Tag Archives: education

What Is The World Coming To – Part 38 of 194

A news article came to my attention via Twitter, entitled “Parents: English Teacher Writes Racy Novels”.  Read it and wonder, as I am right now, what the world is coming to.

Unless you’re someone who agrees with the angle taken in this article, in which case I would ask that you vacate my blog now.  Your kind is not welcome here.

What’s next?  We’ll start requiring all teachers, or anyone in contact with our children on a regular basis, to be practicing celibates?  Because if they have sex  and their students know they have sex, then it makes it all kinds of awkward sitting in their classrooms.  Right?  Is that not the next logical step in this parade of foolishness?

What gets me is this quote:

Parent Deanna Stepp said the evidence is clear. “She is teaching children that are under the age of 18 and definitely the books that she is writing are adult books. I think she needs to make a decision as to what she wants to do. Either be a school teacher or author,” Stepp said.

Now I might just begin to understand the point if perhaps the adult novels in question are paedophillic in nature.  There might be grounds for debate there.  But barring that, what teachers do in their own time is their own business.  This woman shouldn’t have to choose between being a teacher or an author, she should be free to be both.  And parents can just go fuck themselves.

Oh, but they can’t – just think of the children!

This makes me sick.  It reminds me unpleasantly of a commercial I saw yesterday for a police hotline parents and guardians can phone if they have suspicions about someone who interacts with their children.  Let’s all suspect everyone we know of hiding a secret, child-abusing past!  I can see this going well.

It’s not true that there are more paedophiles now than there used to be in the “good old days”.  It’s better reported, surely.  But to think we need to immediately assume the worst in all adults interacting with children is outrageous.  And to ingrain an unfounded fear of adults in positions of responsibility in those children is simply shameful.

There’s being safe, and there’s being ridiculous.

In Defense of an Arts Degree

So not only does an Arts degree not at all lead to a job, we knew this when we signed up for one, but now they’re telling us that having an Arts degree actually reduces your overall earnings compared to someone who left education at 18. (The article is from 2003, but I can’t imagine it’s gotten any better since then.  If anything, it’s probably worse.)

And this guy can tell you just how miserable it is to be an unemployed Arts graduate (in case you didn’t already know):

And even people, like The Husband who has both an undergraduate AND a Masters in his Arts subject, who don’t think they’re too good to be a labourer, barman/-maid, cleaner, waiter/-ress or call centre worker still can’t get work.  Those jobs typically won’t employ graduates, because they believe they won’t stick around long.  Little do they know that a graduate would be just as likely to stick around as anyone else, since there is literally nothing else out there.

However, does this mean that future undergraduates should eschew the Arts in favour of something more lucrative?  Or maybe forgo university altogether?

I think not.  And this is why:

We are not mere money-making machines.

I believe people still have the right to pursue what avenues excite them.  And for many, that avenue is in the Arts.  To reject that is to reject part of what makes you you.  Perhaps you’ll earn more in a Science or Business-related degree, but at the end of your life will you feel more fulfilled?  Will you be able to say that you did everything you wanted to do in life?

We only get one go at this mortal coil, let’s not throw it away on something so baseless as the pursuit of hard, cold cash.

Yes, we need to earn a living – but the emphasis should be the living and not the earning.  Right now it sucks to try to do either, but Arts graduates are nothing if not resourceful.

Why My Life of Crime is Over Before it Started, and Feminist Explorations: My Love for Mary Wollstonecraft, Explained

I spent 45 minutes of my afternoon in a UK Border Agency Public Enquiry Office, getting my fingerprints scanned and photo taken (for the second time in 6 months!).  The rest of my day was mainly spent getting to and from said Enquiry Office as it was in some grim outer region of Glasgow.  And now I’m realising that I’ll never be able to commit a crime here and get away with it – not with this stored biometric data!

Either that, or I’ll just invest in gloves and masks.

My incipient criminal career aside, I’d like to talk about my dear and beloved feminist hero: Mary Wollstonecraft.

I’ve mentioned her in previous posts as part of the inspiration for Cobault, and I’ve decided to go back and read her Vindications of the Rights of Women to sharpen my recollection of those arguments I might be employing.

First of all, I have to say how much I adore this woman.

Wollstonecraft had absolutely no time for the idiotic fainting women of her time.  She writes:

In the most trifling dangers they cling to [a man’s] support, with parasitical tenacity, piteously demanding succour; and their natural protector extends his arm, or lifts up his voice, to guard the lovely trembler – from what?  Perhaps the frown of an old cow, or the jump of a mouse[…].

She goes on to say:

If fear in girls, instead of being cherished, were treated like cowardice in boys, then we should quickly see women with more dignified aspects […] would be more respectable members of society, and discharge the important duties of life by the light of their own reason.

Education is a big part of Wollstonecraft’s argument, as she sees the current system as a total failure to women and girls.  Interestingly, she finds that this is also the case with the poor, and that many of her arguments apply equally to both marginalised groups.

“Educate women like men,” says Rousseau, “and the more they resemble our sex the less power they will have over us.”  This is the very point I am at.  I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves. In the same strain have I heard men argue against instructing the poor; for many are the forms that aristocracy assumes.  “Teach them to read and write,” they say, “and you take them out of the station assigned to them by nature.”

I’m now realising why the struggles of my high-born Euphemia, seeking to get the sort of education which Wollstonecraft recommends for a woman – that which exercises her reasoning and not her sensibility – is mirrored in that of my lower-class characters.  I’ve either absorbed this argument or found the same parallels myself, and though I’d like to claim the latter it’s much more likely to be the former!

Either way, I find that the essence of what makes Euphemia tick as a character is explained in the following:

When do we hear of women who, starting out of obscurity, boldly claim respect on account of their great abilities or daring virtues?  Where are they to be found? – “To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, complacency, and approbation, are all the advantages which they seek” – True! my male readers will probably exclaim; but let them, before they draw any conclusion, recollect that this was not written originally as descriptive of women but of the rich.

Indeed.  And so we’ve discussed Wollstonecraft’s belief in education, but then it follows that after that education women need to be allowed to gain employment of their own, to support themselves and not rely on getting a rich husband for monetary necessity.  She writes:

Girls marry merely to better themselves, to borrow a significant vulgar phrase, and have such perfect power over their hearts as to not permit themselves to fall in love till a man with a superior fortune offers.

Euphemia’s father tells her an allegorical tale of a girl he knew of during his boyhood in the Academy, who was pursuing the foolish “education” (finishing school, really) that all girls of any means choose to undertake in their society.  But when her family fell on hard times she was forced to marry some rich scoundrel just to support them.  Misery ensued, quite naturally, and Euphemia’s father tells her that his wish for her education is that it could prevent such a situation occurring to her. He’s a secret Wollstonecraftian himself!

And most of this novel was written some two or three years after reading Vindications, having not gone back to reread it until just now!  I’m realising just how much of Cobault, it’s plot and characters, are dependent on the writings of this 18th century feminist, and how much of an impact she has had on me.  To the point of subconsciously aping her arguments in my own fictional world!

Unfortunately for me, Wollstonecraft scorns novels, as:

Novels, music, poetry, and gallantry, all tend to make women the creatures of sensation, and their character is thus formed in the mould of folly during the time they are acquiring accomplishments […].

Oh well.

20,000 League Tables Under The Sea

Today I bought a secondhand copy of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea at a charity shop in St. Andrews.  The store had two copies: one slightly cheaper volume from the sixties, and one newer reprint, schnazzed up with colour illustrations.   But there was something that caught my eye – there was a noticeable difference in the story itself in the newer reprint, changing the way the text looked by making it less dense while also removing quotations and bracketed explanations.  Ultimately I decided to buy the older version, small enough to fit in my purse and £1 cheaper counts for a lot, without really thinking about the implications of the difference between the two.

Now I’m thinking it through a lot more.

I was watching Newsnight Scotland last night, and they talked about the report that Scottish education isn’t improving despite various reforms over the past decade.  One of the specifics they discussed was reading and how students don’t read for enjoyment and it’s affecting performance in that subject because they just don’t want to.

This makes me at once both sad and angry.

I’m sure there are kids who still like to read, but they’re a rare minority; even when I grew up I remember my classmates boasting about how little they read as if it were something to be proud of.  Nerds like me who read for pleasure were teased somewhat ridiculously.  “OMG why do you bring a different novel to school everyday?  You’re so weeiird!”   Um, yeah.  Good one.

Newsnight Scotland continued to discuss the problem that the largest percentage of reading done in schools is from textbooks.  This means that to these children reading mostly consists of blocks of dry text, perhaps divided up by graphs or diagrams.  Of course they don’t learn to enjoy it with that as their idea of reading.  And not only are they not learning to enjoy it, they’re not even learning how to handle reading dense paragraphs and complex sentences of the sort you’d find in a challenging classic novel.  And then if they’re assigned one in an English class they’ll be approaching it with no preparation for how to absorb that kind of literary material, and certainly no reason to think that it could be fun to do so.

I’m now seeing more clearly why this newer copy of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea chose to change the layout of the page and the very wording of the story. And I can’t condone it.  If we decide that all classic literature has to be turned into simpler, colourful versions of the original text in order for children to even begin to pick up that book, well we’ve just put the final nail in the coffin in that issue. If it has to be made easier, then we’re failing to truly educate those children. How will they ever learn that persevering with something dense and complex will lead to a better understanding, and even more ultimate enjoyment, of the story?

Simply, they won’t.

I think the way to initiate a new perspective on reading in primary and secondary schools is to teach novels!  Sure, let’s integrate Harry Potter into the curriculum!  Why the hell not?  If it gets kids to interact with the written word, to begin to think critically about it, it can only be a good thing.