Thursday, 26 December 2013

Higher levels

Many conservatives bang on about equality of outcome, but what's actually needed is equality of opportunity. And nobody in their right mind could possibly say the UK education system has that just now.

I played Guess Who? with my five-year-old nephew on Christmas Day. It took him a few minutes to get the hang of what kind of questions he had to ask, but after that he was up and away. He could read the names on the board - he got stuck on a couple; he knew the letters, he'd just never heard them pronounced all together before. With English being the horrible, twisted language with no regulated spelling or accents that it is, he's doing great. His parents, my brother and sister-in-law, read to him all the time. But what about less literate parents? Who are dyslexic, or would have been fine with a bit more time or encouragement at school, but it was all going too fast for them? Five-year-old nephew knew all his letters long before he got to school, which made it much easier for him to stick them all together, but I think we need to address adult literacy before we condemn children leaving school unable to read or write.

I'm qualified to teach English as a second language, to any level of proficiency. While I was learning to teach, I thought of a kind of pyramid scheme. Not in the sense of fleecing people for money - I wouldn't be writing this blog if I had - but I thought about it this way:









But not every model is going to work with everyone, and as a teacher you have to be prepared for that. I think most teachers are prepared for that, and I think primary teachers here do a fantastic job of picking up on possible learning difficulties early, when they can be addressed, and if not fixed, worked around. My family has always been lucky to be inspired by earlier generations with a love of learning and the means to pass that on, but that's not true for everyone.

Illiterate does not equal stupid. Being slow at school does not equal stupid. Taking a bit more time to learn something does not equal stupid. Not being academic does not equal stupid. My dad spent literally hours trying to explain negative numbers to me. I just did not get it. He finally hit on a way to explain it that allowed my brain to absorb it - he drew a line on a bit of paper and marked the spaces out on a ruler, with 0 in the middle and hurrah! Bingo! Teachers don't have that kind of time. There has to be parental input somewhere. I refuse to believe the majority of children who struggle at school have parents who don't care - they have parents who genuinely don't know how to help. I explained to an adult friend the difference between it's and its - if you can say "it is" then use it's. SO simple, but nobody had ever put it that way to him before. We'll gloss over the fact that both his parents were teachers, but nobody had given him the key to unlock that door. You can explain most things in a way most people will get. This is why I keep watching Professor Brian Cox because some day he'll hit my brain's physics cord and I'll finally, finally get it. 

I'm going to spend some time trying to develop adult literacy programs in Paisley next year, whether voluntary, paid, or a couple of hours a week in a prison teaching English, either as a foreign or native language. Give them some opportunity, and some outcome. 

For some reason teachers are always under-appreciated, or blamed for bad outcomes, but they can only give opportunities, and on the whole they wholeheartedly do. I've never met a teacher who hasn't knackered themselves trying to make up for bad opportunity. Most opportunity is up to parents, and you can't blame teachers for that. You can't necessarily blame the parents either, because outcome feeds into opportunity just as much as opportunity feeds into outcome. My wee nephews are going to be awesome. I won't have children myself, but I'd like to give a bit forward to the people who will. 

Ultimately a well-educated society is in everyone's interests, and never believe or trust those who try to crush education. Only the badly-educated vote against their own interests. But we need to place a lot less emphasis on academic education and a lot more on practical skills for some children. Not everyone can go to university, and nor should they. We will always need plumbers, carpenters and electricians, and nobody should be made to feel "stupid" because their skills aren't academic. One of my brothers is a highly-proficient IT consultant, brilliant and in demand, and he has far fewer Highers than I do. For people like him academia is meaningless because it's not where his talents lie. We need to start valuing practical skills as much and equally with academic skills, because neither is wrong or bad or pointless. Children shouldn't be told they're failing because they can't pass an exam. Maybe they'll be fixing your car in five years' time. It's all level. It really is.    

Friday, 20 December 2013

Duck what?

In the interests of full disclosure, we don't get Duck Dynasty over here. At least not yet, and not as far as I know. It seems to have got some Americans in a right tizz.

First of all, people claiming to be Christians spouting homophobia should be no surprise to anyone. No doubt they're basing it on Leviticus but unless they're queueing up to stone people who work on Sundays to death, it's really the last refuge of people who want to blame someone else for their own bigotry. You can just find gay people icky all by yourself, you know. You don't have to blame it on God. You're trying to abdicate responsibility for your own feelings. Most of us non-Christians can see that. It's okay. You're allowed to feel that way. But where I lose sympathy with you is when you try to limit other people's rights on the basis of some 2,000-year-old ramblings. Many of the Christians I know are kind, thoughtful people who understand that it's not for them to judge anyone's choices or lifestyle. They are good, compassionate people who don't feel persecuted by gay rights. If your Christian lifestyle is so fragile that two men you've never met and never will getting married causes your whole framework to crumble then you have far bigger problems than same-sex marriage.

I did see an article on Facebook earlier where the writer, standing up for Mr Robertson's right to free speech, which I wholeheartedly uphold, proudly announced he was deleting people's comments if they disagreed with the writer. To see how they liked it. Wow. What the writer was probably too blinkered or stupid to understand is that the other side of free speech is free listening. Too many people interpret the right to free speech as the right to never be disagreed with about anything ever. If you don't want people to disagree with you, don't splash your article all over Facebook. I could turn comments off on this blog (not that it's exactly a hotbed of debate) and wander around thinking you all get my genius and nobody in the whole world disagrees with me and I'm right about everything. It wouldn't be true but I would be free to think that. Inviting people to comment then censoring them because they disagree with you doesn't make a point - it just makes you look like a petty, giggling fool with no courage of your convictions.

For me, Mr Robertson's comments about gay people aren't really so much of a problem as his disgusting observation that black people liked being slaves. None of the frothing anti-gay comments and complaints about the network have touched on that. Leviticus also advocates slavery of course, but nobody seems to want to touch that particular comment with a bargepole. They can't have it both ways. Either eat kosher, sell your mixed fibre clothing and execute people who touch pigskins, or accept that one sentence in one book written thousands of years ago cannot be used to justify oppressing people. And if anyone does think black people liked being slaves, then perhaps the network can divert the funds used to make Duck Dynasty to a recreation of the journey slaves took to America, and everyone who thinks it was all a big laugh can volunteer to join in.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Ghosts of Christmas past

This song reminds me of Christmas four or five years ago. It was used in the BBC's Christmas trailer package thingie, and I was about to meet A, yet another of my pick ups from an online dating site. He was different, though. Of all the men I've picked up in my time, he was without doubt the most insane. But I remember him fondly for a few reasons.

We instantly understood each other, which is a bit frightening when you consider neither of us were exactly a picture of mental health at the time. He was very handsome but so shady. It makes me laugh to think how shady he was, how he'd never answer a direct question, how he didn't really seem to want me to know anything about him, even though I did. I didn't want him to know much about me, but he did. He found out about my phobia of dentists and tormented me mercilessly with gory details of his root canal. I made him watch the news. He was never mad keen on reality.

The main thing about him is that he was honest. He was always honest. He didn't disappear on me because he made it clear from the start he might just not come back. I was fine with that. I've always been fine as long as I know where I stand. It would be interesting to see him again, and not necessarily in a romantic/sexual way. He did pop back into my life occasionally, but last I heard from him was about two years ago. He was back in Dundee, his hometown, and not doing too great. I hope he's okay now.

I know it's highly unlikely he'll ever read this, but on the slim chance he does, A - you're nuts. You know that. But I'm really glad I met you, because we had a connection I've never had before or since, and even though nothing came of it I can say I had that with someone.

And I still have your t-shirt.