All 7 entries tagged Education

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April 12, 2006

Shirking

It occurs to me that I, and sometimes others, have been talking a great deal on these 'ere blogs about responsibilities. It is a common observation, I believe, that many of the younger generation have the constant urge to shirk their responsibilities, even going so far as to deny things they have been seen doing (I have lots of first-hand experience of this). I personally think this attitude is becoming a real problem.

But why is it happening?

Another modern phenomenon, which seems to be linked, is the increase in numbers of individuals suing companies for apparent negligence, or for the emotional results of bullying or prejudice. Now of course I would never advocate maltreatment in any form, but some of the recent cases do seem a little ridiculous: the deputy headteacher who tried to claim £1,000,000 for the emotional scarring left after having, in her office, a chair which made farting noises; the guy who bought a bike from Taiwan and was badly injured because the Taiwanese wire their brakes the opposite way around and he put on the front brake instead of the back when going quickly down a hill (apparently the manufacturers didn't make this quite clear enough in the instructions, despite detailing the wiring of the brakes).

Is this attitude a logical result of the regulations that are being put in place to try to make things more rigid? Essentially, when a company writes a list of instructions, they are declaring that they take responsibility for the safe working of a product when following them. When they begin to consider common sense as part of the required instructions can it not then be inferred that the user is not expected to use any common sense in their approach, other than that detailed? It also occurred to me that there may be a link between the regulation of teachers and the attitude of pupils. Teachers are now having to follow incredibly strict instructions regarding everything they do. They are being observed and checked up on constantly (some schools have even installed CCTV cameras with sound feedback and two-way mirrors), and they have to document every tiny incident to cover their backs and all punishments have to be standardised and approved. If you take away the responsibilities and independence of teachers how can they instil in their pupils the need for accepting responsibility? If teachers lose more and more authority (for example, parents can refuse to let their children stay for detentions) how can we expect them to be respected?

Is this change good for us? Health and safety regulations are dictating that we now need to put instructions on the back of bags of nuts to say 'may contain nuts' and on clothing labels to say 'please remove before washing'. I'm sure, a few years ago, these things would have been dismissed as being far too painfully obvious to bother with. These helpful hints are, I assume, supposed to assist users in being safe. However, we now have a situation where companies have to cover all ridiculous eventualities and yet still get sued because they missed just one loophole.


March 21, 2006

Creationism and the views of Archbishop Rowan Williams

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,,1735730,00.html#article_continue

My dear friend Phil pointed out this story to me when we bumped into each other in front of the newspapers in Costcutter this afternoon.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has stuck his neck out and said in an interview that he thinks creationism should not be taught in schools. His reasoning is that if creationism is presented as a stark contrast to evolutionary theory it will lower the value of Christian, and particularly creationist, doctrine. Williams is, quite rightly, concerned that, when held up as an equal to evolution, creationism falls far behind: indeed, evolution is accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. However, he is likely to be heavily criticised by members of the Christian community for admitting that a part of the Bible might not be literally true. He seems to, though the transcript of the interview does not suggest that he presents his ideas particularly clearly, suggest that he himself believes in God as a creator but not in the way that is described in Genesis.

  • How many Christians, or indeed non-Christians, still believe in strict creationism? How do they explain the discrepancy between their beliefs and evolution?

  • Is it time that the Church caught up with the times and accepted that a strict belief in the word of the Bible is completely at odds with convincing scientific theory? Is it then time for more daring changes, such as the admission of gay clergypeople? After all, if you bend the rules once, why not again?

  • How significant is Williams's admission in terms of a giving in to the possible inaccuracy of the Bible? Does it not weaken the authority and reliability of the rest of the text?

  • Will this declaration cause Williams and the church to gain or lose respect within the agnostic and atheist community? Why?

  • Should religious teachings form any part of the curriculum for secular state schools? Surely any theory explaining the creation of the Earth or any other mystery should be given equal consideration, thus giving those that learn the chance to make up their minds based on the evidence. Williams seemed to be suggesting that removing creationism from the syllabus would strengthen it because it would not be criticised when compared to scientific theory, but is this tantamount to pulling the wool across people's eyes?

  • Williams is obviously in a position of huge authority and his opinions are important, but in terms of theological reasoning he is just one man and he cannot possibly hope to represent the entire Church of England unless he never makes a decision on a contentious subject. How much influence should his ideas be credited with? Would is be better for him to keep quiet on this subject as he will always otherwise disagree with some of his church?

  • How significant are the current issues dividing the church viewed in terms of its credibility? Is it merely a case of the old-fashioned coming head-to-head with the more liberal or is it more damaging than that? How can the church maintain its popularity as it gradually begins to be more at odds with the changing times whilst avoiding giving in to the extent that its very foundations are removed?

February 14, 2006

The widening roles of teachers

I recently read that, under new laws, teachers will be permitted to punish pupils for behaving badly outside school and on public transport: another fantastic idea from Blair's 'respect' reforms. At the same time, the Government are proposing to introduce new £50 fines for parents if they fail to take responsibility for the bad behaviour of their children.

Now, let me explain why I think this is all a bit silly:

  • Blair is trying to compensate for a lack of parental responsibility by using teachers, who already have enough on their plates these days, to control children outside school. My Mum frequently bumps in to her school kids on a Saturday afternoon in the town centre. Is she supposed to discipline them on her day off when they should be under the control of their parents?

  • On the one hand the government are giving teachers the responsibilities of parents, and on the other they are fining parents for not taking responsibility: surely this is a complete contradiction, because you are both reinforcing their role and undermining it. Already too many parents refuse to accept that their children's behaviour might be a result of their upbringing, and I feel that this will just compound the situation.

  • This is a perfect example of the Blairite attitude towards education: let's treat the symptoms and not the root cause. Many of the problems that arise in schools these days are a direct result of lack of parental discipline. If a child is not taught to respect their family, there is no way a teacher is going to be able to instil it into them. If a child is not taught the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic in their early years, it is so much more difficult to get them to catch up. The National Curriculum does a disservice to so many children, and many don't have enough positive parental guidance to support them in learning to be able to learn. I'm not saying that there's an easy way to change this, but I don't think getting teachers to replace parents is the way forward.

February 07, 2006

Are we all fundamentally the same?

Writing about Are we all the same? from Neighbourhood #1

Wow, I haven't blogged for ages! I feel I should rectify this…

I stumbled upon Iyobosa's entry again today about edge.org's annual question. In it he refers to a previous entry he made about last years' question:
What do you believe in that we cannot prove?

One response was from Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University who said that she thought:

All people have the same fundamental concepts, values, concerns, and commitments… our common conceptual and moral commitments spring from the core cognitive systems that allow an infant to grow rapidly and spontaneously into a competent participant in any human society.

Several years ago I would have agreed with this view, but my recent experiences have begun to change my mind. I spent a year working in a relatively rough state Community College and some of the children I met were, according to the generally-held moral concepts of society, completely lacking. I've seen many children lie about things they know their teachers have just seen them do, viciously pick on their peers and their seniors, show no respect for any other person (including their families) and repeatedly subvert the rules of our society. Some of the worst of these kids seemed to do these things with absolutely no remorse.

So I ask:

  • Do we all have an innate sense of right and wrong and of moral responsibility?
  • Can this sense of responsibility be subverted by the conditions in which we are brought up?
  • How do we account, for example, for extreme criminals who refuse to admit, particularly to themselves, that their crimes were wrong?

November 18, 2005

Children scare me…

I read a fantastic letter in the METRO a few mornings ago, which I thought I should share:

'As a foreigner, I am not surprised to see that the children in this country are rebellious. They are a product of the culture that is being built around them. Nobody – not the parent, the schools or the police – have real power against their behaviour. It is an insult to the mind that and strength of children to worry that, by disciplining them, they will crumble or have emotional problems later in life. Let's face the facts: when walking down the streets we fear children, they intimidate us, swear at us, spit at us and even attack us. It is ridiculous that I used to fear guns, rape and murder in my own country and am now afraid of children here. If this trend carries on, what will the future hold for the workforce? In 20 years' time will I be spat on and sworn at by my fellow workers? Will I end up being stabbed with a pen by the office bully? Stand up, Britain! Children know they are untouchable. It is time that the Government realises that it is creating a future that looks very gloomy. We are seeing youngsters act in the way they do because they have no consequences to fear'.
Jacques Otto


November 15, 2005

Citizenship test

I was reading recently about the new citizenship tests immigrants are now required to take and, though I'm not sure I had considered beforehand what what might be included, I was surprised at the level of knowledge the test required the candidate to have.

One of the people who'd recently taken the test said:
'I wasn't quite sure with a true-or-false question which asked if the heir to the throne can marry anyone who isn't Protestant.'

Other example questions, from the BBC website, based on information in the official test booklet, included:
– There are four national saints' days in the UK, one for each nation. Which order do they fall in the calendar?
– Where does the myth of Father Christmas come from?
– Almost 60m people live in the UK. By what factor do the native-born English outnumber their Scots or Welsh neighbours?

Why are immigrants being forced to take a test that many British citizens (definitely including the 15-year old chavs I worked with, mentioned in the comments following my previous entry) would themselves fail?

On the other hand, will taking a test to prove their knowledge of British culture really make immigrants feel more integrated?


October 31, 2005

White lies?

When does lying become wrong?

Almost all parents tell their children the story of Santa Claus and how he brings them their presents at Christmas. An enjoyable fable that brings children joy? Or is it a problem that they might be crestfallen when their parents reveal the truth?

When I was working for a year at a high school before I came to Uni children used to swear blind that they hadn't done things they had just seen me watch them do. This was an alarmingly regular occurrence. Is lying becoming more frequent nowadays? And if so, why?


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