Sandy speaks on matters of life and mirth.
Monkeys are seldom present.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Memory

I sat in the back of the car, and I watched as my mother-in-law slipped a sweet out of the bag. Something caught at my memory, and I frowned. I recognised the packaging - the red Bassett's logo, the green text... the way the wrapper curled around at the edges - even the sound the hard pastille made as it was unwrapped. I tilted my head, and I knew immediately what it would taste like, what the texture would feel like, pressed against the inside of my cheek - the raised dots rubbing against it, the sugar inside teased out, causing a kind of numbness. I took one, and as if in a half-remembered dream, I pulled the two ends gently, slid the hard pastille out of the crinkled wrapping.

I put the Sherbet Lemon in my mouth, and I remembered.

I was twelve, maybe thirteen, and I wrote for the school newspaper. We were a tiny prep school, barely 170 pupils, and so the scope of the articles wasn't particularly grand - an expose on the removal of chocolate splodge pudding here, an appeal for the older boys to be allowed to sit on chairs at assemblies there - hardly Watergate, but we got by. The newspaper was 10p, and I remember that we used to give away a sherbet lemon with each one - it was an early exposure to 'value-added' marketing. We never sold many newspapers - even fewer when I became editor, but we got by, and given that parents print-shop published the newspaper, there were never any costs to cover. What little money we made went to sponsor a young boy in Africa somewhere. His name was Issa, and he used to send us letters. I wish I knew what happened to him. The newspaper was short-lived, and didn't survive my leaving the school, but for a while, it was important. I hadn't thought of it in years - The Chorister News. I wish I still had a copy.

It was an unimportant memory, but it was a good one. Sometimes, that's all that matters.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Dear Mr Gove, Thank You for Devaluing My Education

So I saw this today, and it kind of frustrated me. I've become used to the standard stories every July and August of how A-levels are too easy, how they don't really mean anything any more, and how the youth of today are probably stupider than previous generations. These stories, of course, come out just when students are receiving their results, so that, at the moment when they should feel proudest of themselves, they are told that their achievements should carry an asterisk.

So when I read that Michael Gove wants to change to A-Level systems, I figured it was just another July "Exams? You were lucky! When I were a lad..." kind of story, and was ready to dismiss it. On further reading though, I became intrigued:
[Gove] said he wanted to switch emphasis back to examinations taken at the end of two years of study in order to revive "the art of deep thought".

Really Michael? The art of Deep Thought? Now I have no idea what that phrase means, but I'm guessing you want it to mean 'students being able to write long essays in three hour exams potentially two years after they studied the topic the question is about'. Which to me, seems a little silly.

Regular examinations encourage you to stay on top of your learning. Modular exams allow you to focus on one topic at a time, and thus to study it in more depth. One exam at the end of two years encourages you to kick back and do nothing for those years, and then cram in a mad panic. Of course, if that's what you mean by Deep Thought, I suppose that's fine.

But hang on, Mr Gove says:
"We need to ensure that the knowledge expected of A-level students is such that they can hit the ground running (at university) and they don't need, as some have suggested, four-year courses or catch-up tuition"
His argument is that we should make A-Levels more like university exams, so that people are more prepared for university. That makes sense I suppose... until you realise that universities have exams at the end of every year, not every two! Added to the fact that many universities are moving to, yes, a modular system, and you start to wonder whether Mr Gove knows what on Earth he is talking about. Where are these universities that have two years between exams?

Oh, I see. Well, good to know where our priorities lie, right?