyward, the charismatic founder and Chief of the place. No, it was not a "therapeutic community" as now understood and discussed in the literature. It was far too autocratic. I could go on and on about Finchden Manor on the basis of my limited acquaintance in Mr Lyward's final years, but you can get first-hand testimony from the website.

Mr Lyward was indeed charismatic (in the Weberian sense). But his charismatic quality was one I had never before (or since) encountered. He made me feel that he was privileged to meet me. I was a callow 28! An upstart tutor on a social work course who had never done any social work in his life. A fraud, basically (although not deliberately so; I was so naive then that I did even know that there were some things a degree in European Studies did not equip you for). And Mr Lyward was honoured to meet me. It was not an act.

This of course was even more disorienting than being interrogated and put down. However, from the room next door came wonderful piano music. Trying to make conversation in my blundering way (nowadays of course, I should not have to "make conversation". We would immediately have got down to the forms and reports and checklists), I asked about the hi-fi, as I thought it must be. "No," said Mr Lyward, "that's not a recording. That's Andre Tchaikowsky practising for his concert at the Festival Hall. He's an old boy of Finchden, you know, and he comes back here to practise when he has something big coming up." Tchaikowsky had come to Finchden to overcome some of his trauma from growing up in Warsaw in WW2 and the loss of most of his family.

(An aside; when I ventured to get down to the material for the placement report, I asked Mr Lyward what he had asked the student [Steve Williams--I remember you, and it's an episode for you to be proud of, too] to do. "DO?" he replied. "I don't want him to do anything. I want him to be." He would have stood no chance as a "practice teacher" nowadays.)

That's as close as I got to Yorick, and to some other things, too.

Labels: , , ,